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Pregnant women of color are disrespected in healthcare

When you go to a doctor, how often do you have to worry? What do you worry about? Do you have to worry about if they will care about your concern? Do you have to worry about if they will listen? Do you have to worry that they will force you to do things you don’t want to do? Is it easy to have a conversation with them? Are they friendly? Will they support you? Explain your options? What if they don’t share a common background with you?

Perhaps some of you have had at least one of these thoughts. Perhaps some of you have had all of these thoughts.

Perhaps the some of you that have had these thoughts know where I am going with this.

These thoughts, although many may have some just given how atrocious the healthcare system can be, are more likely to be had by people of color. And even within that, specifically, women of color.

This happens throughout the lifespan, even during pregnancy. That is what I want to explore today.

Women of color still face disparities when it comes to pregnancies. This is not due to some innate biological difference between racial-ethnic backgrounds. Rather, it is primarily due to differential treatment within healthcare on the basis of things like skin color, education, or other privileges.

In particular, people that are Native or Black tend to have it the worst with the highest rates of a pregnancy-related death (28 and 42 out of 100,000 respectively, compared to 13 out of 100,000 for White) (more info here).

In following this logic, we can see that, if doctors are not respecting the wishes of patients and are not listening to the general concerns they have, causing excess stress, then it is more likely that the birth of the baby will be compromised on some level. Honestly, this will affect the entire gestation period because these women will likely be in a heightened stress or anxious state more often which will affect both the mother and the baby.

So, how do researchers find out that this is happening? In this case, it was through interviews. This is particularly useful when there hasn’t been much research on a topic because it allows the real-world phenomena to not be obscured by researchers. People just talk and then researchers need to figure out what to do with all that talking.

By doing this, researchers found 3 main themes across women of color that had given birth within the past 6 weeks to 1 year. Themes were created because enough people talked about them in their responses during their interview. I’ll talk about these below.

1). The way providers saw their patients changed how they presented information to them.

When people are not seen as people, medical providers are less likely to treat you with respect. This means that women of color in particular felt like their autonomy was overrun. Doctors wouldn’t share with them all of the information necessary to make their own decisions. Instead, they sometimes even force decisions the patient doesn’t want.

For example, one patient started receiving treatment for a hemorrhage, but the medical staff did not tell her anything about what was happening to her.

That’s so wrong.

It also seems like sometimes, patients will be guilted into something. For example, here is a direct quote from one of the participants: “I told him that I wanted to do a little bit more research and that I wasn't going to get him vaccinated at that moment. And he was like, “Well, I thought that you cared about your children. But if that's not the case, then feel free to go.” It was like, “Really?” That's not okay”.

Instead, the doctor could actually explain alternatives and actual risks.

For these reasons, women of color tend to describe themselves as fearful, left out of decision-making, disrespected, violated, feeling not valued about, and even harassed and bullied. This all seems like accurate descriptions based on these cases so far.

2). Having a relationship with the provider is important and privilege plays a role in creating a relationship.

As one might think, women of color want to be able to have a stable relationship with their provider and medical team. However, the degree to which doctors do this is different depending on privilege of the patient.

Privilege comes in many forms. We all likely have at least 1 type of privilege and some have much going for them already. In the case of the medical system and pregnant women of color, it seems like doctors treat people differently depending on skin color and education.