What’s the State of Maternal Care on Chicago’s West Side?
Here’s what people in North Lawndale and Garfield Park have to say.
By Emeline Posner, Camille Powell, Janaya Greene and Sarah Conway
This spring, City Bureau is examining disparities in maternal and infant health in Chicago. While maternal mortality rates declined across other developed nations, it is on the rise in the U.S. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, more women die from pregnancy-related conditions today in the U.S. than any other developed country.
The racial equity gap in maternal mortality is stark: Black women across socioeconomic lines are around four times as likely as white women to die in childbirth. In Illinois, Black women are six times as likely to die of pregnancy-related conditions compared to white women, and 70 percent of those deaths are preventable, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
We visited two neighborhoods on Chicago’s West Side — Green Tomato Café and Nichols Tower at Homan Square North Lawndale and Bridge Café and the Kedzie Green Line “L” stop in Garfield Park — to talk with residents about maternal wellness and what issues mothers are facing during pregnancy and birth.
What is your current knowledge about maternal health? What else do you want to know?
“I think that maternal care is really vital and important. I have three kids of my own, and it’s definitely something that should be offered and available for every woman.” — Trishanna Rosevurr, 23, Garfield Park
“Currently, on a national scale, our maternal health system is trash. It doesn’t really care for the woman or the child. It is more about money. For me, my biggest issue with it is that maternity leave isn’t present for every job, and that’s just terrible that some women are forced to go back to work so quickly after giving birth. Also, the birthing techniques used in our country are not conducive to a healthy birth experience always and they are used so that doctors can get paid. For example, scheduling c-sections around a doctor’s vacation when it isn’t necessary. God equipped us to give birth naturally with what we already have. We don’t need all these procedures necessarily. I don’t have kids of my own but I am over cynical about it because it isn’t great.” — Jenna Artis, 27, Albany Park
“I love the work that [Black doulas] do, and it is definitely needed and necessary. Basic hospital visits can become mundane, and work, and a doula helps with being patient, understanding and gracious toward her clients. I love the work and if it puts mothers at ease then I am all for it. I wasn’t surprised at all that Black women have higher maternal mortality rates because there are systems in place that are oppressive towards people of color. It happens in incarceration and in schools, so when I heard about it in maternal health I wasn’t surprised at all.” — Jasmine Sims, 28, Garfield Park
“I have heard that it is easier for women to get health care when they are pregnant. There is more offered. I think that it is good but it is all about whether the person wants to get it or not.” — Bianca Turner, 34, Garfield Park
“[I want to see] more of putting doctors’ names out there … Like midwives, they tell you, ‘She specializes in this, this, this.’ [Doctors] don’t do that at hospitals.” — April Robinson, 38, North Lawndale
Where would expecting mothers go to get maternal care in the area or nearby? Where do they give birth?
“Cook County… and they got the center right here, too — the Lawndale Christian Health Center. A lot of girls go there to have their babies.” — Hazel, 54, Homan Square
“They go to the hospital because of this pipeline knowledge that that is where you are supposed to go. People don’t know there are other options like birthing centers, midwives or doulas.” — Jenna Artis, 27, Albany Park
“My kids go to the doctor here and bring their kids to the doctor here [Lawndale Christian Health Center]. My first daughter that had her baby, she was going to St. Anthony’s at the time. But all their appointments are here for the doctor or whatever. My second daughter was always going here. I didn’t really have any concerns. This is where my sisters, my kids and the majority of the people I know come to.” — Zarina Stroger, 45, North Lawndale
“Rush is fine, but when I had a Medicaid and was going to Mount Sinai I feel like it was a rush. They diagnosed me like, bam!, and that’s it, bye. My daughter’s face had broken out really bad one time and I feel like they diagnosed her too fast, then it got worse and we had to go back again. I think they didn’t take their time with it at Mount Sinai.” — April Robinson, 38, North Lawndale
“It [home birth] was comfortable. The [Mount Sinai] hospital wasn’t comfortable. I could move around in my bed the way I wanted to. I didn’t know I was that far along in labor. I could move around, I could stretch out, but when you’re in the hospital you kinda can’t.” — April Robinson, 38, North Lawndale
“[I would expect pregnant women to get care from] the hospital… I was born at [Advocate] Bethany. And I would say Stroger’s, too.” — Brian Blake, 51, Garfield Park
What health issues do expecting mothers face? Who is best to solve those issues?
