REVIEW: Dispatches: The Black Maternity Scandal

Black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth compared to white women. It’s a statistic that many of us have heard before and was something reiterated in Channel 4’s recent episode of Dispatches which investigated mortality rates among pregnant Black women. 

Throughout the documentary, this harrowing statistic was drilled into viewers as we watched cases studies which painted a bleak picture of the disproportionate treatment many expectant Black mothers face which can sometimes lead to their deaths.

The documentary, hosted by Rochelle Humes, was particularly poignant as it aired during the week of the inquest of a British-Ghanaian nurse, Mary Agyapong, who died of Covid-19 after giving birth last year. 

Although Mary’s baby was safely delivered, her husband Ernest Boateng revealed that before giving birth, Mary was hospitalised and discharged with antibiotics, despite having COVID-19 symptoms.

Mary’s experience is something many Black women face as our health concerns often go unacknowledged and this was highlighted in the programme and something which stuck out to me in particular. 

In the documentary, Rochelle shared that in a 2016 US study, medics believed that Black people could bear more pain than white people.

She also spoke to a woman, Jade, who had given birth by elected c-section and proceeded to complain of stomach pain shortly after. It was only when her husband pleaded for doctors and nurses to take her pain seriously that she had a scan. Jade was found with six litres of blood in her stomach, 12 hours after complaining of pain and feeling drowsy. 

Jade said: “Would I have been shown more empathy if I was white? Possibly yeah.

“When you sit here and the whole reality of ‘Was I not listened to because of the colour of my skin?’ That cuts deep.”

Speaking on the relationship between Black women and how we’re treated in hospital environments, Rochelle said: “There’s a gap in the system, there’s something not quite adding up.”

Rochelle stated that during production, her team had reached out to the government for an interview, and unsurprisingly they declined. 

However, a statement from Nadine Dorries, minister for maternity, was shown on the programme. 

She said: “The colour of a woman’s skin should have no impact on her or her baby’s health. 

“I have launched an oversight group to monitor how the health service is tackling maternal inequalities.” 

NEXT STEPS

The documentary was long-awaited and spoke to an issue that needed to be addressed and continues to be prevalent among Black women today. However, in just under 30 minutes and with Rochelle at the helm, I do wonder if the documentary would’ve benefitted from a different approach which allowed for more discussion into how we can change this statistic and for it to be led by a woman who has been campaigning on this issue for years. 

Before this programme was broadcast, it was already a talking point on the Twittersphere. Author Candice Braithwaite announced that she thought she would be presenting the documentary and was surprised to see that Rochelle was chosen. Many people argued that Channel 4 had placed a more ‘palatable’ face for the documentary as Rochelle Humes is not only a household name, she is also lighter in complexion. 

In an Instagram post, Candice stated that the producer of the documentary wanted the presenter “to be removed from the situation so that the element of discovery about an issue is genuine.” 

While this may be acceptable for a documentary about travelling or food, there is no one who can listen to and understand the experiences of a dark-skinned Black woman better than another dark-skinned Black woman. 

Although Rochelle’s interviews were filled with empathy for these womens’ experience, I think these mothers would’ve benefitted from speaking to someone they could closely relate to and is well-informed on this issue.

CHANGE

The main message that stood out to me during the programme was from a doula, Mars Lord. 

She said: “Black women aren’t given choices in the same way [to white women]. If white women were dying at these rates, they would damn well do something about it.” 

It is clear that the healthcare system is ultimately failing Black women and something needs to be done about it. This isn’t news to many Black women – especially those who’ve been actively campaigning on this issue for years. 

However, having this topic addressed on a massive platform will hopefully help create more discussions and most importantly, inspire action to improve the outcome for expectant Black mothers. 

This is an issue that can no longer go ignored.

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