Black Mothers Keep Dying After Giving Birth
December 7, 2017 6:06 PM   Subscribe

Shalon Irving's story shows how it happens: The researcher working to eradicate disparities in health access and outcomes had become a symbol of one of the most troublesome health disparities facing black women in the U.S. today: disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality. The main federal agency seeking to understand why so many American women — especially black women — die, or nearly die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth had lost one of its own. From Nina Martin, NPR
posted by Dashy (38 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Dashy at 6:07 PM on December 7, 2017

posted by clew at 6:37 PM on December 7, 2017

posted by songs_about_rainbows at 6:42 PM on December 7, 2017

*Sigh* a long sad sigh.
posted by Oyéah at 6:50 PM on December 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Over and over, black women told of medical providers who equated being African-American with being poor, uneducated, noncompliant and unworthy.

Add that to the patronizing disdain a lot of male doctors seem to have for female patients in general, and I can't even imagine how much worse it much be.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:07 PM on December 7, 2017 [30 favorites]

The next time someone tries to brag to me about their unoriginal middle class vacation or try to discuss Game of Thrones with me, I will ask them directly what do they think of the backdoor genocide of African American mothers happening in North America, and ask them what they plan to do about it because they won't be allowed to brag or waste my time with their nonsense until they do.

Just keeping it in everyone's face and in their ears; so no trying to escape it by staring into that smartphone.

We are almost at 2018, people. Let's get the act together, please.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:09 PM on December 7, 2017 [15 favorites]

posted by saucysault at 7:09 PM on December 7, 2017

Goddamn. That woman was a veritable supernova of achievement. Dead because a string of doctors couldn’t err on the side of caution and treat her symptoms despite a thorough record of risk factors. This is bullshit.
posted by Autumnheart at 7:10 PM on December 7, 2017 [22 favorites]

posted by praemunire at 7:57 PM on December 7, 2017

posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:16 PM on December 7, 2017

posted by Rapunzel1111 at 8:18 PM on December 7, 2017

Reminds me of this article about white privilege and pregnancy: Pregnant While White.

And for Shalon Irving, a

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:48 PM on December 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

posted by Jaclyn at 9:26 PM on December 7, 2017

posted by pernoctalian at 9:43 PM on December 7, 2017

posted by mikelieman at 9:48 PM on December 7, 2017

posted by sevenofspades at 9:56 PM on December 7, 2017

posted by ChutneyFerret at 9:59 PM on December 7, 2017

Goddamn. That woman was a veritable supernova of achievement. Dead because a string of doctors couldn’t err on the side of caution and treat her symptoms despite a thorough record of risk factors. This is bullshit.

And the stupid fucking system that means she saw how many "providers" in a few weeks time? If she'd seen one doctor who had a good relationship with that home care nurse, who seems to have been the only one with a brain, she might have been taken more seriously. This is a sore spot for me now, but when every doctor operates as an independent unit and there is no management or oversight or accountability of their work this is what happens. And it happens more to patients they don't feel like taking seriously to start with like black women.

Doctors need oversight, that much is OBVIOUS to anyone who has dealt with the US system where the operate as small business owners primarily and 18th century medical practitioners secondarily. The need to be given every chance not to fuck up by being well managed and if they do fuck up they need to be taken over what they did and how not to do it again. And if they fuck up repeatedly they need to be fired. As it is- nothing happens to them and they are free to continue to not give a shit while being guaranteed a nice income by the dumb private insurance system.
posted by fshgrl at 10:21 PM on December 7, 2017 [21 favorites]

Man, this was a shitty story to hear on the way home, got a little dusty in my car. Fuck you systemic racism and fuck your orange avatar in the White House.

posted by benzenedream at 10:24 PM on December 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

posted by spinifex23 at 10:31 PM on December 7, 2017

The thing that gets me about this story, is that her doctors knew their care was sub-par. because they didn't want the autopsy. If this wasn't due to systemic failures of care, if this was really just one of those one in a million, sometimes mothers die postpartum, her doctors would have wanted an autopsy. They would have called for one before the mother could, because they would have been horrified at losing a mother in this day and age, and they would have wanted to know what had killed her, so that they could save the next one.

But they refused to do an autopsy.

The mother of Shalon had to pay for one out of pocket.

Those mother fuckers knew they'd fucked up, and because they didn't care, about Shalon, or the next mother, or about black mothers in general, they tried to cover it up.

posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:34 PM on December 7, 2017 [28 favorites]

Researchers say that widening gap reflects a dramatic improvement for white women but not for blacks.

I often explore a 19th century cemetery near my home. There are many graves of infants and young women. I always think to myself: "what a blessing to live in the 21st century." And sometimes I have to be reminded that I can only say this because I am white.

posted by klanawa at 12:44 AM on December 8, 2017 [21 favorites]

As my wife and I are planning on having a kid in a few years, I've never been more conscious of the blinders of my privilege regarding health care than I am right now. I've always trusted the system, knowing that while it's terrible, it's worked for me. Even as my mother in law's stroke was ignored by her doctor, I assumed it was bad luck, not racism.

This is a terrible national tragedy and shame. We treat black people in this country as if every death is a win, because for the system, it is. No support, no recourse, from police extra judicial killings to systemic segregation in housing and schools to complete disregard by the medical community. It has to stop, but it isn't going to change for decades.

