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White House Hosts First Maternal Health Day of Action

The White House held its first ever annual Maternal Health Day of Action event on Dec. 7, hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Vice President Kamala Harris addressing the nation on maternal health. Photo credit Jasper Smith.

The White House held its first ever annual Maternal Health Day of Action event on Dec. 7, hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris. The event featured an array of panelists such as Olympian Allyson Felix, Rep. Alma Adams of North Carolina and more, all speaking on the importance of maternal health the Build Back Better Act- the largest maternal health equity investment in U.S. history. 

Adams, along with Rep. Lauren Underwood and Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois, participated in the first panel along with the administrator for the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services, Chiquita Brooks LaSure, to discuss how maternal health impacts Americans. The congresswomen also brought guest speakers to share their personal experiences relating to maternal complications and mortality. 

One guest speaker, Antoinette “Toni” Brown, who was a friend and former colleague of Kelly, shared the emotional personal story of how she lost her pregnant daughter to complications during and after labor. Brown described the birth of her grandchild as “the day that was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, but became one of the worst.”

Though doctors were able to deliver the baby, Brown lost her only daughter due to “breathing complications,” as she had gone without oxygen for three to six minutes during an emergency cesarean section and operation. After four days in a coma, Brown’s daughter was pronounced dead. Brown expressed her frustrations with the hospital’s explanation surrounding her daughter’s death. 

Indigenous and Black women are two to four times as likely to lose their lives to complications during birthing, compared to that of their white counterparts, according to the CDC. The U.S. is one of few developed countries whose maternal mortality rate is continuously increasing; additionally, 60 percent of maternal mortality cases are preventable. This has caused concern for many Americans. To combat this, Senate Democrats are pushing for the Build Back Better Act.

Specifically in regards to maternal health, the Build Back Better Act accomplishes three things: extending postpartum Medicaid suffrage by 12 months for individuals on Medicaid and investing nearly $3 billion into organizations to improve housing, nutrition and environmental conditions. In addition, the Act also invests in healthcare professionals like midwives and doulas. 

On Monday, Dec. 6, the Hilltop spoke with Deputy Policy Advisor Deanne Millison regarding the Build Back Better Act.   

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“So our Build Back Better Act is the legislation. It passed the house recently, and it is the vision that the Biden Harris administration has in improving the lives of American families and lowering costs for American families. It includes provisions related to child care and paid leave to climate issues and developing our workforce,” Millison said.

The Maternal Health Day of Action event incorporated the Build Back Better Act into much of the conversation surrounding the maternal health crisis in the U.S.

Harris opened the event by addressing the nation with a speech on the importance of maternal health and healthcare practices. 

“In the United States of America, in the 21st century, being pregnant and giving birth should not carry such great risk. But the truth is women in our nation, and this is a hard truth, are dying- before, during and after childbirth. Women in our country are dying at a higher rate than any other developed nation in our world,” Harris said. 

In her speech, Harris explained the initiatives planned to aid women and birthing people from experiencing complications and disparities during the duration of their pregnancies such as implementing birthing-friendly hospitals that are rated on their quality of maternal care and investments for maternal healthcare.

 “A healthy economy requires healthy mothers and healthy babies,” she said, “ More than 20 companies and nonprofits have pledged to invest more than $20 million in maternal health efforts domestically, and more than $150 million globally. They have pledged to invest in remote care monitors for rural communities, to invest in innovative care models for postpartum care, to invest in education programs for maternal health providers and so much more.”

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Harris recalled her work on this issue in the Senate, as district attorney in California to now, introducing the Maternal Care Act with Adams. Harris, Adams and Underwood introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, designed to meet the needs of maternal nutrition, expand affordable housing and increase the maternal workforce to include more doulas and midwives.

Following Harris’ opening remarks, Adams, Underwood and Kelly spoke on how the Build Back Better Act was curated and why they believe it is necessary to implement. 

“We’ve all worked so hard to ensure that our maternal health policies and investments are included in this bill, and I know we’re looking forward to the positive impact these policies will have in our communities once this bill is signed. I’m thrilled that part of my MOMMAS Act has been included in this Build Back Better,” Kelly said. 

Vice President Harris and Olympian Allyson Felix discussing the importance of maternal health. Photo credit Jasper Smith.

Harris returned to hold a discussion with Olympian Allyson Felix. Felix had her own personal experience with maternal health complications when giving birth to her daughter in 2018.

 “When I became pregnant, as an athlete, my health is something I’m always thinking about. I’ve always lived a really healthy lifestyle. I didn’t even think twice about getting through my pregnancy,” she said. 

“At 32 weeks, I went into the doctor for a routine appointment, and right away there were some concerning things that were happening. I was spilling protein, my blood pressure was up and so I was sent to the hospital for further monitoring. Once I got there, things started to rapidly shift out of control and I was diagnosed with a severe case of preeclampsia.” 

Felix described how grateful she was to be able to leave the hospital with her daughter, and with her life, “As we know, there are so many women [where] that’s not the story.” 

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Felix had previously partnered with March of Dimes and served six years in the Obama-Biden administration as an advocate for health, wellness and fitness. 

Upon closing their discussion, Harris expressed, “There is a lot in the healthcare system that actually helps and can help all women. But the way that is administered can be the issue on whether all women are treated equally. So sometimes it’s about ‘are the resources in the healthcare system?’ but on this issue, we know that it is also about how the resources are used and who receives those resources.”

The Build Back Better Act will be voted on in the Senate the week of Dec. 13. To learn more information about maternal health care and the Build Back Better Act, visit congress.gov.

Copy edited by: N’dia Webb

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