“The whole experience was dehumanizing”- UK maternity care and ‘systemic racism’

Sofia Lopez Simpson is a second year International Relations student. Her hobbies and interests include playing the guitar and spending hours making spotify playlists.

Giving birth: a beautiful experience that has turned traumatizing for Black, Asian and mixed ethnic women in the UK. The ‘systemic racism’ within the structure of UK maternity care could lead to devastating consequences for these women.

Black, Asian and ethnic women in the UK are being racially segregated within the structural healthcare system which has led to them feeling unsafe and unprotected by health professionals who are meant to keep them safe. Many women described how they felt they were “patronized” and “threatened” at times which complicated their giving birth and pregnancy. Many of these women reported how this treatment made them believe they were at fault. A 31-year-old woman from London who had a dangerous infection called sepsis expressed how this infection had only been identified a day after she had started labor. She said “It was almost 24 hours later before a doctor took my bloods for the first time and realized I was seriously ill.” Consequently, she recognized how the delay in treatment were “microaggressions, and was stereotyped because of the color of my skin.”

A report released by the UK maternity care in 2022 delineated this ‘systemic racism’. The charity that carried out this report is Birthrights, and in the report an absence in physical and psychological help toward these women who were dehumanized and ignored prior and post giving birth was shown. Clinical negligence expert and chair of the Birthrights’ injustice in UK Maternity Service, Shaheen Rahman, stated how from a comparative viewpoint, Black women are 4 times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth, while mixed race and Asian women are twice as likely.

The main points taken from the Birthrights report expressed how the main reasons these women’s lives were being threatened were because medical professionals did not believe these women had serious medical conditions- like jaundice- in black babies. Additionally, these women mentioned how health care professionals refused to give them pain relief medication due to racist beliefs, such as black women being more tolerable towards withstanding pain.

The Birthrights report concluded by emphasising the strong necessity of implementing policy change in order to stop the ‘systematic racism’ that is costing the lives of many women. Birthrights also communicated how they are “developing the first ever government-led women’s health strategy for England, and fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss and postnatal support will be a priority area.” This is extremely important as it will allow all women to receive help that they might need prior to and after childbirth. The Department of Health and Social Care have also introduced a taskforce to battle this ‘systemic racism’, which is seen as an essential action to tackle this matter.

Giving birth should not be a traumatizing experience. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize and understand the ‘systemic racism’ that Black, Asian and ethnic women are constantly exposed to in the UK in order to advocate for change.

Bibliography

Hill, Meg. “Year-Long Inquiry Finds ‘Systemic Racism’ in UK Maternity Care.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, May 23, 2022. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/department-of-health-and-social-care-asian-b2084913.html.

Jeraj, Samir. “Doing the Work to End Health Inequalities Caused by Systemic Racism.” BMJ, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n821.

MacLellan, Jennifer, Sarah Collins, Margaret Myatt, Catherine Pope, Wanja Knighton, and Tanvi Rai. “Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Women’s Experiences of Maternity Services in the UK: A Qualitative Evidence Synthesis.” Journal of Advanced Nursing, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1111/jan.15233.

Summers, Hannah. “Racism in UK Maternity Care Risks Safety of Black, Asian and Mixed Ethnicity Women – Study.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, May 22, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/23/racism-in-uk-maternity-care-risks-safety-of-black-asian-and-mixed-ethnicity-women-study.

Talwar, Divya. “’I Was Repeatedly Ignored’ – Report Finds Maternity Racism.” BBC News. BBC, May 22, 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-61497923.

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