“I had postpartum [depression] with all of my children. I sought treatment and found that Zoloft helped tremendously.” — Trishanna Rosevurr, 23, Garfield Park
“In complicated births, it is a question of whether the mother will survive or the child will survive. Some people may be dealing with the stress of what they eat, or the stress of work, or relationships, or just life. Financially a lot of people are struggling. I read a survey about how millennials will have fewer children because of the financial burden that we have. I couldn’t imagine being pregnant right now. I know some people turn to the state for help but that only goes so far and often doesn’t cover your full needs.” — Jenna Artis, 27, Albany Park
“I think it is based on people’s personal health issues, but I think people best equipped to solve them are doctors and women. Maybe even some people who aren’t necessarily doctors but midwives. Doctors go to school and they are trained but my dad always said it is “practicing medicine for a reason.” We should look at other countries and see how they do things to really make a change. For the most part, however, your body knows. We need to listen to women because giving all your power to doctors is a dangerous position to be in.” — Jasmine Sims, 28, Garfield Park
“People use the public aid office. There are WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) and Department of Human Services (DHS), and some of the clinics, but nowadays if you don’t have insurance you might be unfamiliar with the medical system. Some women will wait all the way to the end instead of being proactive. It depends if you have help or support. If you don’t know, you won’t grow.” — Bianca Turner, 34, Garfield Park
“I had good health. My sister, her kidney failed when she had her pregnancy. Now she’s on dialysis. It started after her pregnancy.” — April Robinson, 38, North Lawndale
“With the women I’ve known, it would probably be they had issues with their eating habits … and it was hard for them to change their habits. They couldn’t get the diet that they wanted or needed.” — Brian Blake, 51, Garfield Park
“I know, I believe there’s [something[ called preeclampsia. I know there’s postpartum[depression]. I know there’s sometimes issues with the pregnancy. I know that there’s a lot of changes the body undergoes. You know when you’re having the baby, you can have constipation, it could be like normal things. I know it’s a difficult situation, it’s not necessarily an easy pregnancy for everyone.” — Jennifer Quinn, 43, Berwyn
Do you feel represented when you go to your health care provider?
“Yes and no. I feel like I am represented on an emotional scale, but often things they prescribe are for their financial gain and that upsets me. For example, it could be a prescription that I don’t really need but my use of the drug will benefit them in some way. It’s like, if we can sell that prescription to her. That’s just upsetting because it isn’t about my health entirely anymore but your profit.” — Jenna Artis, 27, Albany Park
“I think here at Lawndale Christian I do [feel represented].” — Jasmine Sims, 28, Garfield Park
“Not at Mount Sinai but at Rush I do [feel represented]. It’s a lot of African-American physicians at Rush Hospital, more than I ever seen at Mount Sinai.” — April Robinson, 38, North Lawndale
“Yeah, I do… I feel like for now, the knowledge I have, I feel fine, like they would do a good job, helping me through those decisions.” —Jennifer Quinn, 43, Berwyn
Where do you go for more information or news on this topic or community information in general?
“I’d go online for that. And I read the paper… the Sun-Times.” — Hazel, 54, Homan Square
“I’d go to my doctor’s office [at Lawndale Christian Health Center], or else research online. I Google everything.” — Trishanna Rosevurr, 23, Garfield Park
“I’m not sure. I would probably Google search and see what comes up, and try to find as much information as possible and maybe look to popular news outlets. Honestly, I don’t know much about my community outside of elections. I was thinking about that the other day because my sister just gave birth. If I was in that position, I would want to do an at-home water birth. I have no idea even where to begin to look for that information. I’m grateful I’m not pregnant now because looking for that information is intimidating, to begin with.” — Jenna Artis, 27, Albany Park
“I trust my friend who is a doula, so I would just listen to what she says.” — Jasmine Sims, 28, Garfield Park
“It’s easy to do your research if you know how to, but if you are unaware and you don’t know some of the details it can be difficult. It all depends on your mind frame.” — Bianca Turner, 34, Garfield Park
“We pretty much always got our information from Lawndale Christian, the little pamphlets they have on the wall and stuff like that. At the clinic up the block, it’s like they really wasn’t knowledgeable about stuff. I’d ask them something and they really didn’t know theyself so you really couldn’t help me out.” — Zarina Stroger, 45, North Lawndale
“I go to [my job’s] union health and they refer me to other places. They’ll tell me different resources or what I can go to. What dentists I should go to and stuff like that.” — April Robinson, 38, North Lawndale
“Actually, [from my] family — it seem like the family people pick up more, and you can get as much [information] as you want. … I get my news from the television… I like Channel 9….or the radio, WGCI.” — Curtis Calhoun, 52, Southeast Side
“I’d probably go online [for more information]. I’ve always been a Sun-Times guy. [For community information] I probably get most of it through word of mouth.” Brian Blake, 51, Garfield Park
“That’s a really good question, I would assume their doctor, I don’t know if they’re asking girlfriends. I would get my information from reading a book or a doctor or a website or something.” — Jennifer Quinn, 43, Berwyn
Want more info about maternal and infant health? “The Cord: Resources for Modern Mamas” is a free text-message service from City Bureau reporters about pregnancy and motherhood on the West Side. Sign up here.
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