Mothers Of Invention: Black Women Using Tech In Maternal Health  

Apps like Irth and Poppy Seed Health can help reverse the disproportionately high Black maternal death rate. Credit: iStock

by Jennifer Porter Gore

Having suffered a miscarriage in 2022, Krystal Anderson understood the potentially fatal maternal health risks for Black women like her. As a professional software engineer, she personally worked to lower those risks: she was part of a tech team that won a patent for software that monitors postpartum health.

In March, however, Anderson, who also was a retired NFL cheerleader, died from sepsis, just days after she delivered a second stillborn child. 

Stories like Anderson’s have become sadly familiar. Data shows Black women are 3 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, regardless of income, education, or health status. Research points to a range of factors, from less access to quality prenatal care to the constant, unrelenting stress of systemic racism. 

Now, some Black women are taking matters into their own hands and turning to technology for answers. One has developed an app for maternal support, while another has developed an online “Green Book” to help pregnant Black women find culturally supportive healthcare providers and information. 

Meanwhile, a Black woman in Congress — who also suffered serious complications while giving birth to her son — believes technology can provide solutions. 

“Too many moms die when basic healthcare is inaccessible for them,” Rep. Nikema Williams, a Georgia Democrat, said in a statement when she co-sponsored the Tech to Save Moms Act last July. “Moms in Georgia—especially Black moms—know how hard it can be to get the care we need.” 

The disparities in Black maternal health represent one of the most pressing and tragic public health issues. Despite significant advances in healthcare, Black women “have a maternal mortality rate of 2.9 times that of white women in the United States,” according to a report produced by Southern Connecticut State University. 

“For several years, Black women have been ignored and dismissed by medical providers in the United States,” according to a Southern Connecticut State University report titled, “Listen to the Whispers before They Become Screams: Addressing Black Maternal Morbidity and Mortality in the United States.” 

Although researchers haven’t pinpointed the cause. research strongly hints at one possible factor: unequal treatment of pregnant people of color in the doctor’s office, in the medical examination room, and throughout the medical system in general. 

An April 2023 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that approximately 30% of mothers of color reported being verbally abused or having their physical privacy violated while receiving maternity care.

Further, roughly 4 in 10 mothers of color felt they had been discriminated against during maternity care, and 45% of all mothers said they were reluctant to ask questions or discuss concerns with their healthcare provider. 

While some continue to advocate for urgently needed systemic and policy changes, Simone Taitt decided not to wait — especially after her own maternal health scare. 

Taitt was a highly-paid tech company executive with top-flight health insurance when, in 2016, she lost a pregnancy. When she learned her baby had no heartbeat, her healthcare provider offered no medical follow-up or emotional support, she told attendees earlier this month at the STAT Breakthrough Summit West in San Francisco. 

“And I did what 85% of all Americans do: I went to Dr. Google and there is where I found things, very simple things that weren’t offered to me,” said Taitt. 

She eventually left her employer and became a doula to provide guidance and support to women during labor, and founded the app Poppy Seed Health, an app that provides those services on demand. That includes information about life issues and health changes surrounding pregnancy. 

“This is why I started Poppy Seed Health—to restructure pregnancy and postpartum care with an emphasis on emotional and mental health support,” Taitt says in her bio on the Poppy Seed webpage.  “This is not the time to reimagine. This is the time to build something new.”

Similarly, entrepreneur and former journalist Kimberly Seals Allers turned to technology to create Irth, an app for Black women to read and write reviews on clinicians, hospitals and other pre-and post-natal care providers. 

“It is our digital Green Book for safe Black birth,” Allers said, referring to a Jim Crow-era handbook that identified businesses, restaurants, and lodging that were friendly to Black motorists. “We know that my parents and my grandparents literally needed tools for where they could travel safely. And so now we’ve created our digital Green Book for birth, and we’re excited about its promise.” 

Allers created the app after feeling disrespected and traumatized while giving birth to her first child at one of the best hospitals in New York City, Allers told STAT News. Irth — the website notes the “B” is dropped to signal lack of bias — is positioned as a Yelp for health care providers and facilities.

In an essay for Fast Company magazine, Allen says technology can bridge the gap between living and dying in childbirth.

“Digital technology is uniquely able to amplify the voice of patients, particularly from those whom the industry has historically overlooked,” tapping into the power of community to bring much needed transparency to the healthcare system, she wrote.