NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — As the United States grapples with racism in society, 10 On Your Side is delving deeper into some of the disparities we see right here in Hampton Roads.
In 2020, a difference in skin color can still mean the difference between life and death for women in pregnancy and labor.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Black women are two to three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.
As a labor and delivery nurse, Newport News native Victoria Buchanan saw firsthand discrimination in healthcare.
“I saw some significant disparities between the experiences that African-American women would have,” Buchanan said. “I had a patient come in who was having possible complications of pre-eclampsia. They thought maybe she had drug problems… It wasn’t that, it was bias that affected her outcomes.”
Buchanan decided to pursue a new path because of what she observed.
“I knew as a labor and delivery nurse, I was only able to effect change to a certain degree, and that wasn’t enough for me,” she said.
Buchanan became a certified nurse midwife and earlier this year, joined WomanCare Centers in Norfolk.
She is one of just a few Black midwives in an area that has a much higher Black population than much of the state and country.
“I’m hoping that one day, the demographics of midwifery will mirror the great diversity we have here in Hampton Roads,” she said. “Seeing yourself in your healthcare providers is really important.”
Buchanan believes that’s only part of the solution to combat disparate healthcare outcomes.
Providers also have to be willing to acknowledge their own biases and confront them.
“When you look at a patient, are you analyzing what they look like, how they’re dressed? Are you assuming certain things about them instead of asking about their experiences?” she said. “I find that taking this break, taking a breath, asking them to tell me about themselves before making that assumption helps me to give more unbiased care.”
Patients also play a role. Buchanan wants everyone to do their own research, know their rights, and know this:
“Every woman deserves respectful maternity care – it doesn’t matter what they look like, where they come from or their socioeconomic status.”
Virginia representatives, most recently Congresswoman Elaine Luria, have worked to address maternal healthcare disparities on a national level.