IOWA CITY, Iowa — For Sofia Mehaffey, a black woman who grew up in a small town in Iowa, pregnancy is synonymous with trauma. After her first delivery, a nurse said her child might not “want to see her.” Then her high school told her they didn’t believe she could be a successful teen mom, and kicked her out.
A couple of years later, a few months after she gave birth to a second child, Mehaffey nearly died from complications from a pregnancy-related surgery.
Experiences like this are shockingly common among black mothers in America. Nationwide, black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy or childbirth. Black infants are twice as likely to die as infants born to white moms.
And in Iowa, these statistics are worse. A new study from the state Department of Public Health suggests that black women in Iowa may be as much as six times more likely to die while pregnant than white women. Hospitals across the state have been closing their birthing units, and the state has one of the lowest numbers of OB-GYNs per capita. There are some parts of Iowa where women have to drive as much as two hours for pregnancy-related appointments.
And Iowa is 93% white — so the maternal health crisis facing black women has long been sidelined.
But Democrats are heading into a fierce election in which questions of race and equality are at the forefront. Black women drove Democrats’ victories in the Virginia governors’ and the Alabama senate races, and now they are banding together in Iowa to demand that presidential candidates listen to them on maternal healthcare.
And Latasha DeLoach, an advocate and black mother in Iowa, told VICE News that black women know they are a critical piece of any Democrat’s path to the presidency, but they’re also wary of disingenuous pandering or, as she calls it, “this fuckboy treatment,” where candidates woo black voters and then forget them immediately after the election.
In Episode 6 of Uncommitted: Iowa 2020, Vice News met with black mothers in Iowa who shared intimate stories about the racism they experienced while giving birth. We also interviewed one of the candidates who has written and spoken publicly about her plans to improve black maternal healthcare: Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Listen to the Episode 6 teaser and subscribe here on Spotify now.
You can catch Uncommitted: Iowa 2020 Podcast on Spotify every Tuesday. And sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Cover: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), speaks at a campaign event at Clark Atlanta University on November 21, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. Warren, introduced by U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), spoke about workers' rights, fighting voter suppression and the accomplishments of Black women activists. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)