+
COVID-19 has made the overlooked Black maternal health crisis even more vital to address
Photo by Andre Adjahoe on Unsplash

"New normal." That's the phrase ushered in by the novel coronavirus and the devastating scourge of death from COVID-19. "New normal" is the only way we as a collective can explain our current way of life: Social distancing, face mask wearing, working and teaching from home, constantly conferencing over Zoom and scheduling telehealth appointments instead of physically seeing a doctor unless absolutely necessary.

However, not all characteristics of "normal" life are easily converted to digital expression. Specifically, giving birth.

Right now as the United States grapples with more than 100,000 COVID-19 deaths, a resurgence of the virus in a dozen states, and massive demonstrations over the most recent murders of unarmed Black men and women, there is one crisis that is not getting the same attention, a crisis that has been allowed to linger and fester in this country for decades: The glaring disparity in the maternal death rate and infant mortality rate for Black mothers and their newborns.


Pre-pandemic numbers show that Black women are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth than are white women, and Black infants are twice as likely to die at birth or immediately after than are white infants.

"The thought of losing a child that didn't even get a chance to live life is truly terrifying," says Rebecca Merriweather, who recently gave birth to a baby girl.

Merriweather wasn't aware of the statistics surrounding Black maternal health and infant mortality when she learned she was pregnant, but already had concerns of her own: "Preeclampsia and possible complications during labor and how to avoid them." Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and is 60% more common in Black women compared to white women.

"Oftentimes women take very good care of themselves," said Certified Nurse Midwife Marsha E. Jackson CNM, MSN, FACNM. "They're often knowledgeable, they're eating right, they're doing all the right things, and they start running into problems with their blood pressure creeping up and things like that and it stems back to our whole healthcare system and all of the hurts we as Black people have experienced for centuries."

To help stave off some of those complications, Dr. Chandra Adams, M.D. has had to find new ways to keep up with her patients health while also providing them the best care.

"We're doing telehealth visits, which works pretty well, but we had to work out getting blood pressure cuffs, encouraging people to buy them, that way if they aren't coming to the office we can keep up with their vital signs," Dr. Adams said.

In the midst of the pandemic some Black women have been taking their birth experience into their own hands, looking for alternatives to decrease their risks and exposure to the coronavirus and any complications that could impose on their pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Those alternatives include midwifery care.

"More Black women go to the hospital to have their babies, but I think with this pandemic we have had an increase in women seeking our services," Jackson said. Jackson is the owner, co-founder, and director of BirthCare & Women's Health, Ltd. based in Alexandria, Virginia, a midwifery practice that caters to clients who have births in their homes or in the BirthCare birth center.

Dr. Adams, The Owner of Full Circle Jax in Jacksonville, Florida runs a private practice with doctors and midwives on staff. While she believes in the midwifery and birth center model, she cautions that it is not for everyone.

"I'm not opposed to out of hospital birth, but I don't think any decisions about birth should be made out of fear . . . You shouldn't run from a hospital because of a perceived danger without understanding what the risks are of delivering outside of the hospital."

Tecoya Harris, currently pregnant with her first child, admits to having mixed feelings about giving birth.

"I feel anxious about delivery due to the fact that I can't anticipate how it will feel," Harris said. "At the same time, my faith is high so I have to trust that God has brought me to this moment because I am ready. Having resources, a strong partner, and a doula also helps bring down some of those anxieties."

Dr. Adams strongly advocates for her moms to have a doula, and also encourages pregnant women to use their voice to advocate for themselves.

"I've been hearing women saying [about health problems] 'I've never brought it up again because I was afraid of what a doctor would say to me,' and so they just stopped talking about their problem. Don't stop talking about your problem! Go find somebody who's going to listen to you, and treat you like someone who respects you, and will find out what's wrong. That's our job. That's literally our job!"

While that may be the job, history shows the healthcare industry has a negative track record when it comes to listening and believing Black women when they say something is wrong.

"The system has done a terrible job of listening to Black women," Dr. Adams said.

Tennis superstar Serena Williams and Olympic-gold medal winner Allyson Felix have both been vocal about their birth experiences, the complications they faced, and how they had to fight to be heard to get well. Yet their stories, though cautionary, still end with a positive outcome. The same cannot be said for Charles Johnson IV who lost his wife Kira in 2015 when she bled to death after the birth of their second child.

"They [were] under the care of a physician, and basically they just let her die," Jackson said, recounting hearing Charles Johnson IV tell his family's story during the 2020 virtual conference of the American College of Nurse Midwives.

Jackson and Dr. Adams believe some of the blame for the Black maternal health crisis lies with ever expanding physician practices.

