SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) Giving birth is supposed to be one of the most exciting times in a woman’s life. However, the Centers for Disease Control has made an ongoing commitment to share the disparities in maternal mortality. According to the CDC, Black women are five times more likely to die from pregnancy-related disorders than White women. Krystol Austin, an international graduate student in the Syracuse University architecture program said she almost withdrew from SU to return to Jamaica after experiencing discrimination when she sought prenatal care.
“When we had to start school in person again last semester I was about seven months pregant when I came here,” Austin said. “When I came here I had difficulty getting a doctor; I even contacted the Barnes Center and they have a great staff over there — Melissa, she also tried to help me get a doctor.”
Despite Upstate University Hospital being a staple to Central New York for obstetrics, gynecology and maternity care, Austin says she struggled to find a doctor to accept insurance documents from Jamaica.
“I guess they were concerned about varying degrees of like, Jamaica may not do things like we do things here, all sort of stuff, which I thought was ridiculous,” Austin said. “No one wanted to accept care and I called almost every doctor in Syracuse, so did the Barnes Center.”
According to the CDC, implicit bias, variations in quality healthcare and underlying chronic conditions all contribute to pregnancy-related deaths. Research suggests consistent healthcare and social support before, during and after pregnancy help to reduce Black maternal mortality rates.
But Austin grew frustrated and concerned after several doctors denied her and her unborn baby, prenatal care.
“I did find a doctor at St. Joseph’s Hospital,” Austin said. “And by that time, I was closer to my birth date so I went some time without care because I couldn’t receive care.”
Austin says she felt as though she was in a disenfranchised position. Doctors were denying her because her insurance documents were from Jamaica, but they were written in English, so she said it was just an excuse.
But finally, one day Austin was introduced to a Black doula who helped expedite her prenatal care and advocate for her during her delivery.
SeQoia Kemp, Founder & Executive Director of Sankofa Reproductive Health and Healing Center in Syracuse has been using her background in nursing and maternal care to educate and protect Black mothers and other marginalized communities.
“If we go back historically, the whole foundation of obstetrics and gynocology was rooted in the experimentation of Black bodies, of female slaves,” Kemp said. “So, with that being the history of gynecology it’s no wonder that the fragment of that history is still present in modern times.”
Kemp says in medical school, today’s doctors are still surrounded by the same practices and language that stemmed from biased and unjust medical care.
According to Kemp, mothers in America do not have access to the patient-centered care, she fights for.
“We do not have the accessibility to providers that honor our wishes,” Kemp said. “So, unfortunately, there’s a nursing shortage and a medical doctor shortage so our whole healthcare system just needs to be taken down and remixed and really built so that people can feel supported before pregnancy and even after.”
Thanks to the support of doulas like Kemp, Austin is raising a healthy daughter named Phoenix and is looking forward to re-locating to NYC to pursue architecture upon graduation.
“It was a great experience,” Austin said. “I wanted a natural birth and they [Kemp and a midwife she works with] taught me all of the techniques…She was like, I don’t care, whatever you need, is what I’m here for, just tell me and I’ll ensure that the staff there arable to assist you or that I am able to assist you.”