Doctors: Black women in NYC 12 times more likely to die in childbirth

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News 12's Lenneia Batiste and her daughter Ava. News 12's Lenneia Batiste and her daughter Ava.
NEW YORK -

Having a baby can be one of the most exciting times in a woman's life. But for many black mothers, the miracle of childbirth is tainted by a morbid reality.

"Black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth and in New York City they are twelve times more likely," St. Barnabas Hospital nurse and midwife Yael Offer says.  

Last  September, News 12's Lenneia Batiste gave birth to a baby girl named Ava but once she turned a week old Batiste says she began feeling sick.

Batiste was diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia - a condition caused by high blood pressure and protein in the urine after giving birth.

She says the discovery was made after a visit to urgent care. "The doctor tested me for this condition going against my primary doctor's orders to just go home and rest," Batiste says. Batiste was sent to the ICU where she was monitored for nearly three days.

She says if she had listen to her primary doctor, her condition would not have been discovered and the preeclampsia could have led to seizures, or even worse, death.

Batiste's story isn't much different from other black mothers in New York City. According to the New York City Department of Health there are 126.7 deaths per 10,000 live births for white, non-Latina women.

However, the number of deaths for black women are staggering at 386.9. The highest maternal death rates are in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Brownsville and East New York, followed by the South Bronx where mostly black women deliver babies.

"We see that the causes of this huge disparity is due to institutionalized racism and discrimination that affect all women of color but especially black women," Offer says.

Insufficient postpartum care has even affected black celebrities like tennis champ Serena Williams—who after having her daughter last summer says she had to repeatedly ask doctors for the correct course of treatment despite a known history of blood clots.

Acclaimed TV judge Glenda Hatchett's daughter-in-law died from blood loss in 2016 after a routine C-section. The family says her husband repeatedly told staff his wife wasn't feeling well.

“The conditions of white women improve up the socioeconomic ladder. Black women don't have that improvement," Offer says.

Doctors say to be the advocate for your health. "If it seems like it's not right or it's off or it's concerning to a patient where they're being seen in the emergency department of the labor and delivery ward, they should speak up for themselves," Doctor Sarah Jamison says.  

Batiste says she took her blood pressure every day and showed her doctor so that she knew what was going on. She says her blood pressure eventually stabilized and 6 months later she feels much better.

But Offer says black mothers need more support at the beginning of their pregnancy. She says St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx is implementing that notion.

"We're implementing a duel program that looks at everything that functions; from our clinic to how we address women who are coming into triage and labor and delivery," Offer says.   

After her experience, Batiste and her husband are urging doctors to simply listen to their patients.

"I'm thankful that a doctor listened," Batiste says, "It gave me the opportunity to enjoy the gift of motherhood."

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