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by Venicia Gray | National Partnership for Women & Families

As Elder Millennials (fabulous individuals born in the 1980s) are wont to do, I often find myself scrolling through my phone after my toddler has gone to bed. This act of delaying sleep to focus on things missed throughout the day, like free time, is called revenge bedtime procrastination. During one such night of procrastination, I came across a video with the words, “You don’t just inherit your trauma; you inherit joy, too,” flashing over a song. I continued scrolling with a quick double-tap to “like” the post, but the phrase stuck with me, especially this: We inherit joy, too. Black women, in particular, are no strangers to traumatic experiences or being forced to be “strong” and “resilient” in the face of said trauma and, yet, somehow, finding joy anyhow. This is especially true for Black maternal health.

Five years after its original release, the National Partnership for Women & Families has expanded its signature issue brief on Black women’s maternal health, addressing the persistent and worsening crisis by offering candid historical context and multipronged solutions. While the heart of the matter remains frustratingly the same: Black women and birthing individuals are still at a higher risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications and have limited access to reproductive freedom, the updated brief adds one critical component often missing from the Black maternal health conversation: joy.

You don’t just inherit your trauma; you inherit joy, too.

Updating this brief was a labor of love (pun intended). The result reflects the Partnership’s efforts to name racism as a foundational factor that continues to impact generations of Black birthing people and their children. The brief also highlights Black Joy and the Reproductive Justice and Birth Justice movements, which champion Black people’s bodily autonomy to decide if, when, and how they become parents.

Unfortunately, many of the issue briefs’ original themes have new, heartbreaking data, which shows:

  • America remains a dangerous place for Black people to give birth or access abortions.
  • Intersectional data and research are woefully behind for disabled Black birthing people.
  • Black women continue to face economic inequities, including a wage gap.
  • When pregnant, we are more likely to have negative interactions with medical professionals, and the care we receive is often inadequate and disrespectful.
  • Our mental health is stigmatized, often going undiagnosed and unmanaged entirely.

Finally, we provide solutions for health care itself, hospital systems, policymakers, and other stakeholders can take now to reduce and eliminate the Black maternal health crisis.

A goal for this issue brief is to inspire Black birthing people to lean into the joy of parenthood (mindless scrolling and all!) and spur those with decision-making and policy power into action. The world needs to understand and recognize that Black women’s maternal health may be a legacy of trauma, but Black maternal health is inherited joy, too.