Theo Wargo/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images; Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images; Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Beyoncé, Serena, Erica: We Need To Talk About Black Mothers And Mortality

Ad failed to load

When Beyoncé Knowles gave birth to Blue Ivy in 2012, everyone got really excited about her rental of a private "executive birthing suite" at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan for a rumored $1 million. Tabloids cheeped about the ~excess~ of the privacy and security measures as the Knowles-Carter family reportedly took over a wing in the hospital, which put out other parents of newborns, according to the New York Times. From Beyoncé, it is just a hop, skip, and a jump to a different birthing ward and the recent birth of Serena Williams' first child, Olympia — following which a story of harrowing post-birth treatment. And from there, a tragic walk over to the story of activist Erica Garner, who died four months postpartum just after Christmas.

Bear with me as we get there.

Williams is an athlete of historic talent with a high-level understanding of her own body. Prone to blood clots, she experienced shortness of breath the day after delivering her baby and, knowing the drill, asked for a CT scan and heparin drip (to thin her blood). The doctor gave her an ultrasound instead, and, this yielding no results, agreed to a CT scan following Williams' repeated requests. As she recalled to Vogue in an interview about "motherhood" (really a cute term for her brush against maternal mortality):

Ad failed to load

The scan revealed blood clots in her lungs. The life-saving heparin later caused a hematoma in her abdomen from hemorrhaging at her c-section site. It was, let's say, a nightmare that turned out OK, at least in part because Williams has incredible body knowledge — imagine if she didn't feel empowered to keep demanding treatment, or to flag the staff that something was wrong? Forget that she was trying to care for her newborn daughter Olympia even as she struggled to heal.

Ad failed to load

Let's go to Erica Garner now.

Shortly after Christmas, news hit that Erica Garner, the 27-year-old daughter of Eric Garner, had suffered a heart attack and was brain dead. Her baby, named for Erica's father — who died in a non-regulation police chokehold in 2014 — was four months old. She also left behind an eight-year-old daughter.

We know that Black women are 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy or child-birth-related causes than white women, per ProPublica (yes, 2-4-3 percent). We also know — cannot pretend we do not know — that a system designed to kill and quash Black lives takes its toll on Black families, and Black mothers in particular.

Ad failed to load

Writing in the New York Times, Kashana Cauley cited an interview with Garner just a month prior to her death, making the case that stress contributed to her death — and to the deaths of bereaved mothers like Venida Browder, the mother of Kalief Browder, teen victim of unlawful pre-trial detention at Rikers Island who took his own life. Venida was widely said to have "died of a broken heart." Wrote Cauley:

Following the death of her father at the hands of police in 2014, Erica Garner became an activist, devoted to seeking justice for all the families affected by racist policing. There is no question that this work took a toll on her. And it isn't hard to draw a link from the grief Erica Garner felt for her father and the searing effect of giving his name to her newborn.

Ad failed to load

Thinking about the life-changing trauma of childbirth, and the emotional Achilles' heel that your baby becomes almost instantly, I cannot even fathom what continuing to process the loss of her father — and the loss of other people’s children at the hands of violent police officers — did to Erica Garner. Because she lived to speak out for those families.

There are two pieces here: 1) maternal care that is among the worst in the developed world (the U.S. ranks 60th, worldwide for infant mortality, per Stanford research), and far poorer for women of color, and 2) the deliberate and systemic attack on Black bodies that takes place every day across the country.

Ad failed to load

Last year, a researcher for the CDC who focused on studying maternal mortality died three weeks after giving birth at age 36. Shalon Irving was a woman of "means," so to speak, and yet, as Nina Martin wrote in a piece jointly published by NPR and ProPublica, "The main federal agency seeking to understand why so many American women — especially black women — die and nearly die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth had lost one of its own." Irving was privileged and educated, but she was still Black, and therefore at risk of being given poorer medical treatment, having her symptoms ignored, and given less pain medication, per studies into racial bias cited by U.S. News.

Rebecca Schoenkopf summed it up neatly at Wonkette, in a piece that linked Irving and Garner: "The stress of everyday racism on Black women’s bodies, in combination with their pregnancies, is killing them."

So, what of Beyoncé?

Ad failed to load

If you knew that nothing — not education, not wealth, not a fluency in issues of racial discrimination — could keep you from dying during or after childbirth as a Black mother, wouldn't you move heaven and earth, and perhaps a piece of Lenox Hill hospital, to ensure that you get the best care you can while delivering your child? I would, and I'm a privileged white person from a country with single-payer healthcare.

The real story with Beyoncé wasn't the birthing suite, it was the horrific odds that a Black woman faces when she stares down the scariest, if most exciting moment of her life: the arrival of her child.

Ad failed to load

Hospitals give you little birth plans to check off, and goodie bags when you leave. It's all a distraction. We are not looking after mothers in this country. Our maternal care is far, far below that in other countries. "Babies are dying. Women are dying,” doula Regina Conceição recently told Romper in a call for better maternal and postpartum care.

Serena's cover story in Vogue isn't about her "comeback" — fuck the comeback, if you'll excuse me for channeling John McEnroe for a moment. It's about the chilling account of a mother who felt her body developing the very sort of clots that could have given her a stroke and ended her life just hours into that of her child. It's about the precise mechanism by which Erica Garner died in the early postpartum period after devoting the last few years of her life to fighting for justice for her father. It's about the idea that babies' lives matter — briefly — but mothers lives, Black lives don't.

