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Aftershock: Examining the maternal health crisis facing women in the United States

By: Akilah Stewart, Camille Sledge, Addison Anderson and Samantha Aiello.

PHOENIX — Last weekend we had the opportunity to see the documentary Aftershock, which examines the maternal health crisis facing women in the United States. Co-directors Tonya Lewis Lee and Paula Eiselt explore the systemic reasons why Black and Brown women are more than three times more likely to die during childbirth.

Maternal health is a critical issue that impacts the health and well-being of mothers, their families, and communities. Unfortunately, disparities continue to persist. Black mothers are more likely to experience pregnancy-related complications, including preterm birth and maternal mortality, compared to white mothers. These disparities are rooted in systemic racism, poverty and lack of access to quality healthcare.

Addressing these disparities is crucial to ensuring that all mothers have access to the care and support they need to have healthy pregnancies and deliver healthy babies. Improving maternal health requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the social, economic, and political factors that contribute to these disparities and investments in programs and policies that support the health and well-being of black mothers and families. Below are words from our Director and LEE group.


"Aftershock", I had the amazing opportunity to attend the screening of this documentary alongside the Our Sister Our Brother Lived Experienced Experts. I was not prepared for the emotions it would invoke and the tears that I would shed. Fifteen years working in the child welfare system, and I continue to reflect on how professions that are meant to be one of helping families, hurt and at times destroy.

I began to draw comparisons between the systems; that of the healthcare system and the child welfare system. Two helping agencies that have caused so much hurt, so much damage that it affects generations and generations to come. Both sever the connection between mother and child predominantly in the African American community. Individuals for the most part do not get into this profession to inflict harm but yet it happens. I implore those that remain in this field to reconnect to their humanity, find healthy ways to cope with stress and the secondary trauma you experience. Not every person of color is the same, take the time to get to know them and find the beauty that is unique to that family because every family unit carries with them a heartbeat that is exclusively theirs. These systems must improve the way they are doing things for children and families. Or we will all continue to experience the "Aftershock".


I had the opportunity to see this amazing documentary aftershock! This documentary hit home for so many reasons. The roller coaster of emotions that this documentary makes you feel is unreal. It opens your eyes to how important it is for us, a black community, to be heard. But, most importantly it showed me how important it is for us to come together as a people to support each other, how it’s important we educate each other and always uplift each other. Most of the things that happen in the film were totally preventable if we had the right tools to communicate effectively that we aren’t being heard. It showed how important it is for us to find and be confident in our voice to stand up for ourselves when we really need to the most.

But it also made me think about the providers who are in place to provide us with care. All the time that they spent going to medical school, becoming in debt, just to graduate, and you intentionally miss treat people of color. I don’t believe in medical school they teach you that Black people should be treated differently medically then white people, or any brown person for that matter, should be treated any differently than their white counterparts. But if nothing more there needs to be open space to sit down with these providers, and figure out where they are in their mindset to where this type of behavior is allowed and continues. It’s really time to have this hard conversation because our black lives depend on it!


I was compelled by the film Aftershock. Compelled to take action, and to stay awakened to the horror of what may happen and what has happened in our wake. I have always believed myself to be an activist and an advocate in community organizing. I was one of the many who may have thought, that by being concerned and conscious about Black and African Americans’ struggles, that I would be exempt. Nothing could help me to hold back the tears of despair after seeing this picture. We still have a long way to go before we can truly see change. I am not exempt.


Pregnant Black woman walks into a hospital… These stories begin and end the same way: Delivery followed by death. When examined together, as they are in the gripping documentary Aftershock, they paint a distressing portrait of Black maternal mortality in the United States. As the documentary continues, I couldn’t help but ponder upon the question of how long? How long do people of color, specifically African American Woman must fight for basic human rights? A child is a gift from God, giving birth is supposed to be the greatest day of any woman’s life, yet it turned out to be the worst day of these women's lives. As a thriving and passionate advocate for children and families, my hope is this eye opening documentary sheds light on this inhuman treatment and create a systemic change in not only Black maternal mortality but also in organizations such as The Child welfare system as well.

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