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."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via US Secretary of Defense / Flickr and The Today Show

As the nation braces itself for the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, President Biden has embraced the family of George Floyd at what has to be an incredibly stressful time.

Following closing arguments in the Chauvin trial on Monday, Judge Peter Cahill has sent jurors to deliberate. The verdict is expected to come in the next few days.

"He was just calling," George's brother, Philonise Floyd, said about the president. "He knows how it is to lose a family member, and he knows the process of what we're going through. So he was just letting us know that he was praying for us, hoping that everything will come out to be OK."

Biden lost his wife and one-year-old daughter in a tragic car accident in 1972 and his son Beau to cancer in 2015.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.