Black Women Are Dying and Not Enough People Are Paying Attention

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Fox’s “The Resident” Sheds Light on Black Maternal Health in Memory of Kira Johnson

Black women are “243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes than white women in the United States” according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you remember nothing else from this article remember that.

As I watched Monday night’s episode of “The Resident”, I found myself on an emotional rollercoaster with fictional characters, Wade Davies and Leah Jordan-Davies as I watched them become parents for the second time

“It’s alright honey, it’s okay. Everything’s going to be fine. Don’t worry,” Wade ensures his seemingly anxious wife.

Spoiler alert – everything would not be fine.

My eyes stayed glued to my television screen as I watched Wade and Leah bring their new baby into the world with gleeful smiles on their faces. Then, I continued to watch as their happiness turned into worry. I watched as Wade alerted the nurse about his wife’s troubling symptoms and I watched as the nurse dismissed his concerns.

“It’s normal, trust me. She just needs some sleep,” the fictional nurse says.

I watch again as Leah lays in the bed, agonizing in pain as the doctor asks her how she feels.  But, before Leah could respond, the nurse who ignored her husband’s pleas just moments before, finally intervenes – only to dismiss her symptoms once again. As if the first dismissal wasn’t enough.

“Her pressure is a little low, but in the range of normal especially after a C-section.” the nurse says.

Tears stream down my eyes as blood fills Leah’s catheter as if I know this fictional character personally.

“She’s going to be okay, right?” Wade questions.

His question goes answered.

“I’m scared,” Leah says.

“You’re going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay,” Wade ensures his wife for the second time as she is rolled into the operating room.

On the operating room table, Leah Davies suffers from internal bleeding as a result of her C-section and then her heart stops — Leah dies.

“Leah Davies wasn’t a priority,” the operating doctor says as he stands there in shock on my television screen.

Back to Reality

Leah Davies was a fictional character, unfortunately, Kira Dixon Johnson was not.

Monday night’s episode, which premiered in the middle of Black Maternal Health Week, was dedicated to Johnson and the other mothers who have suffered the same fate. Johnson died in 2016, after a routine C-section at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a hospital known for its deluxe maternity suite where many A-list celebrity moms like Kourtney Kardashian have birthed children. However, Kira Johnson surely didn’t receive A-list treatment at Cedars-Sinai, I guess she wasn’t famous enough.

Like Leah, Kira bled internally for more than 10 hours before the doctors took notice. Reportedly, when doctors did operate, they found three liters of blood in her abdomen. Kira died from blood loss 12 hours after giving birth to her second son, Langston.

Again, Black women are 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes than white women, irrespective of income or education.

On September 24, 2018, her widow, Charles Johnson IV took he and his wife’s heartwrenching story to Capitol Hill. Charles testified on H.R. 1318: Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2017 before The House Subcommittee on Health Committee on Energy and Commerce.

“Kira was the most amazing person I have ever met,” Johnson testified. “She spoke four different languages, lived in China and had run several companies. Her idea of a relaxing date was skydiving…her idea of a romantic date was drag racing. I was smitten with her zest for life – her enthusiasm- I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next.”

Black Women Die from Pregnancy and Childbirth Complications At Alarming Rates

A New Mission

In his wife’s memory, Johnson founded 4Kira4Moms to advocate for “improved maternal health policies and regulations and to educate the public about the impact of maternal mortality in communities.” Johnson has become an improved maternal health policies advocate, making it his mission to prevent others from experiencing the same tragedy.

“I vowed that I would take this tragedy and turn it into a mission fueled by the memory of Kira and the passion she brought to life every day,” Johnson testified. “I have taken my grief and found peace by tirelessly working on maternal health and maternal outcomes.”

On December 21, 2018 H.R. 1318 was signed by The President into law. According to 4Kira4Moms, the law will help “support states in their work to save and sustain the health of mothers during pregnancy, childbirth and in the postpartum period, to eliminate disparities in maternal health outcomes for pregnancy-related and pregnancy-associated deaths, to identify solutions to improve health care quality and health outcomes for mothers.” In recent weeks, U.S. Representatives Lauren Underwood and Alma Adams have launched the Black Maternal Health Caucus, hoping to bring more attention to the issue. With the United States having the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, the situation has proved even more dire for black women. Now, is the time to act. Monday’s episode of “The Resident” was appropriately titled “If Not Now, When?”

About the author

Ratasha Smith
Ratasha Smith

I am a communications expert with 10 years of experience under my belt. I have been on both sides of the coin in regards to journalism starting as a reporter and now serving as a publicist. In college, I majored in journalism with political science as my cognate. My love for politics grew through my work as a freelance reporter and that love continue. I am now a Communications Officer for The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, a nonprofit in the city I was born and raised. My current role allows me to serve my community through my craft. While the nonprofit sector differs from the public sector, the goal of both sectors overall is to ensure the public’s wellbeing. I intend to continue to strive to achieve that goal both through my work professionally, philanthropically and personally.