AP series examining the health disparities experienced by Black Americans across a lifetime
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Angelica Lyons knew it was dangerous for Black women to give birth in America.
As a public health instructor, she taught college students about racial health disparities, including the fact that Black women in the U.S. are nearly three times more likely to die during pregnancy or delivery than any other race. Her home state of Alabama has the third-highest maternal mortality rate in the nation.
Then, in 2019, it nearly happened to her.
What should have been a joyous first pregnancy quickly turned into a nightmare when she began to suffer debilitating stomach pain.
Her pleas for help were shrugged off, she said, and she was repeatedly sent home from the hospital. Doctors and nurses told her she was suffering from normal contractions, she said, even as her abdominal pain worsened and she began to vomit bile. Angelica said she wasn’t taken seriously until a searing pain rocketed throughout her body and her baby’s heart rate plummeted.
Rushed into the operating room for an emergency cesarean section, months before her due date, she nearly died of an undiagnosed case of sepsis.
Even more disheartening: Angelica worked at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the university affiliated with the hospital that treated her.
Her experience is a reflection of the medical racism, bias and inattentive care that Black Americans endure. Black women have the highest maternal mortality rate in the United States — 69.9 per 100,000 live births for 2021, almost three times the rate for white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Black babies are more likely to die, and also far more likely to be born prematurely, setting the stage for health issues that could follow them through their lives.