By Antonio Reynoso, Urban Matters
Four years ago, I came to a challenging realization, as my wife and I were about to embark on the next exciting stage of our union: parenthood.
As we were doing our research and preparing for the birth of our first son, Alejandro, we learned that my wife, an Afro-Dominican woman, was 9.4 times more likely to die of complications in childbirth than her white counterparts. To imagine that my wife was more likely to lose her life during or after childbirth was terrifying to me, and I knew then that I had to play my role in helping to close such disparities.
I’ve learned that there are many factors that contribute to these disparities. Some include:
- Implicit bias that leads medical professionals to treat patients of color differently;
- Mental health conditions, which are the top cause of pregnancy-associated deaths;
- Social determinants of health like lack of access to healthy foods and stable housing; and
- The conditions of our hospitals and the limited resources they have to dedicate to this issue.
My wife and I say that her experience during childbirth (twice now) was positive and safe for one main reason.
Being treated at NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull for both of her pregnancies, my wife had access to excellent midwifery care, education, and other support services.
Midwifery services promote a shared decision-making model for birthing care and decrease unnecessary medical interventions, like cesareans.
We were lucky to have midwifery services. Today my wife is healthy, and we have two happy and thriving sons, Alejandro who is four, and Andres who is almost two.
But people shouldn’t have to rely on luck to keep loved ones safe.
My family’s experience and what I’ve learned about childbirth’s associated disparities have led me to my top priority as Brooklyn Borough President: To end maternal mortality and morbidity in this borough, making it one of the safest places to give birth.
During my campaign for office, I pledged to do something no other borough president has done in New York City’s history by allocating my entire annual fiscal funding in year one across the three Brooklyn public hospitals for the purposes of improving reproductive services, as well childbirth and postpartum services in each.
This summer, I fulfilled that promise, giving Coney Island, Kings County, and Woodhull hospitals a total of more than $45 million – $18.5 million, $15.6 million, and $11 million, respectively. This funding will go towards more than just new paint on the walls and new waiting room chairs. It’ll go towards state-of-the-art baby-mother units, new equipment, and environments that will encourage care teams to better react in time of medical crisis.
My commitment also goes further than just funding.
I’ve also established a Maternal Health Taskforce, currently made up entirely of Black women, that will help lay the foundation for strategizing around my maternal health agenda. I also look forward to supporting policies – such as lengthening the time periods covered by maternal health benefits and decreasing out-of-pocket expenses imposed on patients – that will increase health insurance access for all birthing people. And I intend to support the midwifery and doula pipeline, ensuring that these healthcare workers are culturally competent, while also increasing access to the same type of care my wife received.
I look forward to continuing to work with partners, medical teams, advocates, and others who are just as invested as I am in saving the lives of our pregnant loved one and making other parents just as fortunate as my wife and I have been.