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Why Trayvon Martin Has Everything To Do With Black Women’s Birth Outcomes

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Why Trayvon Martin Has Everything To Do With Black Women’s Birth Outcomes


By Kimberly Seals Allers 

For years I’ve been talking about all the research that shows that stress is a key cause of the ongoing poor birth outcomes of black women. Often, I get pushback and confusion. But the truth is, black women, regardless of socio-economic status, are still twice as likely to have a low birth weight baby, three times more likely to die during childbirth, and twice as likely to have a pre-term baby.


The fact that more African American babies are born too small, too sick or too soon is a key factor in our three times higher infant mortality rate–and my key motivation for getting in to breastfeeding advocacy work. These infants are the ones who need the nutritive and immunological benefits only found in breast milk the most–for them, it can literally mean their survival.


I have also received more than my fair share of *side eye* glances from people who ask me why black mothers need their own parenting destination, like the Mocha Manual I am often questioned as to how black mothers’ parenting experience is any different than a white mothers’ experience. 


To respond to Side eye point A regarding birth outcomes, I usually point to groundbreaking research, like that of Dr. Michael Lu on the life course perspective on birth outcomes. Watch the video above on how racism impacts pregnancy outcomes or Dr. Fleda Jackson’s many pieces of research at Emory University and for the Joint Center for Poltiical and Economic Studies


I share how Scientists know that stress on the mother causes her to produce stress hormones, which can adversely effect the development of a fetus’ hippocampus and amygdale, two areas of the brain associated both with the fight-or-flight response, memory formation and anxiety. And that prolonged stress in the mother decreases the sensitivity of those two areas of the brain to mediate its own stress response, which has been linked to, among other things, ADHD. Still, so many people don’t really get it. 


So I often share my personal story of how when I was first pregnant, I prayed to God for a girl–literally–because I was afraid that I was not capable of successfully raising a black male child in this society. I feared raising a black male child in this society. And that fear was a constant source of stress. That stress was probably rooted in growing up watching my own mother fear for the safety of my younger brother. I remember her constantly warning him to not wear baggy jeans and hooded sweatshirts because police (especially in New York City) stereotype young black men with that type of clothing and often shoot first and ask questions later. 


I remember her sitting by the window or pacing the living room on nights when my brother was not home by curfew. 

I remember both my parents giving my brother the “talk”–not the sex talk–but the life-saving one on how to respond when you are inevitably stopped by the police for no reason but for DWB (driving while black).

And let me just say, that I grew up in a middle class section of Queens, in a private home, with two cars, and a mother who was at home until I was in middle school. 

Even still, these were her fears. And she knew that neither money nor education–my brother attended Hofstra University–would not protect him nor assuage her. 

 So somehow my mother’s fears became my fears. God answered my prayers and gave me a girl as my first child, but my son came four years later. 


And so like many mothers, and likely every Black mother, especially those with a young black male in their care, I shed tears last week over the verdict in the case over Trayvon Martin’s unnecessary death. 


 I cried because I know the world is full of George Zimmerman’s–people who assume our young men are “assholes” and up to no good even when they themselves have no good reason to think that. And that in a jury of so-called peers, my innocent yet dead child would be referred to as “that boy”–unworthy of being called by his name. The real possibility that a George Zimmerman could come in contact with my son, and possibly brutally end his life, continues to stress me. And haunt me. 


And so I hope that in the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, there lies proof of exactly the kind of unique stressors black mothers contend with. I hope the people who have questioned how stress could be connected with pre-term labor or low birth weight babies or challenged me as to why black mothers face issues so unique that they are deserving of their own online community, can see exactly what researchers mean.  These are not the worries you can Calgon-bath or Yankee-candle away. 


And I sincerely pray that both of these issues, questions and challenges can be silenced, once and for all, and forever laid to rest in peace right alongside Trayvon Martin’s 17-year old, bullet-shattered body.


In motherhood,



15 Responses to “Why Trayvon Martin Has Everything To Do With Black Women’s Birth Outcomes”
  1. Wendy Gordon, CPM says:

    Thank you so much for connecting this for the birth and breastfeeding community. As if the daily stress of racism were not enough, to fear for the life of your child every time they leave the house is a level of stress that is unfathomable to me as a white mother. I so appreciate you linking Trayvon Martin’s death to preterm birth, low birth weight and maternal mortality; the research is compelling, Dr. Lu’s work is indisputable, and your post points to exactly what they have all been talking about. Thank you.

    • Thank you Kimberly for connecting the dots and continuing to speak the truth of the pervasive impact that as Wendy says, is unfathomable to me as a white mother and when I even tap a little of it is unbearable. Thees connections though are so important to begin to see the full picture.

    • admin says:

      Thanks Wendy!

  2. Dear Kimberly,
    Sending my appreciation for your smart and generous work from up here in the northwest corner.
    All my best to you and your family.

  3. Hannah Ellis says:


    Thank you for opening yourself up and writing this post. Everyone needs to read it.

  4. Think you for this post. I am doing research at U of Michigan on the black women’s experience of childbirth. It is absolutely true that having black skin in America negatively affects women’s health through the mechanism of stress. As you say, scientists know it but policy makers apparently do not. All of us have to work hard to create a society where babies get an equal chance at life from the get-go.

  5. Thank you so much for this. When I give presentations in Racine, WI, I also get the side eye. I plan to include this in the collaborative newsletter and I will post this on our website. I look forward to working with you in the near future.

    • admin says:

      Thanks Samantha for all the great work you are doing in Racine. We have much work to do and I’m looking forward to it!

  6. Evelyn La Nier says:

    Hey Kim, thanks for the article, as a mother of an active young man I have the same fears. I connect with that pacing until he comes home, and now that he is driving… OMG blessing and curse. This is something we all need to know about, thanks again.

  7. Hey Kim
    I love you sis you are so smart and really tell it like it is when you can,
    In considering how I might be more resourcefull to my classes and support group,I am adding a new section in the relaxation spin.I think this would be a good spot to give this much needed info to our moms.The truth may be painfull,but revealing in justification.
    Of course if they could be presented this info and even breastfeeding info younger this may help prepare them.
    But how do you prepare your child for such a hostile enviroment.I think Dr.Martin Luther King did a good job by speaking the truth and declaring how things will change in the future. I don’t know how many years it will take before these people and their backward thinking will be gone and leave our children a loving nurturing fair and equal society. I have 2 daughters so I never had the talk.I am curious to ask my son-laws how they were approached.And what will they say to their sons.
    I have learned we may all have hang-ups about different people and their lifestyle or how we percieve them to be.I just have learned to not be so stupid and judgemental over people with tatoos. And when I return to Mississippi to visit I still ache at the fact that my grandmother was never called by her last name and we all had to say yes mamam to any white woman of any age. And I am not very pleasant to others and thats not fair because they were not even born.
    So I guess I am gonna have to be long gone too. It’s a long hard road but it will happen,we just will not be here to see it.While we are here we must speak the truth until it catches on like fire.

    Oh Happy World Breastfeeding Week,thats really what I stopped by to say.

    Terry Curtis IBCLC
    Indiana Black breastfeeding Coalition

  8. Odelind Lewis says:

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Thanks for sharing,educating and motivating us to understand how pervasive racism is in America & the persistent stressors of Black @ Brown Women as more White Women adopt. & parent Black Boys it will be interesting to see how this paradigm shifts the blood of their Sons will not flow freely on the streets, unaccounted for we must repeal stand your ground laws.

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