Continuing the fight for birthing equity

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Capital News Service 

LANSING – In Michigan, black infants are three times more likely to die before their first year than white infants, the Department of Health and Human Services said.

The department has launched an Advancing Healthy Births plan to improve birthing equity and outcomes. 

That includes hospital conditions, medical insurance and how health providers treat pregnant women regardless of racial and social inequalities. 

Araya Montero, a midwife who founded Two Hearted Midwifery and Home Birth in Traverse City, says it’s hard for midwives and patients’ families to make a difference in public policies and practices that affect the health of pregnant women and their infants.

“As far as public health comes, the changes need to happen in big systems where the vast majority of people are birthing, which is hospitals,” Montero said. 

That’s “extremely not conducive to equity because there’s a bottom line, there’s a profit that needs to be made,” she said.

Montero said that due to a lack of racial diversity, Northern Michigan sees more birth inequity among low-income women overall.

The March of Dimes, an organization that advocates birth equity and maternal health, gives Michigan a D+ grade for its high proportion of premature births and high infant mortality rate.

The organization tracks every state’s progress towards eliminating racial and ethnic imbalance.

For example, it says Michigan has shown “no improvement” in its premature birth rate by race and ethnicity.

Natasha Bagdasarian, the chief medical officer at Health and Human Services, said equity is the framework that guides the department’s new plan.

For 2024-28, the plan highlights four priority areas: full-term healthy weight babies, safe infant sleeping, mental health and mothers’ well-being.

“Advancing Healthy Births outlines concrete actions to better serve Michigan families, with a special focus on improving care for Black families and other marginalized communities who frequently experience barriers to care,” she said.

The department said it will expand access, promote best practices, expand resources and support provider training and education to promote healthy births.

Montero said she hopes for future birth equity in Michigan, in part because of the push for improved policies. 

But she said doesn’t have the same high expectations for her own community, 

“We have one hospital here, and there’s no respect towards those midwives in the work that they’re doing,” she said.

“I’ve just kind of resigned at this point, which probably sounds terrible. But I’ll still continue to do what I do, and do my good work,” she said. 

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