Bianca Lyons goes back to that same hospital room in Virginia every time she tells what happened to her and her baby. That day, eight doctors, nurses, and her husband Will all filled the room. London was there too, but she hadn’t arrived. Her baby’s heart rate dropped seven times before she was delivered.
Bianca says she remembers calling her mother, but when it was all said and done, the decision was hers. The combination of pressure, angst, and misinformation set her on a course, the consequences of which, would impact her family forever.
“I made the decision to have the C-section because I was told if I declined, the situation would become an emergency for myself and London,” she said.
Last Thursday during Black Maternal Health Week, Vice President Kamala Harris held a phoned press call with media and said, “We are looking at the likelihood that Black women are three times more likely to die in connection with childbirth,” according to NBC News.
Black Maternal Health Week is run by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance and is observed each April. President Biden issued a proclamation for it this year.
On Monday, Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12), Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14) in the House, and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced a package of resolutions joined by 110 members of congress to raise awareness the state of Black maternal health, per release.
During the height of the pandemic, the disparity in health resources began being called a race problem, and as Blacks were among the highest numbers of those affected by Covid-19, location became a key player in the reasoning for lack of resources.
Chief among the resolutions is the call on congress to, “support and encourage policies grounded in the human rights, reproductive justice, and birth justice frameworks that address Black maternal health inequity.”
Bianca’s first child, Kennedy, who is now five, was born in Camden, New Jersey at Cooper Hospital, where their neurological institute is one of the top-ranking in the country.
Three years before Kennedy’s birth, Camden was named the worst city in the U.S. and most dangerous by NeighborhoodScout. “The city averaged 25.66 violent crimes per 1,000 residents, NeighborhoodScout.com said in its report. That rate is six times higher than the national average of 3.8—which put the South Jersey city at the top of NeighborhoodScout’s most dangerous cities list.”
Bianca didn’t experience any complication during her birthing experience at Cooper.
Three years later, by the time she discovered she was pregnant again, she and Will had relocated. When it was time to give birth, she delivered at a military hospital in Virginia.
Bianca was told, “we need to take precaution in case you have a blood pressure spike,” though even today, Bianca maintains she’s had no blood pressure issues.
It was a Friday and they put her on Pitocin, a medication used to induce labor—but a day later on Saturday, after still not being dilated enough, they broke her water and both she and London developed an infection as a result.
She was told that her weight was a problem, though she’d had no health issues, and carried the child with no complications.
In October of 2020, Nightline aired “Hear Her Voice,” a special on the stories of Black women who died giving birth.
“Many people still believe that there is something inherent about the bodies of African-Americans that causes African-American children and infants to inter-counter difficulties from birth, but it’s not true,” Harriet Washington, author of Medical Apartheid said during the Nightline special.
Washington said location can impact the fetus. Dr. Neel Shah, an OB-GYN and Harvard University medical school professor agrees.
“Maternal mortality is higher for people who are Black, across the whole country,” she said per NBC News. “But if you’re Black in New York City, you’re 8 to 12 times more likely to die in childbirth. That’s because there’s a huge difference between living in the Bronx than living on the Upper East Side in terms of just access to resources and disinvestment in hospitals and infrastructure.”
Since the pandemic, the maternal mortality rate for Black women has risen by 26 percent, per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“What the data is showing us is we are still more likely to die in childbirth even when we have wealth. When people still see us as broken, they don’t listen to us, they don’t value us, they don’t trust us. We don’t get our pain evaluated in a timely manner, we don’t get our symptoms treated in a timely manner, we are more likely to lead to death,” Dr. Joia Crear-Perry said in “Hear Her Voice.” Crear-Perry founded the National Birth Equity Collaborative which seeks to bring awareness to the maternal mortality rates of Black women.
Bianca was forced to make a decision without knowing the facts.
“They didn’t explain too many things. I never got a full understanding of why they broke my water when they did,” she said. “I was diagnosed with things that did not exist, but the infection They caused was very real and almost cost me London.”
The cesarean she received left her traumatized and though she was told her cervix was too small, London was delivered at seven pounds and nine ounces—which is a pound larger than her sister who was delivered through a regular vaginal birth.
“Unfortunately, the prenatal counseling that should warn woman about these dangers often does not address these dangers in the very women who have these rates and by not warning them, the silence can be very deadly. It’s not race, its racism,” said Washington.