AUSTIN (KXAN) — When a mother dies from pregnancy or in the year post-partum, the effect this has on the family often goes untold.

Clinical social worker and therapist Tesleigh Eure said it is possible children who lose their mothers at birth may struggle psychologically later in life.

According to Eure, there’s research to show that the bond between the mother and child begins during pregnancy. The strength of that attachment to the parent in utero and after-birth can affect the social and emotional development of the child. The attachment styles developed in our childhood can influence our adult relationships significantly, she added.

“As children continue to age and become more familiar with the circumstances that led to the untimely passing of their mother,” Eure said. “It is also possible that the children experience feelings of guilt, shame and struggle with grieving and processing the loss.”

Another often overlooked issue that comes up with maternal mortality is the feeding of the new born baby. 

Kim Updegrove, executive director of the Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin, said although the milk bank provides mostly for sick, small or premature babies, there have been instances where maternal mortality has required them to help provide donor-human milk for a baby. They are the largest nonprofit human milk bank in the world.

“When the mother is lost, there’s an immediate crisis. The infant’s basic need to be fed is interrupted,” Updegrove said. “An infant who loses its mother needs another adult to step in immediately to meet the basic needs of the infant, and that begins with feeding.”

But the Milk Bank is only able to provide this free pasteurized milk for two weeks to healthy infants who lose their mothers either at birth or one year postpartum because their primary recipients are babies in NICU, or sick babies.

“We provide that milk and work with the family to develop a long term plan to figure out how to feed that baby optimally when maternal mortality has entered the picture,” Updegrove said.

Most families get referred to the milk bank by their health care providers and some families find out about the bank independently and reach out asking for help.

Documentaries Spotlighting Black Maternal Mortality

Birthing Justice examines the structures and systems that determine the mortality of Black women and their babies. The documentary combines expert commentary with very personal stories of pregnancies and births. Among the women who share their intimate experiences is 11-time Olympic champion Allyson Felix. It reveals the complex web of causes, including racial bias and structural barriers to healthcare, that has animated the crisis while focusing on both joy and justice.

“I really appreciated how this film delved into the systemic racism piece, all the way down to what that looks like within the medical field with education, but also from a historical standpoint, to make sense of what we see today because that’s important,” UT Arlington’s Maternal and Child Health Research Lab director, Kyrah Brown said. “The other piece that really resonated was the balance between racism driving these inequities, but also exploring how we can also appreciate joy, Black birthing joy, Black joy — period.”

The feature-length documentary premiered at the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Meeting and has been screened at the United Nations in Geneva, several state capitols, medical schools, hospitals and theaters over 50 times. Pines said there’s at least another 50 screenings scheduled for April to mid-May.

“If we work together across philanthropy, healthcare, government and other sectors, we can make sure that all who give birth get the chance to have healthy pregnancies and babies,” Birthing Justice executive producer, Denise Pines said. “The most important step we can take right now toward that goal is to close the Medicaid coverage gap once and for all.”

When Pines became aware of the stark birthing realities for Black mothers in California about four years ago, she knew she had to do something.

“When I first heard the statistics about four years ago, I thought, ‘This has to be a mistake. That’s just not really possible. This can’t be happening in America,’” Pines said. “When I realized we have worse outcomes than we had over 30 years ago, I knew I had to do something.”

Aftershock spotlights the plight of maternal mortality for Black families through the stories of Shamony Gibson and Amber Rose Isaac. The documentary portrays how both women were ignored and neglected by their medical professionals until it was too late, according to both Gibson & Isaac. Now their partners, Omari Maynard and Bruce McIntyre, are leading a movement through their advocacy and art to seek justice and health equity for all Black mothers.

Black Motherhood through the Lens is about four Black women’s experiences navigating the reproductive and maternal healthcare system from conception to postpartum. The women in this series have experienced miscarriage, lack of access to infertility care, fears about childbirth, and postpartum depression. It features the stories of Shaylene, Shannon, Ijeoma and Jai-Me, who despite these challenges, boldly pursued their dreams of Black motherhood.

“It’s important for anyone in healthcare to have a good understanding of racism, anti-Blackness, structural racism, and how we got here to where we are today,” Black Mamas ATX executive director, Kelenne Blake-Fallon said. “When they have all this information, it could be easy to get discouraged about their field or about what they can do, but that’s not what the information is for.”

Blake-Fallon said she wants to see medical professionals tap into their power, their empathy and their humanity so that they can catalyze change, because a system is made of people doing things and all these people doing things differently, making sure not to perpetuate harm, making sure to center equity, that is how we get systemic change.

“It always starts with people and it requires constant action, it’s not a one off thing,” she said.