"One of the biggest problems was when hospitals started to employ physicians," Dr. Adams said. "Physicians, before, when we started we'd hang our shingle and open solo practices. You had the personal care because in the similar fashion of the mom-and-pop shop you were responsible for the level of customer service, and that is how you kept your 'customers' coming back."

Now, many physicians are employed by hospitals or large doctor groups who are more focused on productivity. Dr. Adams said that has led to a decrease in time doctors have with their patients, which can lead to a decrease in care. Because of this, Dr. Adams and Marsha Jackson both say Black women need to educate themselves in every way.

"You have to do research in the beginning. You want to find out what kind of options are available," Jackson said.

"But you're not going to go to medical school," Dr. Adams added. "There's a certain amount that you can't just get from Googling or reading on your own . . . but if you gather enough information about people you'll find what you're looking for."

This advice applied before the pandemic hit. Now, the country's response to COVID-19 has made it all the more important for pregnant Black women to do their research, assess their risks, and have the hard conversations with their doctors.

On her birth experience, Merriweather said, "The labor and delivery ward where I had my child was very meticulous in keeping the section of the hospital cut off from the rest to protect the lives of the mother and baby from the virus. Each doctor and nurse was only allowed to work in that division of the hospital and had to be tested before being allowed in while wearing masks."

For Harris, hearing of positive birth experiences from friends and loved ones has helped to keep her spirits up, even in the face of the pandemic and Black maternal health crises.

"Although it is scary, seeing that other women have had healthy babies and deliveries give me hope," Harris said. "Our bodies were made to do this and we are already amazing moms with every decision we make during pregnancy."

Pandemic or no pandemic, Dr. Adams—who has been focused on the Black maternal health crisis for over a decade—says while this discussion isn't new, people are finally being heard and there is responsibility for doctors and Black women.

"What is unfortunate in the healthcare system is that Black women are not listened to, we are not treated with respect, and we are not believed when we present valid complaints," she said. "[But] what is actually physically killing us is hypertension and hemorrhage. We are not dying from people not being nice to us. We are disenfranchised and we're not receiving the appropriate amount of preventative care, and sometimes responsive care, because of that."

In early March, U.S. Representatives Lauren Underwood, Alma S. Adams, and Senator Kamala Harris introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020. The legislation is a package of nine individual bills aimed at "comprehensively addressing every dimension of the Black maternal health crisis." However, the package has received little exposure due to COVID. Once again, Black women, mothers, and their children are left to fend for themselves at a time when Black people are twice as likely to die from COVID than their white peers.

With the future passability of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act unknown, and the expected resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall (or until there is a vaccine) the onus remains on Black women to educate and advocate for themselves and their unborn children, and perhaps to seek a collaborative model of care where available.

"Cooperative care between midwives and physicians is essential," Dr. Adams said. "You have to have a midlevel to understand what is normal. [Someone] who has been trained enough to see enough to know what is abnormal and to appropriately refer to someone to handle when something is abnormal."

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

True

Girls are bombarded with messages from a very young age telling them that they can’t, that is too big, this is too heavy, those are too much.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Artist uses AI to create ultra realistic portraits of celebrities who left us too soon

What would certain icons look like if nothing had happened to them?

Mercury would be 76 today.

Some icons have truly left this world too early. It’s a tragedy when anyone doesn’t make it to see old age, but when it happens to a well-known public figure, it’s like a bit of their art and legacy dies with them. What might Freddie Mercury have created if he were granted the gift of long life? Bruce Lee? Princess Diana?

Their futures might be mere musings of our imagination, but thanks to a lot of creativity (and a little tech) we can now get a glimpse into what these celebrities might have looked like when they were older.

Alper Yesiltas, an Istanbul-based lawyer and photographer, created a photography series titled “As If Nothing Happened,” which features eerily realistic portraits of long gone celebrities in their golden years. To make the images as real looking as possible, Yesiltas incorporated various photo editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom and VSCO, as well as the AI photo-enhancing software Remini.

“The hardest part of the creative process for me is making the image feel ‘real’ to me,” Yesiltas wrote about his passion project. “The moment I like the most is when I think the image in front of me looks as if it was taken by a photographer.”

Yesiltas’ meticulousness paid off, because the results are uncanny.

Along with each photo, Yesiltas writes a bittersweet message “wishing” how things might have gone differently … as if nothing happened.
Keep ReadingShow less
All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

True

Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

Pop Culture

'90s kids share movies that will 'take you back to a better time'

It was a magical time when animals played sports and yet somehow things were just simpler.

YouTube/Upworthy photo illustration

Honey, I shrunk the kid named Matilda while jamming in space!

