Shaasia Washington, a 26-year-old Black New Yorker, died July 3 during childbirth at a Brooklyn hospital.
A GoFundMe page has raised more than $45,000 to help support her partner and daughter, who survived.
It's unclear exactly how or why Washington died, but some blame the hospital for mistreating her due to the color of her skin.
The tragedy illustrates a persistent disparity among women of color in the US, who are three to four more times likely to die from pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications than white women.
Shaasia Washington, a 26-year-old Black woman, died July 3 during childbirth at a Brooklyn hospital, according to a GoFundMe page that's raised more than $45,000 to support her surviving partner, Juwan Lopez, and baby, Khloe.
"If you know shaasia she wanted to be a mom and she was gonna be an amazing one," the website says.
It's unclear exactly what went wrong that led to Washington's death. According to 4Kira4Moms, an organization combatting maternal mortality and raising awareness about it as a human rights issue, Washington died while undergoing a C-section.
She had gone to the hospital with high blood pressure but wasn't given medication for two days, 4Kira4Moms' Instagram page says.
The GoFundMe page, meanwhile, says Washington was "killed" while given an epidural; someone else elaborated that that epidural was improperly administered. The National Black Doulas Association called the death "due negligence."
A statement the hospital provided Insider said patient privacy and confidentiality laws prevent it from sharing any details about Washington's death.
"NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull remains committed to the health and welfare of our patients," it said. "We are saddened by this death and our condolences go out to the family of the deceased."
No matter the exact cause of Washington's death, however, the tragedy is part of a larger trend: While pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths are rare, women of color are disproportionately susceptible.
"Shaasia deserved so much better," Charles Johnson, the founder of 4Kira4Moms whose wife died during a routine C-section, told Insider. "It's another heartbreaking example of a Black woman not being provided the dignified compassionate care that all mothers should receive. It hurts every time we loose a mother to circumstances that could have been prevented."
Racial disparities persist in maternal mortality rates
In the US, Black women are three to four times more likely to die in pregnancy, childbirth, or immediately postpartum than white women. In the UK, black women's maternal mortality rates are five times higher than white women.
Doctors, public-health professionals, and even celebrities like Beyonce and Serena Williams have pointed to a variety of factors that could help explain the outcomes, including socioeconomic status, access to prenatal treatment, racial bias in the medical system, a culture that doesn't encourage black women to speak up about their health concerns, and medical complications during pregnancy like pre-eclampsia.
Beyonce's experience with preeclampsia, a complication involving high blood pressure and protein in the urine, for one, put her on bed rest for more than a month prior to an emergency C-section.
Serena Williams also had an emergency C-section, followed by a pulmonary embolism that almost killed her, she wrote for CNN. Both women have emphasized that not many black women, and those in poorer countries, aren't so lucky to receive the kind of life-saving treatment they did.
"Every mother, everywhere, regardless of race or background deserves to have a healthy pregnancy and birth," Williams wrote.
"The American healthcare system is failing mothers. ESPECIALLY BLACK MOTHERS," Johnson, the 4Kira4Moms' founder, wrote to Insider. "We must have an immediate overhaul of maternal care in the US. Procedures and policies must be put in place to hold doctors and hospitals accountable who fail to provide dignified respectful care. Black women can't continue to die giving the gift of life."
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says it's committed to solving the problem, too. "Racial and ethnic disparities in obstetric and gynecologic outcomes and care are prevalent and persistent," the organization wrote in a committee opinion. "In order to provide the best care possible for all women, obstetrician–gynecologists must be keenly aware of the existence of and contributors to health disparities and be willing to work toward their elimination."
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