April Valentine always kept a vision board, and for the first month of 2023, she had three goals: get married, have a daughter, and have a healthy pregnancy. She was pregnant with her first child and absolutely couldn’t wait to be a mother. Although she thought she might be having a boy, she was overcome with joy when she learned she was having a daughter.

“When we were little, it was like that thing of, who is gonna have a baby first? Who is going to get married first? She was so excited because she always wanted to be a mom,” Mykesha Mack, Valentine’s closest cousin, said.

Valentine, 31, was often described as a pillar in her community in Los Angeles; she kept in contact with everyone, Mack said. “April was that person that was gonna show up for you, you know? She was loyal almost to a fault.” 

Two days before giving birth, Valentine wrote on her vision board that she wanted to have a safe delivery. 

On Jan. 9, Valentine entered Centinela Hospital in Inglewood, California, to give birth, but tragedy stuck. She complained of intense pain for hours, but her family said her pleas were ignored. On Jan. 10, Valentine died without ever getting to meet her daughter, Aniya Heaven Robertson. (Valentine’s family has set up a GoFundMe for Aniya.)

“It’s just been a lot for me,” Mack said. “It’s because she was robbed of something that she affirmed.” 

Centinela Hospital declined to comment on the case, citing privacy laws. “Despite the highest standards of care, there are certain medically complex and emergent situations that cannot be overcome,” a hospital spokesperson said in a statement. “We express our sincere condolences to the family during this deeply sad and difficult time.”

Unfortunately, stories such as Valentine’s aren’t as uncommon as they should be. Pregnancy can be a beautiful but also nerve-wracking journey — and one that comes with risks. For Black people, the chance of complications or problems during pregnancy is elevated.

The US has the highest maternal mortality rate of all high-income countries, with 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. That rate jumps to 55.3 per 100,000 for Black women and an astounding 263 per 100,000 births for non-Hispanic Black women 40 or over. (In comparison, the rate in white women 40 or over is 96.8 per 100,000 births and in Hispanic women 40 or over is 86 per 100,000 births.)

Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women are. Overall, about 861 people died before, during, or after childbirth in 2020, according to the CDC, and more than 80% of all pregnancy-related deaths in the US are preventable.

One common factor seems to be that medical staff either ignore or simply do not believe the pregnant person’s pain or other symptoms are real — and this type of medical mistreatment could happen to anyone. In one of the most publicized examples, tennis icon Serena Williams told Vogue that she experienced a life-threatening health scare when her symptoms were repeatedly ignored after she gave birth. (People who are Black are at higher risk of hypertension and preeclampsia in pregnancy too.)

In response to the high mortality rate among pregnant  Black people, many organizations and resources have been launched to offer the services of Black doulas who can specifically help people have a safer birth experience.

A doula is a hired professional who provides both physical and emotional support to the pregnant person and their family. They can help not only during pregnancy but childbirth and postpartum as well. Doulas first became popular in the 1980s, when cesarean sections and other interventions were on the rise.

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