Everyone knows that '90s movies just hit different. From sports movies to rom-coms to even horror, there was an undeniable innocence, without being overly simplistic or juvenile. They didn’t have nearly the amount of money going into production as they do today, but somehow managed to transport us to magical places.

Movies of the '90s are so iconic that there have been several attempts to reboot beloved titles. Which, let’s face it, tends to be a fool's errand at a cash grab. These movies are so timeless that simply viewing the original is more than fine.

Not sure which movie to start with? You’re in luck—a Reddit user by the name of YouBrokeMyTV asked ’90s kids to share movies that took them “back to a better time,” and because the internet can be a wonderful place, tons of people responded with some beloved classics.

These answers certainly don’t make a definitive list (there are just so, so many gems) but they're a fun glimpse into what made '90s cinema so special. A nostalgic romp through memory lane, if you will.

Enjoy these 14 titles that just might leave you jonesing for a rewatch:

1. "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"

via GIPHY

A perfect example of how '90s movies were silly, but smart at the same time. And oh so wholesome.

2. "The Sandlot"

via GIPHY

It taught us nothing about baseball, but everything about friendship, rooting for the underdog and (most important) how to make s’mores.

3. "Drop Dead Fred"

via GIPHY

Critics might have run this cult classic through the mud during its inception, but audiences fell in love with the bizarre charm of this story about a mischievous little girl and her anarchist imaginary friend. So take that, snotfaces!

4. "The Goonies"

via GIPHY

Everyone just wanted to set off an epic quest with their friends for pirate treasure after seeing this movie.

5. Tim Burton's "Batman"

via GIPHY

Before the superhero genre was the behemoth it is today, a quirky director and the dude who was best known for playing the creepy demon in "Beetlejuice" breathed new life into comic-book movies. Marvel might be the leader on creating stories with adult themes that are digestible for kids nowadays, but this DC film was the first of its kind. Plus, that soundtrack … forget about it.

6. "Hook"

via GIPHY

Pretty much any '90s film starring Robin Williams was an absolute gem, but this one in particular is timeless. His gift of balancing childlike humor with emotional gravitas lent itself so well to playing the now grown and cynical Peter Pan, who must learn to reclaim his joy (relatable, millennials?). It was a bang-a-rang-er, no question.

7. "Space Jam"

via GIPHY

It had Looney Tunes, it had aliens and it had Michael Jordan. That’s a winning combination.

8. "Matilda"

via GIPHY

I don’t think I’m out of line when I say that this movie helped a lot of kids make their way through difficult childhoods.

9. "The Parent Trap"

via GIPHY

Even '90s reboots were awesome. And how fun it is to see that Lisa Ann Walker—the actress who played Chessy the housekeeper—is not only yet again gracing the screens in NBC’s “Abbott Elementary,” but is also being revered as a style icon on TikTok for her ultra casual looks in the film. We all knew she was onto something with long button downs and shorts.

10. "The Land Before Time"

via GIPHY


No cartoon, not even “The Lion King,” was a better depiction of childhood grief. And yet, despite encapsulating tragedy, director Don Bluth still left viewers hopeful. The subsequent 14 (yes 14) sequels definitely pale in comparison to the original, but "The Land Before Time" continues to stand the test of time nonetheless.

11. "Richie Rich"

via GIPHY

The scene where they play tag on four-wheelers is simply iconic.

12. "Dunston Checks In"

via GIPHY

Man, the '90s were the golden age of animal-centered films. And not just monkeys either—we got sports playing golden retrievers and not one, but two movies starring talking pigs. What a time to be alive. These films were made before CGI had reached the levels it’s at today, and the authentic interactions between humans and creatures reached right through the screen.

13. "George of the Jungle"
george of the jungle, brendan faser

Watch out for the tree!!!

Giphy

Have I seen this movie at least 20 times? Probably. It doesn’t get any better than this in terms of silly action films with bird puppets. It’s crazy to think that this role would eventually lead Brendan Fraser to "The Mummy" franchise, turning him into a household name. Though his career has had some tragic ups and downs, we are all grateful for the glorious comeback he’s been having.

14. Anything involving Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
mary kate and ashley

Yes, they were professional detectives.

Giphy

Whether vacationing in London, Paris or Rome, whether playing magical witches or making a huge billboard so their father could find love … Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen offered zany, whimsical entertainment while wearing fun outfits. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

As the saying goes, "You have to kiss a few frogs..."

Dating has certainly evolved over the years—we’ve gone from courtship being purely a financial arrangement (not that this trend has ever truly died) to knights jousting for a lady’s favor, to casual hookups … and now, romance is primarily found through an app more than anything else.

