Kimberly Seals Allers

Lately, I’ve been extremely frustrated by all the news reporting about maternal mortality. Yes, it is a terribly frightening and frighteningly embarrassing issue. Women are dying during childbirth for preventable reasons, and African American women at even more shocking rates and something must be done. Like now.

A recent study by Amnesty International, entitled "Deadly Delivery", reports that deaths from pregnancy and childbirth in the United States have doubled in the past 20 years–from 6.6 per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2006. Pregnant women and new mothers are dying because of "systemic failures" in the current health system, the Amnesty report said.

The alarming data on maternal mortality is even more shocking for African- American women. We are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth than white American women. And even wealthy black American women have a higher rate of mortality during childbirth than wealthy white women.

Yeah. It’s serious.

Now I understand the power of fear as a coercive tool in the media world and in political circles, but my personal fear is that all the negative reports and doom and gloom coverage makes the situation seem hopeless. It makes women, particularly Black women, feel powerless to a force that no one can succinctly explain or otherwise tell them how to prevent.

People don’t get behind hopeless. Research money doesn’t come to hopeless. And the right kind of awareness that actually empowers women to have healthy childbirths and live healthier lives overall doesn’t come from hopeless. It comes from hope.

That’s why I’m so excited about the work of Dr. Michael Lu, an associate professor in both the UCLA School of Public Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and one of the influential thought leaders who’s talking about new solutions to the maternal health problem. It’s pretty clear the old ones aren’t working.

Dr. Lu’s work focuses on the "life course perspective," a simple yet groundbreaking premise that rests on one simple truth: you cannot correct the outcomes of childbirth simply by looking at the 40 week gestational period. Saying that black women need better prenatal care is a start but not the complete answer. We need a longer term "life course perspective" to address the issue, which includes rethinking how healthcare is delivered, how we look at life stressors and how we get back to focusing on mothers and communities.

I’ve been a fan of Dr. Lu for some time. In fact, his work was one of the research inspirations for writing my first book, The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy (Amistad/HarperCollins). At the time, it was the first-of-its-kind book for African American women that looked beyond the nine months of pregnancy to offer advice on all areas of life that could affect a woman’s pregnancy outcome from her finances, relationships, life stressors, cultural taboos and her medical history. It was the "all you" approach to pregnancy for black women, and I’m grateful to Dr. Lu’s work for inspiring me to develop that concept.

I’m also very grateful and excited that Dr. Lu will be speaking this week at our Black Maternal Health conference and sharing his insights and answering your questions on what we need to do now to close the gap in maternal and infant health disparities for African American women.

Please join us on April 28th at our NYC offices at 12:30 p.m.(simply rsvp with your name and affiliation to [email protected]) or click here to watch live via our webcast.

We’ve read the depressing headlines. It’s time we start talking about solutions. Please be a part of the conversation.