Remembering Tori Bowie

Written by: Jess Kimball

Tori Bowie was thirty-two years old and just eight months pregnant when she died, tragically in May of this year. Bowie was a world champion sprinter and three-time Olympic medalist.

Bowie was found unresponsive at her Orange County home when sheriff’s deputies stopped by for a well-being check. The cause of death was found to be respiratory distress and eclampsia. She was crowning and in active labor when she passed away. While the cause of death was deemed natural, it sheds an important light on the risks of maternal mortality. Maternal mortality describes deaths occurring in pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. The United States maternal mortality rate is the highest out of all developed, wealthy countries.

In 2017, Serena Williams experienced a near death experience during childbirth, despite having spoken up and advocating for herself. Her story shed light on the reality of maternal mortality in the United States. Nobody is immune, not even professional athletes and well-educated individuals. Black birthing people are impacted at even higher rates. Their concerns are often brushed aside by healthcare providers who are reacting from their own bias and unconscious racism. Black women who completed college education or higher is five times higher than the rate for white women with the same educational attainment and one to two times higher than the rate for white women with less than a high school diploma. Education and social status are not protections from the risks and dangers birthing people in the United States face.

Important facts to consider:

  • Black women die in childbirth at a rate three to four times higher than that of white people.
  • In 2020 the rate of maternal mortality for black people was 55 out of every 100,000 births.
  • Three-fourths of all maternal mortality deaths are caused by severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia), complications from delivery, and unsafe abortion.
  • Black birthing people are five times more likely to die from pregnancy related cardiomyopathy than white birthing people.

These statistics are harrowing and need to be addressed. Saving birthing people does not just have good health impacts nationwide, but also great economic impacts. Increasing access to resources and healthcare creates healthy homes that contribute to our communities. Investing in families, whether that be access to healthcare, increasing access to doulas, increasing out of hospital birthing options, or even increasing new parent education…it benefits our communities as a whole.

Maternal mortality can be reduced by increasing access to safe birthing options, reducing unintended pregnancies, increasing postpartum support, addressing socioeconomic barriers to accessing care, understanding bias and racism in healthcare, and increasing doula and midwifery care.

At Global Foundation for Girls (GFG), we are active thought partners, serving global communities of birthing persons in order to advance and support the advocacy movement. We lead webinars and trainings for providers including doulas, social workers, childbirth educators, and more! To learn more about our upcoming trainings click here!

Jess Kimball, AS, CLC, CD, PCD, PMH-C