Technology used for meeting that special someone has become so advanced that you can base your search entirely upon specific interests. Like … oddly specific interests. Think a fellow cat person would be the purrfect match? There’s an app for that. Wish to “love long and prosper” with a fellow Trekkie? There’s an app for that too.

No matter the changes, one thing remains the same—dating is awkward. It’s got all the unspoken formalities of a job interview, disguised as innocent fun. The balance between playing it too cool and too eager is hard to find even for the smoothest among us, and usually results in total embarrassment. Even if we aren’t the ones committing those embarrassing acts ourselves, we are often the reluctant witness to them.

Terrible dates might not always be fun in the moment, but they can be just as important as the good ones. They can teach us a lot about ourselves and what qualities we want in a partner. And at the very least, they can teach us to embrace social clumsiness with a sense of humor.

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share a “funny or embarrassing first date story” for his ever popular #Hashtags segment. The best part—some of these awful first dates ended in marriage. There’s hope for us all.

Below, find 15 stories that are truly the best of the worst. How do some of your first dates compare?

1. "After a nice dinner, she invited me to her house. On the way up, inside the elevator, I decided to push the button to stop between floors and give her a kiss... She had a phobia of closed spaces and she smacked my face as a reflex, two punches after we were kissing and laughing.” – @PanqueAlgarvio

2. “His jeans were so tight he couldn’t sit down. Stood at a bar stool the whole time.” – @onlyintheozarks

3. “Waiting 4 my date when an older couple asked me for a ride. my date came up and said sure! We drove them home & they asked us to come in. Date said “sure”. I pulled him back & asked why he wanted to hang w/strangers. He said ‘sh@t! YOU DON'T KNOW THEM!?’ We bolted!” – @natashaham75

facebook dating

Talk about a fashion faux pas.

Giphy

4. “Before the date, we had been chatting about books we liked and I talked about a great book I just read. We went on the date. I loaned her the book. She ghosted me.” – @thenextbarstool

5. “The worst first date I ever had was when my date locked his keys in the car and I had a curfew so he had to break his car window out to get me home on time. Didn’t think I’d ever see him again but we wound up married.” – @csleblan

6. “First date movie ‘Basic Instinct’ not realizing how suggestive it was. We just thought it was a mystery thriller! We left the movie discussing how each character could have actually murdered someone. We're married now.” – @Southrnbell_Amy

black people meet

There are worse first date movies tbh.

Giphy

7. “First date with my ex husband was a double date with his parents. The preview for ‘Speed Racer’ came on, and she leaned over me to say to her son, ‘You know what your dad's nickname in the bedroom is?’" – @theostoria

8. “A friend asked me on a double date as a blind date with his date's friend. I went to the bathroom and came back just in time to hear my date say to her friend, ‘why do I get the ugly one?’ I said good night to all three and headed home, leaving her w/the bill.” – @StevenTrustum

9. “He loved cheese. I was subjected to a 2 hour conversation/lecture about cheese, and why cottage cheese is not cheese!” – @Optimist_Eeyore

bumble

I'd like to see this two-hour cheese lecture.

Giphy

10. “He took me to an Asian fish market. We walked around looking at live & dead fish for a while. I don’t like seeing dead animals & I don’t eat seafood. Then we sat on a curb & he pulled out a ziplock bag of pineapple for us to share. I don’t like pineapple.” – @markayhali

11. “My cousin set up a first date for me with a family friend. During a break from dinner, Mr. Man follows me into the ladies’ room, comes up close and says in a low voice, ‘I shave my butt.’ Can’t remember what I said in response but the evening ended abruptly.” – @carli_zarzana

12. “I once took out my high school crush to a sports bar and ordered the spiciest wings there in an attempt to impress her. Not only was she not impressed. The next morning I woke up with heartburn.” –@Dmonster38

tindr conversation starters

Talk about a hot date.

GIF

13. “My date showed up with his bestie and girlfriend, and they talked through dinner about people I don’t know. Walking to the car, he gave me a wedgie because he thought he hadn’t been paying enough attention to me.” – @surrealDazey


14. “I was taking my date home and was pulled over by the police for speeding. When the cop came to my car, she jumped out and told him she had to get home. She walked home and I never heard from her again. I'm not sure who's #WorstFirstDate it was mine or hers!” – @eastriverbear

15. “After an evening of dancing with a first date, leaving the dance hall, I had to take a quick pee break. Rushing out to the parking lot, I see a lady, I grab her and swoop her around, and plant a big wet kiss on the lips. She was another guy's wife. Oops!” – @seadogskamore

date you

Only Gomez could have gotten away with it.

Giphy