Inforgraphic by Lalla Maiga

By Lalla Maiga

The knowledge we have on birthing women and their childbirth experience emphasizes predominantly white, middle-class, and female adults. Most existing studies on pregnant women rarely focus on the implications of different social class locations on childbearing. Each year, countless women nearly die or die of post-pregnancy complications. This statistic disproportionately affects women of colour. By creating a poster representing the reality of childbearing for women of colour, I aim to highlight the intersectional oppression of racialized women by the Canadian healthcare system.

Media Development Process

Maternal mortality refers to “death due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth”. Over 800 women each day die from complications in pregnancy and childbirth, with “approximately 20 others who suffer serious injuries, infections or disabilities”. Within these numbers, black women are three to four times more likely to experiene maternity mortality than white women in the United States. Upon encountering these astounding figures, I intended to prepare a poster that accurately reflects the inequalities women of colour face in accessing maternal health care services. When you visit Public Health Ontario’s website on “Maternal and Infant Health” or the Public Health Agency website titled “Guide to healthy pregnancy,” I could not help but notice the one-size-fits-all approach in providing guidance to pregnant women. Eurocentric perspectives and biases dominate the recommendations and guidelines towards pregnant women. The “Guide to healthy pregnancy” has an image of a white woman with a pregnant belly supposedly reading The Sensible Guide to a Health Pregnancy pamphlet. The absence of a non-white woman alludes to me that the guide ignores the diversity of women undergoing this life-altering journey.

Moreover, the language Health Canada utilizes in their guide shows a dominant medicalized discourse characterized as “a vehicle for eliminating or controlling problematic experiences that are defined as deviant for the purpose of securing adherence to social norms”. The Pregnancy Weight Gain Calculator utilizes a woman’s Body Mass Index (BMI) to suggest the healthy amount to gain during pregnancy. A low BMI is linked to “adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as a caesarean section births, preterm birth”. The BMI tool used to determine overweight and obesity is a determinant of obesity initially designed to determine the average Belgian man. It neglects the ethnic variances in body types. It only further marginalizes women in pregnancy by framing information that is incompatible with women of colour’s bodies that do not subscribe to Eurocentric epistemologies.

I provide this context to preface how I came to develop my poster. The information in the poster aims to subvert the normative presentations of pregnant women. For instance, I include imagery such as the woman with a hijab and a woman who can be visually characterized as black to demonstrate the information being provided is catered to women of colour. As you read the poster, you will notice the first statistic has a huge question mark. The reason for this is to illustrate the lack of data present in the Canadian health care system in regards to maternal mortality in BIPOC women. During my research in locating data that represents the mortality rate of BIPOC women in Canada, one of the only reports provided by Statistics Canada was conducted in 2015. The mortality rate was provided by age group and sex. There was no identifying information in regards to the race of the individuals. This paints an inaccurate picture of maternity mortality rates and furthers the knowledge gap of how it affects BIPOC women. Most of the data I have been able to collect was through independent researchers at McGill University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The design of the poster mimics a typical poster you would see providing advice to pregnant women. This includes: simplifying data into a visually pleasing package, providing informative statistics of the rates “80% of black women are more likely to die in pregnancy than white woman” that highlight maternal mortality rates, eye-catching graphics and a colour scheme that invokes a feeling akin to decisiveness that highlights the authority of the information being provided and a sequential story in the narrative of the poster – introducing the problem (the lack of race-based data), the current data on maternal mortality, and possible solutions to allow the reader to digest the information easily.

Intersectionality in Maternal Health

We see and understand the world through our own experiences and views of reality.  As a Canadian-born, black pregnant woman, middle-class individual, I can see the obstacles present in the health care system where a non-visible minority might not be able to. I utilize these social locations I am a part of to identify the challenges affecting racialized women and the limited options of support. Intersectionality, a theoretical perspective, and paradigm examine the nature and consequences of social inequality in our social systems. A term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw posits that socially constructed categories of oppression such as race, class, age, dis/ability, or sexual orientation interact on multiple level. The intersection of systems of oppression needs to be acknowledged to get a holistic experience of pregnant BIPOC women’s lives and explore the health disparities for pregnant women of colour.

The poster I developed aims to critique how the Canadian healthcare system lacks race-based data and its implications for BIPOC pregnant women. Pregnant minority women are multiply burdened with their race and gender, leading to their lived experiences of discrimination. BIPOC women deserve the same equal respect and medical treatment to ensure the prevention of these deaths. Intersectionality is key to understanding how the dominant medical discourse fosters health disparities.

Lalla Maiga is a 4th-year Communication and Media Studies undergraduate student at Carleton University, also pursuing a minor in Law. Her research interests revolve around the impact of social inequalities on racial disparities in public health and the role of food in identity construction. Aside from pursuing her academic interests, Lalla has just recently embodied the role of a full-time mom.