Despite the United States being a developed nation, it has one of the highest maternal mortality rates of any country, with Black women being affected disproportionately higher than any other race.
While a variety of factors influence health disparities, a commonly reported experience among Black women is feeling judged, overlooked or ignored by health care providers. In 2004, 15-year-old Brooke Rawls went to her first prenatal appointment at UPMC Magee-Womens Specialty Services in Monroeville expecting to feel this way, but a provider left her feeling supported, cared for and inspired by her kindness.
“I remember expecting to be judged and discriminated against for my entire pregnancy. I was expecting judgement from the medical providers, my school and the community,” said Rawls. “At the UPMC Magee clinic, I never felt that way. Everyone was very kind to me and I always felt supported.”
One specific provider, Dolores (Dee) Caughey, had a significant impact on Rawls’ experience. “I considered Dee like my aunt at the clinic. It wasn’t anything specific she said or did, but it was just the feeling she gave me. Every woman should have an ‘Aunt Dee’ in their life,” said Rawls.
Simply by caring and listening, Caughey made Rawls feel comfortable and understood—something that seems like the standard for patient-provider interactions but is not always realized.
“It makes me feel great knowing I made Brooke feel supported. I do talk to my patients a lot. I spend a lot of time with them in the room. We start talking about family and everything, and sometimes I don’t even know how it happens,” said Caughey, who was formerly a medical assistant but now holds the role of administrative assistant and surgery scheduling coordinator at the UPMC Magee Monroeville clinic.
Rawls’ interaction with Caughey and her experience at the clinic left her inspired and wanting to help other women in similar situations. She earned her master’s degree in social work, a Ph.D. in education and has been working at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital for just over a year. “I wanted to have the education to be able to help others make a difference. Working at UPMC Magee has had such a positive impact on my life and I feel like I am finally able to give back to others now,” said Rawls.
“I had a good experience, but not everyone can say that. I think there are always opportunities to make it better,” explained Rawls. “At UPMC Magee, we’re starting a Black mother’s support group called Melanated Mommas. I want to change the way we encourage patients. One of the things we’re working on is addressing the elephant in the room of ‘you’re a young mom, or you’re a Black mom,’ because that is not your only story. We want to change the preconceived notions that our patients will come in and be discriminated against. More importantly, we want to teach our patients how to advocate for themselves if they feel they are experiencing discrimination or judgement.”
The support group Rawls is working on is starting in the UPMC Magee outpatient clinics, and the hope is to expand it into other areas of the health system. The goal is to help Black women to navigate the health care system and to feel comfortable doing so—which in turn, aims to address the high rates of infant and maternal mortality in Allegheny County.
Black Maternal Health Week is April 11-17. UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is a sponsor of Black Maternal Health Week presented by Brown Mamas and the Birthing Hut.
To learn more about the Melanated Mommas support group, individuals can email MelanatedMommas@upmc.edu or call 412-641-7975.