Memphis experts address deaths of moms during and after childbirth

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Parents, experts and politicians gathered Thursday to discuss a mounting issue in Shelby County, Tennessee and the country: maternal mortality.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, 370 mothers died from pregnancy-related issues between 2012 and 2016. The rate among black women is higher than white women each year.

Ketrice Page is a mother of three. She had her third child, Elon, in a totally different way than her first two children.

“With my previous two children I had great doctors but wasn’t supported in the decisions I felt like I wanted to make during my birth,” Page said.

Through friends, she heard about the new midwife program at Choices in Midtown.

Nikia Grayson helps guide women through pregnancy, meeting with them to cover every aspect of care much more often than they would with a doctor.

“For a lot of time, black women and their health care needs have been ignored or not valued," the registered nurse/midwife said. “While we have diverse patients, the majority are African American. The majority of them are on TennCare.”

She said they’ve been able to help 50 moms since June of 2017. It's an impressive number when you consider the statistics — 74 Tennessee mothers died in 2016 alone.

And it’s not just physical issues that cause the deaths.

“The most important thing is the disproportionate rates that mental health impacts women of color. It disproportionately impacts a great percent: 15 to 25 percent,” said Beth Shelton, a therapist with Appleseeds Memphis.

Shelton joined Grayson and other experts Thursday in a symposium at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.

For Page, who was in the audience, it’s a welcome discussion for her baby and others.

“He’s breast feeding well. He’s gained almost 4 pounds. since birth, which is awesome,” she said.

She knows that’s just one reason why he needs his mom around.

If you're an expecting mother or already gave birth and this story resonates with you, contact Stacy Jacobson on Facebook or call the WREG newsroom at 901-543-2111.