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Improving Indiana’s Black mortality rate one delivery at a time

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Nigel Franklin and Rae Brewer remember the day their daughter, Mileena was born. The day is still fresh in their minds since it only happened four months ago.

“I was shocked because it’s like when she finally came out of me, they put her on my chest. I was like, ‘She’s mine.’ That was literally my first words. She’s mine,” said Brewer.

“I was like I’m a father now and it’s the biggest thing. I was super happy and I cried. Of course, especially when they put her on the table, making sure she was all good, she kept holding my pinky and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ She still to this day, holds my pinky,” said Franklin.

RELATED: EmpowerHER: Tackling Black maternal health disparities in Indianapolis

Before they made it to delivery day inside Riley Children’s Health, they were referred to the hospital’s BIPOC Doula Program, which works to decrease maternal mortality rates.

Indiana’s maternal mortality rates

Indiana currently has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the United States. The risk of death related to pregnancy is higher for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) patients.

Riley’s program is adding another layer of support for those patients that walk through their doors. The doulas offer physical and emotional support before, during and after birth.

They connect with their patients prenatally to discuss their birth preferences, are present for the laboring process at the hospital and check in after birth to make sure mothers and families have all the information they need before going home.

Additionally, the doulas check in a few days after a patient is discharged to provide more support and guidance.

Improving Indiana’s Black mortality rate one delivery at a time
4-month-old Mileena Franklin was born with the help of a doula at Riley Children’s Health. (Photo/Jade Jackson)

RELATED: Indiana cannot keep ignoring Black mothers and babies

“I think it is extremely important to be a part of a program that is actively trying to change those things,” said India Vance, a doula at Riley.

“Because as a Black woman who wants to have children, I would be lying if I said I didn’t fear having children because of what can happen or going into the health care system and being afraid that I won’t be heard.”

Riley Children’s Health doula program

Vance said being able to advocate for women in this way is a way for her to also advocate for herself and her loved ones.

She was Brewer and Franklin’s doula when they brought Mileena into the world.

“I’ll admit, at first I was skeptical about it, but when India went into detail about it, I got a little more comfortable,” said Brewer.

“Then when we were actually in the delivery room, I got kind of nervous because I’ve never had a male doctor and I did get a little bit uncomfortable. So, I would be like, ‘India, would you be able to help me ask a couple of questions?’”

The Indiana Department of Health released their 2022 infant mortality rate (IMR) report in March. It showed the IMR is 7.2 per 1,000 live births which increased from the 6.7 per 1,000 live births in 2021.

The department’s 2021 report initially sparked a lot of conversation and action around IMR, maternal mortality and disparities with Black mothers giving birth.

“It’s scary when you’re like, ‘I’ve never done this before.’ What’s going to happen?” said Brewer.

“But it was all worth it. She [Mileena] is definitely going to have my attitude because she already does. She’s a little sassy pants. It’s been a fun whirlwind these past few months to navigate motherhood,” said Brewer.

The Indiana Department of Health also released preliminary 2023 data that shows a decrease in IMR, at 6.5 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Riley hopes to play their part in keeping those numbers down.

Improving Indiana’s Black mortality rate one delivery at a time
Destinee Miles, a clinical nurse at Riley created a board highlighting Black Maternal Health and resources. (Photo/provided by Riley Children’s Health)

Bringing awareness to expecting mothers

Destinee Miles, a clinical nurse at the hospital, is dedicated to advocating on behalf of moms.

Black women are three times more likely to die during pregnancy or delivery and she herself has experienced a traumatic birth herself.

Knowing firsthand the complications that can occur beginning as early as prenatal care all the way through postpartum, underlying chronic conditions, the quality of healthcare and implicit bias play factors that contribute to maternal deaths.

“For Black Maternal Health Week, I have created a board that displays our story of how we are helping moms understand maternal health complications,” said Miles.

She realized the lack of awareness when it comes to Black Maternal Health Week, which ran from April 11-17, 2024.

“If you ask a lot of my peers, coworkers and colleagues they had no idea that Black Maternal Health Week is occurring. I felt like there was a lack of acknowledgement for it as it’s very vital.”

Medical professionals focused on maternal mortality

The board features important warning signs as well as resources through IU Health that are set up through the WeCare services that are offered like diapers and food necessities for mothers and babies.

They are going to keep the board running even beyond the week until the end of April. Miles has received a lot of compliments from colleagues and has had a lot of Black healthcare professionals thanking her for acknowledging the week.

“There are barriers that are preventing moms from seeking appropriate care and quality care. So as health care providers, it is our duty and job to ensure that we are meeting the standards of quality care for everyone.”

Contact staff writer Jade Jackson at (317) 762-7853 or by email JadeJ@IndyRecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @IAMJADEJACKSON. 

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