When it comes to Maternity Transformation - Our Voices Matter.

Now more than ever we see the need for real perinatal engagement with Black women in the birth space. Transformation in Maternity Services cannot happen without the voices and experiences of the women who are least served by it.

Engagement should never be just a tick box exercise or an addition at the end of a programme. It needs to be embedded and its impact measured.

In my previous experience in community engagement, I was acutely aware that engagement strategies rarely did what it is they said they were doing – that is actual engagement. Here in 2021, I see that not much has changed. If perinatal engagement teams were effectively engaging with, talking to and co-creating with Black and Brown women, we would not be appalled by the fact that Black women are still 4 -5 times more likely to die in perinatal period than white women and Asian women twice as likely to die. MBRRACE report (2018)

Now with the recent National Institute for Clinical Excellence NICE recommendations around the early induction of Black and Asian women that came to public knowledge in early July 21, we have really come to see how very little perinatal engagement is actioned. We are now seeing how decisions about our care are made in closed rooms by people who do not look like us and who do not validate our lived experiences. These decision makers go on to justify their decisions by telling us it is in their professional capacity to do so, so therefore we must just accept this and not make a fuss. These people have the power to make decisions that will potentially have a negative impact on Black birthing women/people and our children for the rest of our lives.

Our Black bodies are not to be blamed

By blaming Black women’s bodies and pathologizing our race; organisations, researchers and clinicians have no need to look deeper into what is really happening to us in the birth space. They seem to be basing a lot of their decisions about our clinical care around statistics and instead of interrogating the data that is being collected, they are taking it at face value. If they were to simply ask Black women what is really happening to them in the birth space, what are their experiences of maternity care and what support are they receiving during this period, they would have a much better understanding of the issues around race, discrimination, not being heard and the lack of care and compassion.

What can we do as birth keepers of colour?

We as Black birth-workers are activists by default. When and where we see birth injustice, we gather together to enact change. The team behind the @notson.i.c.e #NotSoNice and #Fivexmore campaigns are working tirelessly to ensure that we are not silenced. Here at Maternity Engagement Action, we are supporting Black perinatal women and their families to have better pregnancy, birth and postnatal experiences. Our mission is to engage with women and provide Safe Spaces for them to speak, vent, learn and enjoy their maternal moments.

You see this is what real engagement does – it goes beyond a tick box exercise; it unearths the actual reasons why there are disparities in healthcare because it’s about authentic experiences. It is about gathering qualitative intelligence and not just the reliance of impersonal and anonymous numerical data.

I urge perinatal health and wellbeing leaders to do real engagement with Black women and do it now. Our voices matter.

So, the next time you go to a meeting or have a conversation on this topic and perinatal managers ask “what can we do to better engage with Black perinatal women?” tell them the following:

  • Partner with Voluntary, Community & Third sector organisations to better engage with Black perinatal women.

  • Go to where they are, do not expect them to come to you.

  • Give Black perinatal women a reason to engage with you, be honest and feedback in real time with real solutions.

  • Stop asking the same questions that can be traumatising and re-traumatising, ask questions off the back of implemented solutions to ensure changes are making a real impact.

  • Train and pay local women to assist you in gathering this intelligence.

  • Don’t create a report that sits on a shelf gathering dust - do something with it, make it a real working document that is a blueprint for changes in maternity services.

  • Create policies around these experiences through co-creation and co-production and present them and promote them as best practice.

  • Do robust work with maternity health professionals on anti-racism and anti-discrimination.

  • Do deep internal organisational work on rooting out implicit and explicit bias.

  • Create culturally safe work environments that support staff to do the best they can. Protect whistle-blowers who call out unsafe practice.

What do we do as Black birthing women and Black birth keepers?

  • We are birth activists – we must also take care of ourselves.

  • Gather together in order to be more powerful.

  • Find your tribe and your safe space.

  • Encourage Black women to tell their birth stories for wellness.

  • Create and provide safe spaces for Black women to share their experiences.

  • Empower Black perinatal women to become their own wellbeing leaders and advocates.

  • Work to support movements that are about keeping the Black perinatal woman safe.

  • Stand in solidarity and support of our sisters who are at the forefront of activism.

  • Gather intelligence and work collaboratively with each other.

If we keep using our voices I strongly believe that eventually change will happen.

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