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How We Can Avoid More Tragedy Like the Death of Olympian Tori Bowie

Despite new advancements in the medical field, historical inequities continue as people of color consistently experience disparities in care and access, especially when childbirth is involved.

Frentorish "Tori" Bowie was a decorated track and field athlete who primarily competed in the long jump, 100-meter, and 200-meter dashes. During the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, she won the gold medal in the 4x100 m relay, the silver medal in the 100 m dash, and the bronze in the 200 m dash. In the 2017 World Athletic Championship in London, she won gold in the 100 m dash and 4x100 m relay.

In May 2023, 32-year-old Bowie had allegedly not been seen or heard from for several days, which resulted in authorities performing a wellness check at her Florida home. At eight months pregnant, Bowie was found dead. According to her autopsy report obtained by People, her death was ruled natural, but she was undergoing labor at the time.

The report stated possible complications such as "respiratory distress and eclampsia" contributed to Bowie's death. Preeclampsia, a condition in pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure with fluid retention and abnormal quantities of protein in the urine, indicating damage to the kidneys, is at a higher risk of occurring in Black women. Eclampsia is more severe and can include seizures, coma, or death.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the causes of preeclampsia and eclampsia are unknown. Still, several factors, such as insufficient blood flow to the placenta, can contribute to the development and progression of this disease. NIH also reports the number of women who develop preeclampsia is unknown.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021. Rates for Black women were significantly higher than rates for White and Hispanic women. Rates also increased with maternal age. In 2021, 20.4 deaths per 100,000 live births for women under 25 were reported. Women aged 25 to 39 sat at 31.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, and women aged 40 and over were over 6.8 times higher than the rate of women under 25.

An essential contribution to these rates is racial disparity. The CDC reports more than 80% of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are preventable. Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women. Factors contributing to these disparities include variations in quality healthcare, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism, and implicit bias.

As a community, we can combat these disparities by knowing warning signs, assessing and coordinating hospital delivery for risk-appropriate care, and supporting state perinatal quality collaboratives to improve care for mothers and their babies. That's where Chicago Volunteer Doulas comes in.

CVD's Rebirth Plan centers around reaffirming its commitment to healing justice, organizational stability, and centering Black birthing people in its work. The CVD mission is simple, connect pregnant and birthing people to free and low-cost compassionate labor, postpartum, and pregnancy loss support and information rooted in Black feminist wisdom and healing.

Led by principles of birth justice and anti-racism, CVD works to eliminate stigma, shame, fear, morbidity, and mortality among Black women and all those marginalized within pregnancy and birth care.

CVD has trained and certified Doulas representing different racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. CVDoulas include women, men, gender non-conforming or trans people, members of both straight and LGBTQI communities, and those who are differently abled. Our administrators personally interview all doulas to make sure they support our mission and vision, have the necessary skills, and are committed to the task and families served. Each Doula onboarded with CVD receives compensation for each birth or postpartum client they attend.

Often the solution to a problem is a simple one. Your one-time or monthly donation helps keep CVDoulas working to turn the tide on the disproportionate numbers surrounding Black maternal mortality and morbidity. Here's your chance to support our commitment to improving birth and reproductive justice and equity.

Death of Olympian Tori Bowie

maternal morbidity: Any health condition attributed to and/or complicating pregnancy, and childbirth that has a negative impact on the woman's well-being and/or functioning.

maternal mortality: The number of resident maternal deaths within 42 days of pregnancy termination due to complications of pregnancy, childbirth, and the puerperium in a specified geographic area.

CVD envisions a world where all pregnancy and postpartum experiences and outcomes are met with empathy and care, the labor of those who provide full-spectrum doula support is recognized and celebrated, and everyone has the resources and autonomy they need for their lives, families, and communities to thrive.


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