Lauri Powell massages her sister Aysha during labor at the Kindred Space LA birthing center, in South Los Angeles, USA, on Mothers’ Day.
2022 Photo Contest, North and Central America, Honorable Mention

Amid High Mortality Rates, Black Women Turn to Midwives


Sarah Reingewirtz

for Los Angeles Daily News and Southern California News Group
09 May, 2021

Lauri Powell massages her sister Aysha during labor at the Kindred Space LA birthing center, in South Los Angeles, USA, on Mothers’ Day.

Black women in the US can find it hard to trust the medical establishment because of their experience of a deep-running culture of racism, which may affect their access to care and the level of care they receive when seeking medical treatment. A study published in The Public Health Advocate found that quality of care was affected by Black women’s experiences of being doubted and dismissed by doctors, being patronized and disrespected, and having their knowledge about their own medical conditions ignored. In addition, many Black women feel they are having unnecessary Cesarean sections (c-sections) when giving birth. To avoid sometimes unnecessary medical intervention, some women choose to center their birth-plans around  midwives. This project tells the story of Aysha-Samon Stokes, who found a Black midwife in her third trimester and gave birth to a healthy baby boy on Mother’s Day at a South Los Angeles Birthing Center.

In 2020, Black women had the highest rate of c-sections nationally: 36.3 percent, compared with an average of 31.8 percent, according to the US National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Mortality rates of Black women from perinatal complications are also notably higher than for white women, according to the NCHS. According to data supplied by County of Los Angeles Public Health, Black babies in the county are more than three times as likely to die before their first birthdays than their white counterparts. Historically, reasons given for such disparities in health outcomes included  economic disadvantage and lack of education. However, recent studies by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point instead to various barriers to healthcare for Black mothers, such as delayed access to prenatal care.

Sarah Reingewirtz
About the photographer

Sarah Reingewirtz is a photojournalist based in Los Angeles, United States. Through photography, she aims to tell the stories of marginalized communities and the people who live within them. After completing a degree in journalism/photojournalism and anthropology from Cal State Long Beach, Reingewirtz began her care...

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Jury comment

The jury awards this story with an honorable mention as it portrays sensitive relationships of trust in Black communities, and offers a glimpse of hope amidst the reality of the inequality of high mortality rates during childbirth and in infancy in North America. The story highlights the pandemic trend towards at-home births and midwifery, but also illustrates the resilience of Black women to develop their own solutions to a medical system, in which they cannot trust.