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Expanding the Frame on Weathering: Impact on Survivors at Intersections

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Expanding the Frame on Weathering: Impact on Survivors at Intersections of Pregnancy, Race, Sexuality &Implications for Advocates &Birthwork

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Black Women’s Blueprint coined the Sexual Abuse to Maternal Mortality Pipeline (SAMM), the result of a six-year national sexual assault and GBV intervention process to collect survivor narratives as a Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Arline Geronimus’ theory of “weathering” is defined as the “toxic stress resulting from racism, bias and discrimination.” Very early in life, people categorized at birth as women and girls around the world, learn through their families, schools and other institutions, cultural practices, traditions, through paid and unpaid work and through media that the world considers them “inferior,” that they are “unequal” and “vulnerable.” As children, because of their perceived gender and assigned sex at birth, girls are culturally and socially categorized as “the weaker sex,” and their bodies, physical activities and behaviors are restricted and controlled. For girls, especially girls of color, an awareness and persistent vigilance about the disproportionate potential for danger or death at the hands of strangers, acquaintances and loved-ones is required. Global inequality and gender-violence, including sex-trafficking, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, street harassment, disproportionately affects girls, including trans, gender fluid and non-binary children and youth. Weathering, especially as it pertains to the toxic stress of navigating a white supremacist, hetero-normative, patriarchal society for Black women, contributes to negative health outcomes for pregnant women and women of childbearing age.

According to research, despite Black women being one of the most highly educated demographic groups in the United States, they have some of the poorest health outcomes in regards to severe maternal morbidity and mortality. For all other demographic groups, educational attainment unequivocally correlates with higher positive maternal and infant health outcomes. However, for Black women, this is not the case. For non-Hispanic Black women the severe maternal morbidity rate is 2.5x higher than for non - Hispanic white women (across educational attainment). Non-Hispanic Black women have a 28% higher risk for severe postpartum hemorrhage than non-Hispanic white women, and have a 5x higher risk of pregnancy related death. It is clear that the historical and current societal and environmental context within which Black women live their lives places a significant burden on the maternal and reproductive health of Black women and girls.

Maternal Mortality Review Committees, which can now be found in 36 states, have determined several physiological factors as causes for the high rates of pregnancy complications and maternal deaths among women of color and ranked the seven main causes as: hemorrhage, cardiovascular and coronary conditions, cardiomyopathy, infections, embolism, mental health conditions, preeclampsia and eclampsia, many of which are directly linked to weathering racial stress.

Black Women’s Blueprint proposes expanding research on weathering to expand toxic stress resulting from lifelong experiences—from cradle to grave—with patriarchal systems, sexism, gender-bias, gender-violence and discrimination based on LGBTQ and additional gender-identities and sexualities, especially as they intersect with race creating new forms of unabated stress.

In this live webinar we will discuss:

  1. Ways that sexual abuse and unaddressed inter-generational trauma, compounded with weathering and other chronic threats affect maternal health outcomes, in particular for Black and brown survivors of violence.
  2. Weathering in regards to racial toxic stress as pertains to the U.S. historical context of slavery, genocide and racialized capitalism.
  3. The role of medical practitioners, caregivers and community based advocates and organizations in mitigating and reducing the effects of toxic stress and weathering.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Participants will be able to identify and examine ways toxic stress impacts the behavior and physical and psychological well-being of pregnant women and women of childbearing age.
  2. Participants will gain tools for interrupting the effects of weathering as they exist both in public and private spheres
  3. Participants will be able to identify the systemic ways the medical industrial complex perpetuates weathering and toxic racial stress and be able to perform preventative organizational/systemic risk-assessments where further harm can be caused.

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