Ad failed to load

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

The Pressure To Worry About The Gap Between Kids Is So Bad For Moms

"Two under two is absolutely crazy," a friend recently told me upon hearing the news that I was expecting a second child. "Why would you do this to yourself? Seriously, why?" However harsh her words, she was only echoing the same feelings I'd been ba…
By Marie Southard Ospina

To Be Honest, I Couldn't Survive Motherhood Without My Job

The decision to work outside the home once you've become a parent can be a complicated one. Some people don't really have a choice, and go back to work because they're either a single parent or can't sustain their family on one income. Some choose to…
By Priscilla Blossom

I Feel Guilty That My Kid’s Dad Is A Better Parent Than Me, & That’s Bullsh*t

I was scared, and he was sure. I was clueless, and he was well-researched. I was making mistakes, and he was picking up the pieces. From the moment I found out I was pregnant until just last night, when I threw my hands up in the air and left the alw…
By Danielle Campoamor

These Millennial Parents Are Taking Gender-Neutral Parenting To An Entirely New Level

A woman on the subway looks at my bulbous shape and asks, “What are you having?” I take a deep breath and throw a glance to my 5-year-old. “I’m having a baby,” I say to the woman. “No, no” the woman says laughing as she pushes further. “Are you havin…
By Madison Young

I’m Registered At Babies “R” Us, & I'm Freaking The Hell Out

Hi. My name is Abi, and I’m registered at Babies “R” Us — and I’m freaking out. This may sound silly, but after being a die-hard Toys “R” Us kid, I was so excited to register at their baby store once my husband and I finally got our big fat positive …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

My Daughter Is Obsessed With Being "Pretty" & I'm Way Past Terrified

Last week, when I picked up my daughter after school, she immediately wanted to know if I liked her hair. "Is it pretty?" she asked. Her hair was pulled up into two ponytails that were intertwined into thick, long braids. A shimmering pink and purple…
By Dina Leygerman

7 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 20s, But I Will

I was 24 when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. The pregnancy was a surprise, since I was on birth control (side note: antibiotics and birth control don't mix), but my partner and I decided to continue with the pregnancy and committed to m…
By Candace Ganger

Women Who Miscarry Early Deserve To Grieve — Here's How Hospitals Should Be Helping

When I lost my baby back in 2013, it was because of a very early miscarriage. Because of the little amount of time I spent being pregnant, it was though my child had never really existed, which made the next few years hard — I felt like they had been…
By Risa Kerslake

7 Things I Wish My Partner Had Said To Me In The First Hour After Giving Birth

I don't know if it was the buzz of the surrounding machines, the non-existent cry of our son as the doctors tried to resuscitate him, or the fact that I'd already been through labor and delivery once before, but I knew something was missing after I h…
By Candace Ganger

Moms’ Groups Weren’t For Me, Sorry

I go to my moms’ club everyday of the week, but not usually on weekends. My moms' group is a place I can always count on finding fellow mothers who understand the daily struggles and triumphs of parenthood and of juggling life’s responsibilities. Dep…
By Samantha Taylor

Millennial Women Are Getting Married Later Than Gen X, & The Reasons Why Are Pretty Badass

The battle of the generations seems to come up when it comes to every lifestyle or career choice people make. Women, especially, are an important demographic when it comes to analysts looking at the lifestyle choices we make or the expected milestone…
By Josie Rhodes Cook

I've Had 3 Miscarriages But *Please* Keep Telling Me About Your Pregnancy

I can feel the tension the moment my friend announces her pregnancy. I can hear the forced nonchalant attitude she's willing herself to exude as she fishes for the ultrasound. I know why I was the last to learn that she was expecting; why she keeps l…
By Danielle Campoamor

7 Early Signs You're Going To Need An Epidural, According To Experts

Even if you've constructed an elaborate birth plan, it's impossible to control every aspect of labor and delivery. Complications can occur, proactive measures might be necessary, and your mind is subject to change when those damn contractions really …
By Candace Ganger

I'm Pregnant & I Refuse To Read Any Parenting Books

I didn't read any parenting books when I was expecting my daughter, and I refuse to read any parenting books as I await my second child now. I'm the first to admit that I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to raising my daughter. A good d…
By Marie Southard Ospina

7 Reasons Why March Babies Are Total Badasses

From the moment you become pregnant, you begin to wonder what your little one will be like. Will they look like you, your partner, or your Great Aunt Edna? Will they be the quiet, thoughtful type or arrive on this planet raring to go? It's fun to ima…
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

12 Overnight Face Masks To Use To Wake Up Feeling Pampered AF

Spring is right around the corner, and as far as I'm concerned, the sunshine and warm breezes can't come soon enough. But now that we're about to say goodbye to winter, it's a good time to take stock of your facial skincare routine. You know, in the …
By Katie Malczyk

11 Essential Products To Pack In Your Hospital Bag, According To OB-GYNs

The minute you go into labor (or think you're going into labor), chaos ensues. You and your partner are likely to get a little frantic, just like in the movies, so you most definitely want to have a hospital bag packed before the day comes. This prec…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

7 Photos You *Must* Take In The First 6 Months Of Motherhood

In my experience, becoming a mom is like becoming an amateur photographer. There's just something about the need to capture every single coo and sorta-smile that leaves you obsessed with all things photography. I know I couldn't stop taking selfies w…
By Candace Ganger

Here's How Early An Ultrasound Can Actually Determine Your Baby's Sex

From the moment you see those two lines on a pregnancy test, there are a few markers along the way that stand out as especially exciting. Amongst them are hearing your baby's heartbeat and feeling that first, sweet little kick. And if you are finding…
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

9 Easy Kid Foods To Turn Green, Just In Time For St. Patrick's Day

The best part about having kids is that you get your own personal crew to celebrate the holidays with, in all your color coordinating and matching glory. And with St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, you are obviously working on turning everyth…
By Mishal Ali Zafar