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Dr Bodnar-Deren and Health Disparities and Birthing People: Where we are and where we CAN go!

January 19, 2023

Dr. Susan Bodnar-Deren (Sociology), Dr. Nancy Jallo (School of Nursing), Ms. Kenda Sutton-El (Founder/Executive Director - Birth in Color) and Ms. Sequoi Hawkins (Community Doula), were awarded Health Humanities Lab Faculty and Community Fellowships (VCU Humanities Research Center) for their project Health Disparities and Birthing People: Where we are and where we CAN go!

Severe maternal morbidity and mortality (SMM) represent a significant public health crisis. Driving this crisis are the social determinants of health, such as gender, socioeconomic status, structural racism, provider bias, and healthcare policies. For example, Black birthing people are 3.5-4 times more likely to die a pregnancy-related death compared to white birthing people. Preventable SMM is also high among Native American/Native Alaskans, Asians/Pacific Islanders and in subgroups of Hispanic/Latinx birthing people. In this interdisciplinary-community-led project, the team and their students will explore the history of maternal/birthing people health disparities; examine the social determinants of reproductive health; the current state of SMM (including LGBTQ+ individuals) globally, nationally and locally in Virginia. The project and educational research module will re-envision multipronged strategies to ameliorate these disparities. Using interdisciplinary perspectives from nursing/medicine, policy, social sciences, humanities and narratives from Birthing People and the community organization Birth-in-Color RVA, the project will engage in activities such as “Dismantling the Structural Racism in “Mother Blame” Narratives” (Scott et al., 2019). 

To improve maternal/birthing peoples’ health, it is critical that communities and academic organizations come together to design integrated systems that are responsive to pregnant people/community needs. The fellowship team consists of: Ms. Kenda Sutton-El, the founder/ED of Birth-in-Color RVA (Rooted in the philosophy of Maternal Justice, they provide perinatal services to birthing-people that are community driven to mitigate the discrimination that is entrenched in U.S. health systems); Ms. Sequoi Hawkins, community-based doula, Dr. Nancy Jallo (School of Nursing) and Dr. Susan Bodnar-Deren (Sociology/CHS). The resulting project and student learning/research module will be jointly developed in equal partnership and include the narratives/stories of local birthing people. 

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