MTV

Pregnancy-Related Deaths Have Become an Epidemic — It's Up To All Of Us To Fix That

'We need to be more proactive in how we help pregnant women navigate this very unique part of their lives,' says director Minhal Baig

By De Elizabeth

The United States is home to some of the best medical care in the world, with renowned hospitals from coast to coast. But the U.S. also has an alarming rate of maternal mortality; what’s more, most deaths could be entirely prevented with the right interventions.

According to a new report from the CDC, approximately 700 women die from childbirth-related complications each year. The report also found that for every five mothers who died, three could have survived if they had received more accurate medical care. Maternal mortality also disproportionately affects Black women; Black mothers are three to four times more likely to die while or after giving birth than white women.

With numbers like these, it’s hard to wonder why we aren’t talking about this issue all the time. That’s why MTV and VH1 has launched the #SaveOurMoms campaign, in partnership with Black Mamas Matter and Every Mother Counts. The project is designed to raise awareness about maternal mortality, and educate others on what they can do to help. Lena Waithe served as creative director, and Minhal Baig directed a new PSA video which aims to raise awareness — and to remind everyone that there are ways to prevent it from getting worse.

That mission is also what initially drew Baig to the campaign, shortly after premiering her film Hala at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. “It felt like this is a subject that people haven't really been talking about, or maybe it’s been discussed, but it hasn't really been investigated,” she tells MTV News, adding that she herself was mostly unfamiliar with the staggering maternal mortality rate prior to joining this project. “As I was doing research, if felt like there needs to be more education. And this PSA was an amazing way to do that.”

The PSA itself takes viewers through the journey of a Black woman who experiences some level of pain or discomfort throughout her pregnancy. And while we see one possible ending results in April's death shortly after giving birth, we also know that outcome would be completely preventable, had she received the necessary medical interventions and support networks.

Pregnancy-related complications are something that many, many women are going to experience,” Baig explains. “It’s not just on the pregnant woman to advocate for herself, and it’s not just on the medical community to change their practices. It’s important for support networks, like family members, to circle around the pregnant woman, make sure that they feel safe...and that they feel listened to. There’s many different ways that people could intervene at different stages.”

One of the goals of #SaveOurMoms is to let everyone know that there are tangible ways to support a pregnant person in their life. It could be as simple as getting on a group text and asking how they are feeling, or offering to drive them to a doctor’s appointment.

“One of the ways you can be supportive is by being proactive and offering your help on things you wouldn’t think are necessarily related to health,” Baig points out. “For example, offering to do chores, offering to take on some of the burden and emotional load that pregnant women have to carry.... Pregnancy shouldn't be this burdensome part of life. We have to change the culture around it; it doesn't need to be this painful experience.”

Baig also hopes people re-visit their preconceived notions of why maternal mortality happens, especially when it happens to Black women. “One of the greatest misconceptions is that the reason that women of color — specifically Black women — are dying at a greater rate...is because of a lack of insurance. That's just simply not true,” she points out. The director adds that unconscious bias from the medical community and others can play a huge role. “It’s more complicated than people think. It’s often the diminishing of a woman’s pain, and women feeling like they are being told they don’t know their bodies as well as they do. I would say there's four or five big factors, and a woman's socioeconomic status or access to care is just one of them.”

But the campaign isn’t meant to demonize the medical community either; as Baig notes, we need to bring everyone on board, and doctors need to be part of the conversation — and the solution. “Sometimes the onus is placed too much on the pregnant women to advocate for themselves,” Baig says, noting that sometimes people do advocate for themselves and they simply are not listened to, as Serena Williams experienced when she gave birth in 2017. “I do think the medical community has to be aware in the part that they play in that. Make sure there's an environment where women feel comfortable speaking up, but also actually listen when they do.”

Ultimately, #SaveOurMoms aims to bring this issue to the spotlight, but also to change the conversation to a more proactive dialogue. It’s not just a topic, but an avenue with action-based resources, allowing everyone to get involved and make a change.

“Pregnancy can seem lonely and isolating, especially for first-time mothers who don't have anything to compare it to,” Baig says. “We need to be more proactive in how we help pregnant women navigate this very unique part of their lives. I don't think we should be scared of pregnancy. Taking the fear out of it, understanding that pregnancy can be this joyous part of life because you have support, that’s what we want to get across.”

Every day, 2-3 women in the U.S. die from pregnancy-related complications. But over half of these deaths are preventable. We all have the power to support moms and save lives. Find out how at saveourmoms.mtv.com.