CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The United States is the most dangerous country in the developed world for women to give birth. Especially black women. They are four times more likely to die from pregnancy than white women.
But there are glimmers of hope. Success stories where black mothers got the care they needed - and deserved, without implicit or explicit racial bias playing a role. Aneka Jackson of Charlotte is one of them.
Her now two year-old daughter, Ariel entered this world, unannounced four months early in January of 2016.
"She was 1 pound, 13 ounces when she was born just a little 'ole thing,” recalled Aneka. Despite her tiny stature, she says her firstborn came out fighting. “Feisty from the beginning with pulling cords and noticing that she’s doing stuff that she shouldn’t be able to do at such a young, little age,” she said.
Now expecting her second child with husband, Desmond, she still recalls the moment her routine pregnancy went sideways – at 26 weeks along. “So that’s when I really started, like ‘OK’ and this panic setting in and ‘oh my God - is she going to be OK’,” she remembered.
The couple struggled to conceive and turned to a fertility specialist for help. Initially, Aneka says the pregnancy was a breeze - even with her chronic hypertension.
“My blood pressure was doing well,” she said. “I was coming in and doing well. No real concern at all so this was a big shock. I got home and started having some contractions - but didn’t know it was contractions then.”
Then came the bleeding. It was a small amount – but enough cause for concern as a first-time mom so she called the team at Arboretum Obstetrics and Gynecology who told her to go straight to the hospital.
“So she said, ‘you know what’? We’re going to send you to CMC Main so just in case, you’re too early to deliver at this hospital so we’re going to get you transported,” Aneka recalled.
Jackson believes that decision was critical to not only her survival, but Ariel's as well. Something she attributes to be cared for by doctors who look like her.
"That was definitely key - and even the transfer from hospital to hospital, you know,” she said. “That thinking I'm glad that I had someone who was like, 'let's go'!"
After 48 hours of bedrest in the hospital - the longest doctors felt comfortable delaying her delivery - Ariel arrived. “My husband said he will never forget the look on my face when the doctor said, ‘Oh, we’re about to deliver the baby’,” she said, chuckling. “And, she came right back in with a group of 20 people in to assist.”
But, the weeks her daughter spent in the NICU coupled with the mystery surrounding Ariel’s dramatic arrival - made the couple hesitant to give her a sibling. "Even the point of thinking about having another baby. Just not knowing really what made Ariel come so early. Thank God-- I’m so blessed, she’s doing so well!”
Yet, here she is - now 33 weeks along with Baby Boy Jackson. The milestone is a welcome sight for her physician, Dr. Mala Freeman-Kwaku.
“So we’re really glad to get to this point,” she said as she smiled. “I always say when I have high risk patients, especially,” Dr. Freeman-Kwaku said. “I use 32 weeks as kind of my mental window. Cause if I get to 32, I’m like well let’s get to 34 [weeks]. And, then we get to 36 [weeks] - if you’re high-risk - we feel pretty good that’s a good age although 37 [weeks] is optimal.”
It's why Dr. Freeman-Kwaku is watching Aneka so closely, bringing her in every week to monitor her son’s heart rate for a 20-minute stretch. "What we want to make sure in a woman who has high blood pressure is that we signs of reassurance,” she explained. “And one sign would be as the baby moves, the heart rate should go up. If the heart rate goes down with movement, that could mean that maybe the cord is being compressed. That maybe there's not enough fluid."
While Dr. Freeman-Kwaku says that’s standard for high-risk pregnancies, to Aneka - it’s just another reason why she gravitated to doctors who look like her.
“I think in the end we really want us all to succeed,” she said. “And it's a sisterhood, you know what I mean? To have that - it's very valuable that you may not get everywhere else. You know we really want to help each other. We care about us making it, you know.”
To read – and see – all of the stories from my Black Maternal Health series, go to http://www.wbtv.com/community/black-maternal-health/.