I've been so excited to start planning to have a family, and now I'm just scared. I'm scared for my wife and I scared for our baby, I'm scared for my mom in law and my brother and sister in law. I don't know how you're supposed to deal with the realization that their lives are even considered expendable by the people they are supposed to be keeping them healthy and alive. No shit black people deal with "weathering", having to grow up amidst those facts of life.

posted by motioncityshakespeare at 5:22 AM on December 8, 2017 [8 favorites]

I've been a pregnant woman and a post-partum woman and it's so incredibly frustrating to get comprehensive care. No one LISTENED to her. She knew there was something wrong, she KNEW IT. Goddammit.

It's not a tragedy, it's a crime. It's a crime of racism and sexism and the horrid intersection of the two.
posted by lydhre at 6:53 AM on December 8, 2017 [11 favorites]

I learned about a year ago that there's some uncertainty about whether Sojourner Truth truly delivered the "Ain't I A Woman" speech as indicated by the most famous account of it.

Whether or not she did, it's a sad fact that black women in American must still ask that question and will still receive no kind of satisfactory answer.

posted by lord_wolf at 6:59 AM on December 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


And I agree. It is a crime.
posted by anya32 at 8:04 AM on December 8, 2017

I am so angry about this. So, so, angry.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 8:06 AM on December 8, 2017

What a magnificent woman. She had and she was so much to lose. We are losing people we need so much because the people we have to trust with our lives don't have the humanity, or even the imagination, to see how we might be precious. Black people, women, black women just don't count, not the way other people count. It's almost a year since I lost one of the most important women in my life to a catastrophic mistake, cavalierly and negligently handled, during a fairly routine medical procedure. I'm just so afraid, I don't know who's next.

posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:18 AM on December 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm white. When my first baby was born, a few days post-partum my blood pressure spiked, just like Shalon Irving's did. I didn't have any other symptoms or warning signs. There was a visiting nurse (part of the hospital delivery package I guess? We didn't request or pay for her visit) who took my blood pressure and saw the high number. She immediately called my doctor, who faxed a prescription for blood pressure medication to the pharmacy around the corner, who delivered the prescription to my house. Within an hour, someone was handing me medication, without me ever having left the couch or lifted a finger to advocate for myself.

That's how it should be. It's infuriating that it's not that easy for everyone. This story felt like a punch in the gut to me.

posted by beandip at 9:32 AM on December 8, 2017 [10 favorites]

posted by seyirci at 10:27 AM on December 8, 2017

I heard this in the kitchen last night with my own daughter, and the raw pain in Wanda Irving's voice made me stop what I was doing and listen very closely to the rest. These parts, in particular, are appalling:

MONTAGNE: Shalon had already lost both of her siblings - a baby brother in a car accident. And then her beloved older brother, Sam, died slowly from MS. As a primary caregiver, Shalon fretted over what she saw as sub-par treatment being offered to Sam because he was black and on Medicaid.

IRVING: Because there is something wrong with this lady. Why not check it out instead of just sending her home? She's got swollen limb. She's not feeling well. She's got high blood pressure. Why wouldn't you put that person in the hospital? She thought they were not paying attention. She did indicate that, yeah, they never listen to us.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:03 AM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is so outraging. Please let the little girl grow up in a better world.
posted by mumimor at 12:00 PM on December 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by ChuraChura at 12:54 PM on December 8, 2017

posted by yeahlikethat at 1:18 PM on December 8, 2017

but when every doctor operates as an independent unit and there is no management or oversight or accountability of their work this is what happens.

That's how/why California had an amazing turnaround and halved maternal mortality rates in 5 years; a group of doctors and nurses put together a study which led to a protocol that had fantastic results, much like Atul Gawande did when he studied Surgical outcomes and was able to put together a protocol that dropped the number of post-surgical complications and deaths.
VOX Impact podcast: How California Saves Moms From Dying In Childbirth
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:34 PM on December 8, 2017 [7 favorites]

posted by geek anachronism at 10:51 PM on December 8, 2017

Oh man, I can't read this without getting blinded by rage. The sheer indifference to her pain breaks my heart. I've gotten to the point that I make my husband show up whenever my parents meet a new doctor/are in the hospital.

"Why do you want me there? I'm not a gerontologist." he says.

"Because you're a White guy with an MD and they are Black people over 80," I say. "This is your role in the family. When they say, 'but do we really need an MRI?', because there's something going on cognitively with my dad, your job is to say, 'I'm just wondering if it might be prognostic since it doesn't seem like there's one on file,'" I say.

"When they say, "Tydenol works," when my mom is in tears about the pain from her surgery, your job is to say, 'Well, since she's saying her pain is equivalent to getting fingers slammed in a door, could you write a short prescription for oxycontin anyway, just in case? That way there won't be a delay if she needs it, because it will be hard for her to get to the pharmacy later if Tydenol isn't effective'" I say.

He always looks skeptical but game, and then it unfolds like that, where his polite collegial questions and requests - heck - even his presence, changes things.

Works. every. time. I've stopped explaining to him how the quality of attention is different without him. And the subpar treatment when it happens, is so invisible, so obscured under layers of medical vocabulary and presentations of authority and unconscious bias, I don't even know if the clinicians providing care are even aware.
posted by anitanita at 12:58 PM on December 9, 2017 [13 favorites]

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