On Tuesday, I took part in a press conference at the NYS Assembly highlighting Black Maternal Health Week, maternal mortality, a racial disparity in health outcomes. Spending time in the Capital with cameras and reporters and legislators puts me way out of my comfort zone but I put on my best face (and some lipstick) and did my part. Here is the statement I give and some photos from the event.
My name is Katherine Michelle Doyle. I am a NYS Licensed Midwife and live and work in Troy. I am 56 years old: In 1961, I was born in St Louis MO, a place of great artistic creativity, and a long history of racial tension and divides. My childhood in this divided city coincided with the Civil Rights era. While the high School I attended in the 1970’s was integrated, many in the area had barely moved in that direction.
Growing up in the Midwest in the 60’s, race was always a factor -from the discussion of which part of town one was visiting, to who was coming to dinner. But the push from society in general and the grown ups around me (parents, grandparents, church leaders, teachers) was that one’s race or the color of one’s skin was not to make a difference in how anyone was seen or treated, that all were equal in the eyes of the law (and G-d). And that was how my eyes would strive to work -seeing the PERSON in front of me, not a particular race or skin color.
Since 1982, I have worked in Women’s Health, as a midwife’s assistant, a nurse, and since 1999 as a licensed midwife in NYS. In those 35 years, my nursing and midwifery education also focused on treated all individuals equally, that culture should be celebrated and supported, but race? Well, race was to be treated only as a box checked on health history forms. Again, I was trained to see the PERSON in front of me, not the color of their skin or their socially defined Race.
But thank goodness for those check boxes on health forms. Because of data collection, we know that the number of American women that die in the year of their pregnancy or birthing (the maternal mortality rate) is higher than almost any other nation in the Developed World. And we know that African American women die at four times the rate of White American women. Four times the rate!
Here in NY State, we unfortunately are doing just as badly as the nation as a whole. NYS DOH places the NY Maternal Mortality Rate at almost 21 per 100,000. In Albany County, the rate is 32 -that is more than twice the average for Developed Countries as a whole. And yes, the four times figure holds here too. In NYS, in the year of their pregnancy, Black women are four times as likely to die as White women. Four times. And this difference is irrespective of education level or income. This is not ‘just’ a socio-economic problem. This is a complicated, multi factorial, and systemic problem that we disparately need to get a handle on because it is killing us.
For almost twenty years, I have been a midwife. For my first 55 years on this planet, I worked hard to see the individual standing in front of me, not their race or color . But here we are in 2018, and now I HAVE to see the color of my client’s skin, her socially defined Race. I have to because that information is a risk factor for her health (and potential death) as much as her blood pressure or family history.
Here we are April 2018, in the first declared Black Maternal Health Week, celebrating Black mamas. Black mamas like Dr Asante Shipp-Hilts -scientist, public servant, health advocate, and mother of two fine daughters, Justice and Freedom (and yes, Justice comes first). Thank you, Asante being a healthy Black mama, and a role model for every one of us. All people deserve to live long, healthy, happy and resilient lives, all people, And it is time to face head on that for Black women in NY, we need to work hard, and then even harder, to make this happen.
May all babies be born into loving hands
Justice, Asante and Freedom Shipp-Hilts
K Michelle Doyle with Assemblywomen Peoples-Stokes and Joyner
K Michelle Doyle being acknowledged in front of the NYS Assembly (it was the end of a long day so the gallery was empty but about a hundred Assembly folks were present. It was grand!)