Crystle Galloway's Death Is Just One Example of Racism in Maternal Healthcare

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My passion for maternal health began when my low-risk pregnancy was suddenly labeled as high-risk, led to a series of interventions, and ultimately created a very traumatic birth experience.

It started with the withholding of information concerning my son's hydronephrosis. It continued with an unsolicited and deeply painful episiotomy and a half-assed postpartum exam. And it ended with a diagnosis of leftover placenta a month after giving birth.

This experience, while considerably traumatic, propelled me into the world of maternal health research and education. I was particularly interested in the connection between what I’d been through and how it revealed a pattern for women who looked like me. What I found was the underdiscussed yet significant influence of bias and discrimination that runs rampant in the healthcare system.

For me, the benefit of my experience was being given the firsthand opportunity to educate those around me on the ways black women are perceived and mistreated when antiblack bias and stereotypes seep into healthcare.

Sadly, many of our encounters have been physically damaging and led to long-term pain and trauma. The entire puzzle is incomprehensible -- unless bias is understood as one of the main contributors to the maternal mortality crisis we are facing in the United States. And this is of course in conjunction with acknowledgement that black women are dying at rates comparable to third-world countries because of this bias.

  • Some women like myself are fortunate not to have died from these experiences.

    Many accounts, however, will never be told because they ended so severely the victims died before having the opportunity to tell their story.

    A common misconception is that for an issue to qualify as a pregnancy-related death is that it must happen during or immediately after labor. 

    This figure, however, is determined by examining deaths that occurred within the first year after giving birth seen within conditions such as pulmonary embolisms, preeclampsia,  heart attacks, and more obvious things such as infection via leftover placenta or other medical mishaps.

    Although all of these cases are unfortunate, they are often regarded as health conditions associated with the long-term stresses that accompany black womanhood. 

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  • And although they might be perceived as negligence, they are seldom seen as direct examples of bias within our healthcare establishment. 

    Yet every once in a while, there are news headlines such as that of Crystle Galloway that perfectly exemplify the way antiblack bias is leading to the death of black women.

  • Galloway's mother, Nicole Black, found her daughter unresponsive on the 4th of July in the bathtub. 

    She called the ambulance at 3 am, but the actions of those first responders were the potential cause of her daughter's death.

    Black’s account of the story is eerie similar to many black women's experiences and involves assumptions about her ability to afford care. Although the hospital was only a few blocks away, Black says they questioned is this cost was feasible. The result? They assisted her down the stairs, but she drove her daughter herself.

    Naturally, first responders have a very different version of the story saying the worried mom and grandmother decided she would instead transport Galloway herself. The firsthand accounts of the story vary greatly, but the results of a county investigation revealed the four paramedics failed to take the sick mother's vital signs despite the 911 call listing the incident as a possible stroke and falsified information having listed the episode as a "Non-transport/no patient found.”

  • It’s hard to wonder why these individuals didn’t follow protocol in an incident with so many risks factors and troubling signs. 

    It’s heartbreaking to think of a newborn baby losing his mother before he has even lost his umbilical cord. However, it is not unfathomable considering it reflects the widescale trend of assumptions and neglect black individuals regularly face when interacting with healthcare professionals.

    Crystle Galloway was a 30-year-old mother of three. She joins the long list of black women who have been claimed by the maternal mortality crisis. Had we not gone to the doctor a third time, that could have been me. Or one of my friends who had postpartum infections. The signs are always there. But what is the point of reaching out for assistance in a healthcare system that frequently turns you down?  How many more black women have to die before we reevaluate the way bias and stereotyping affect health outcomes?

    Or more simply put -- When will black women's lives matter? When will we finally become human?

birth stories c-sections complications moms of color postpartum recovery racism racial issues race