LOS ANGELES — At 6 months old, Aniya Robertson is starting to look a lot like her mom, April Valentine.
What You Need To Know
- U.S. maternal mortality rates have doubled in the last 20 years
- Black mothers’ maternal mortality rates are three times higher than their white counterparts
- A Kaiser Family Foundation study showed that even when adjusting for other factors, black women were still more likely to die from pregnancy related complications
- That’s why an LA County Department of Public Health doctor has programs like the African American Infant and Maternal Mortality Initiative
“She favors her momma’s skin tone, her eyes,” says father Nigha Robertson.
And that’s just fine by him. After all, ever since he met April, all she ever talked about was having a baby.
“I came home one day, and she had like onesies hanging around the room," said Robertson. "And I said, 'What is this?' And she said like, 'If you speak it into existence, it will happen.'"
And it did happen, except Valentine is not around to see it because she died during childbirth. Robertson recounts that winter day inside an Inglewood hospital where, after 20 hours of labor, he found himself doing CPR on her.
Moments later, doctors cut Aniya out and took her to the NICU. Now, Robertson is left trying to fill an unfillable void.
U.S. deaths from pregnancy-related causes has more than doubled in the last 20 years, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and Black mothers’ maternal mortality rates are three times higher than their white counterparts.
“There is a deeper problem that it’s not about transforming the behavior of the pregnant person,” says Doctor Melissa Franklin, director of Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health for the Health Promotion Bureau at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “And yes, it’s important to live a healthy lifestyle and go to prenatal appointments, and to do all that, but it’s even more important for our systems to transform themselves.”
After all, a Kaiser Family Foundation study showed that even when adjusting for other factors, Black women were still more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications. That’s why Franklin has programs like the African American Infant and Maternal Mortality Initiative, “which provides free doula support delivered by Black doulas for Black families, an expectant fathers group which works with Black dads to support them so they can support their partner on their pregnancy journey, all with the perspective or the lens of addressing maternal death and infant death.”
AIM doulas, along with friends, have been supporting Robertson as he holds down his full-time job and takes care of Aniya.
“I’m not ready to have that conversation for when she asks what happened to her mama,” he said. “I won’t even be able to explain to her that the reason her mama is not here is because she was giving birth to you. That’s going to traumatize my little girl, so I think about that.”
The first day he met Valentine, he promised her he would be her protector. Even in her death, he’s honoring that promise.