Just three weeks after George Floyd’s murder, 26 year-old Sha-Asia Semple died shortly after the birth of her first child due to fatal errors in properly administering her epidural and a subsequent failed intubation in a Brooklyn public hospital. In September of 2021 in Queens, NY 29 year-old mother of two Denise Williams died 48 hours after being admitted to the hospital for complaints of postpartum depression. Although at first the cause of her death was unknown, later reports confirmed it was a pulmonary embolism that had gone undetected. According to her family, Ms. Williams had been under enormous physical and emotional stress during her two month postpartum period, but hadn’t been able to address her own health needs until it was too late.
Although seemingly unrelated incidents, both cases involved the untimely death of two black mothers in NYC related to huge disparities in our maternal healthcare system. In New York City, Black women are nine times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women. Research suggests that racial disparities in maternal deaths are also linked to the fact that Black women are often more likely to deliver at hospitals with a lower quality of obstetric care, ranging from lower-performing doctors to understaffing, which forces patients in distress to wait longer. This breeds negligence and incompetence, making tragic but preventable cases like Sha-Asia and Denise’s more common.
In a post-Roe America, there are more barriers than ever preventing black birthing people from getting the critical perinatal care they deserve, including lack of paid parental leave as well as lack of insurance coverage for postpartum doula care or mental and behavioral health care for PMADs, (approximately 80% of which go undetected due to lack of awareness, routine screening, and stigma.) The words of Shawnee Benton Gibson, whose daughter Shamony Gibson also died from a preventable pulmonary embolism in 2019, echo louder than ever: “Black wombs matter. Black minds matter. Black bodies matter. Black communities matter.”
Post by Sharon Itkoff Nacache ATR-BC LCAT LPAT PMH-C
Original photo via Unsplash