Why Do So Many Minority Women Report Poor Treatment Due to Ethnicity, Cultural Background, or Language?

A friend of mine, who is Mexican-American, had a joyful and uneventful first pregnancy. Until her day of delivery.

The process began routinely enough. When she began laboring and her contractions were less than 5 minutes apart, she and her husband scooped up her pre-packed bag and drove to the hospital. Shortly after arriving, she was examined by an obstetrician and told she was still early in labor and that it would be several hours — potentially not until the next day — before she delivered.

However, almost immediately after her exam, she felt a precipitous change. “I didn’t have a point of reference since I’d never delivered before, but I had this sense that things were progressing unusually fast,” she told me later. Her husband pressed the call button and asked for help. The doctor returned and reassured them that it would be many hours until delivery, advising her, “Try to calm down. It’s still early.” Her husband protested, “If she thinks something is wrong, it is.” Nevertheless, the doctor just reiterated his reassurances and left the room.

A short while later, she told her husband, “I feel like pushing.” Her husband called urgently for the nurse, who came into the room and placed a fetal monitor across her abdomen. Seeing a concerning pattern in the baby’s heart rate, she paged the doctor. “The next thing I knew, I was being wheeled to the operating room for an emergency C-section.”

After a rocky hospital course, ultimately both baby and mother did well. But my friend still feels frustrated with how her concerns were ignored. “I felt like he [the doctor] had me labeled as a ‘hysterical’ female,” she said. “Especially since I’m Hispanic.”

My friend’s story echoes the experiences of racial and ethnic minorities receiving maternal care across the U.S. For example, in the most recent Listening to Mothers national childbearing survey, 21% of black mothers and 19% of Hispanic mothers hospitalized for childbirth reported perceptions of poor treatment due to race, ethnicity, cultural background, or language.

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Source: NBC / Esther Choo

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