Buzz surrounding the maternal health crisis in the United States is everywhere. It might not be surprising that many countries fare better than the U.S. for maternal health care.

The U.S. ranks 62nd in maternal deaths, despite spending more money per capita on maternal health than any country in the world. It has the highest maternal mortality rate among wealthy countries. It is also the only high-resource nation with a consistently rising maternal mortality rate. In the U.S., Black and Indigenous women are two to five times more likely than white women to die from complications of pregnancy and birth.

Considering the alarming stats, it’s worth looking at maternal health globally – specifically the quality of care for Black women. 21Ninety spoke with Black women outside of the United States about their pregnancy and motherhood journeys and their experience with maternal health.

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Millicent Asiedu is a maternal health educator and advocate. She is also the founder and executive director of Mesh of Mothers Foundation Inc. In her 10 years in Edmonton, she started her organization to bridge the gap in maternal health care. Mesh of Mothers Foundation offers a safe space for Black mothers and supports them through psycho-education, awareness and advocacy, and community engagements. It also helps moms find resources through its BIPOC database of maternal health professionals, Mommy and Me programs, and a digital platform to connect with other moms. 

“There are not many resources for Black women, specifically Black mothers,” Asiedu said. “But there has been a wave of Black mothers advocating for themselves and sharing their stories.”

Maternity Leave in Canada

When a woman gives birth in Canada, she must apply for maternity leave through the Employment Insurance through the Government of Canada. She can start maternity leave with benefits as early as 12 weeks before her due date or the day she gives birth. 

One benefit in Canada is that midwifery care is available through the health care system free-of-charge. However, access is limited. There are also few Black midwives. Asiedu explained that there are minimal postpartum programs, especially for Black mothers. An expectant mom would also need to pay out-of-pocket for doula care/support.

In Canada, maternity leave is for one year or 18 months. For a year of maternity leave, a mom will receive 55% of her average weekly income. For 18 months extended leave, she will receive 33% of her weekly income. You can only qualify for maternity leave benefits if you worked for a certain amount of hours prior to birth. 

The universal healthcare system makes it possible to have access to all kinds of free resources. This means that moms and expecting families do not have to pay for having a baby. There are also free childbirth classes provided by public health. 

Black Motherhood in Canada

As the founder of Mesh of Mothers, Asiedu has heard countless stories of Black women feeling unheard, dismissed, or feeling pressured to have a C-section. Some have reported zero breastfeeding support and that staff often encouraged them to bottle-feed. Medical professionals often offer limited postpartum support for Black mothers to meet their unique needs.  

Even though she has seen Black women face barriers, Canadian doula, Rochelle, still believes Canada has a much better healthcare system than the United States. Canada is better equipped to handle most pregnancy challenges. She even had a client who told her that her American doctor advised that it was best to come back to Canada to have her baby. 

“The maternal mortality rate in Canada is nowhere near America’s,” she said. “Doctors here are more proactive and actually listen to clients’ wishes. 

Stockholm, Sweden

Lola Akinmade Åkerström is the founder of Geotraveler Media. She is also an international bestselling author and photographer. She has lived in Stockholm for 14 years and believes Black mothers can enjoy the Swedish system if they advocate for themselves and use their voices.

“It is quite an egalitarian society that strives for equality in the way it treats all its residents,” said Åkerström. “However, Black women still remain the most marginalized group.”

Maternal Health in Sweden 

The Swedish government designed the nation for parents. A few maternal health benefits include free government-subsidized healthcare for kids and generous time off. Åkerström explained that the nation’s social and healthcare systems work best for parents. It has a robust system for expectant mothers, including afterbirth stays at the hospital that cost less than $100.

Many people know Sweden for its incredible parental leave that lasts about one and half years. Partners split parental leave, and Swedish citizens pay higher taxes to heavily subsidize parental leave. Parents only have to pay a small co-payment for benefits. Companies also have systems in place to account for their employees taking more than a year off work to care for their newborns.

Åkerström added that the main difference between Sweden and the United States is that the U.S. is more proactive when it comes to annual checkups and preventive care. In Sweden, you typically only go to the doctor if you’re not feeling well. 

Black Motherhood in Sweden

As far as navigating maternal health, Åkerström’s experience as a Black mother was smooth. She is grateful to have given birth to her children in Sweden. She was able to afford the necessary services, which are free or heavily subsidized with small co-payments.

Åkerström did, however, have to advocate for herself because, as she said, “we’re still fighting stereotypes of the ‘strong Black woman’ who can withstand more pain than others.” 

Overall, childbirth mortality rates in Sweden are very low, and the nation cares for mothers overall. 

“As with any society where Black women are marginalized and minorities, Sweden is no exception,” she said. “Black women have to advocate and actively use their voices to make sure they are taken seriously when it comes to their health.