A University of Connecticut researcher has taken a deeper look into the impacts of racism on Black mothers and babies.
Haile Eshe Cole, a new member of the Health Disparities Cluster and UConn’s department of Anthropology and Africana Studies Institute, wants to better understand why the risks of giving birth are higher for Black mothers.
“Health disparities aren’t just this thing that popped up a couple of years ago,” Cole said in UConn Today. “It’s not about health care access only. There are so many issues intersecting to make those disparities happen.”
Doubt is at the heart of the issue that plays into the risks of maternal care, Cole said.
“In terms of maternal health, people start asking about the mother, ‘Did they get prenatal care and are they smoking and are they drinking and are they exercising?” We fall back on that really easy narrative instead of really trying to dig down into the root cause of the issue,” Cole said. “The root of that problem is that Black birthing folks are not heard. They will say something doesn’t feel right; they will be doubted.”
Black women in the U.S. are three-to-four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related issues than their white counterparts, Cole said.
“Black women in the U.S. are three-to-four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related issues than their white counterparts”Haile Eshe Cole, UConn Researcher
“A lot of research now is supporting that it is racism-induced stress that is causing these outcomes,” Cole said. “The research is looking at racism over the life course and how that is affecting the wellness and the allostatic load.”
Cole started her research working with mass incarceration and rehabilitation programs that incorporate the art in prisons.
“As I did more research I was really drawn to what was happening to mothers and children, and women who were being incarcerated. My master’s thesis was on baby bonding programs and alternatives to incarceration for mothers and kids,” Cole said. “That started this journey with an interest in motherhood and children. Not only that, I had my own personal journey of being a new mom, but I was raised by a single mother and we had our own experiences and struggles that we had navigated. It all came together with this focus on motherhood.”
Cole organized a community of mothers of color supporting one another in her hometown of Austin, Texas.
“We were doing work in the community to support particularly Black and Latina women,” Cole said. “We lobbied at the capitol successfully to get Medicaid to cover midwifery in Texas, and we were training Black and Brown women to give doula support for free to women. We had the dream of starting a free clinic for Black and Brown women so we were working on that which actually happened and it is still up and running now.”
“We lobbied at the capitol successfully to get Medicaid to cover midwifery in Texas, and we were training Black and Brown women to give doula support for free to women. We had the dream of starting a free clinic for Black and Brown women so we were working on that which actually happened and it is still up and running now.”
As a doula, Cole helps students raise money to get training as well. She said the idea is to have someone to support and advocate for mothers in hopes of improving health outcomes. Cole said she hopes to establish a similar program at UConn, because her work is not just researching but also a response to seeing and experiencing the impacts of people’s lived realities.
“Shifting my research toward healing justice is reflective of my personal shift. Systemic change is really hard to do, but I still have hope for that and it will take time,” Cole said. “I’ve changed my approach to community-based responses because Black birthing people are having babies and trying to survive right now. We have these long-term goals, too. I don’t think we should completely give up on that aspect, but I am more interested in what is happening now because it’s an urgent need. It will take time to transform health care delivery.”