Erica Garner was 27.
Shortly after the birth of her second child, Erica Garner suffered her first heart attack.
A few months later, she suffered a second heart attack and died.
Let that sink in for a moment: A 27-year-old woman died. From a heart attack.
The online community of arm-chair physicians has been fast to react and hypothesize why a young woman would die in such a manner. “Perhaps it was diet.” “Maybe genetics are to blame?” “I bet she didn’t exercise.”
As a community of bystanders, we wrongly place the blame upon her body and lifestyle. Maybe we do this because it helps us distance ourselves from the potential that even the young may not be so invincible. But I think it’s more likely that we entertain these explanations in an effort to escape blame. While we [white people] didn’t take the breath away from Erica Garner directly (as was the case with her father, Eric Garner), we may as well have.
Erica’s death illustrates so many of the things wrong with healthcare and race in the US today. These factors are especially strong in the world of perinatal care. A quick google search reveals that black women are substantially more likely to die from pregnancy and delivery complications when compared to their white counterparts.
You’ll note that the two articles noted in the screenshot above were published 17 years apart—this is NOT a new issue, and it’s not getting better—quite the opposite infact. A joint report by the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force reported a substantial increase in maternal mortality among black mothers, noting that while black mothers accounted for 11.4% of Texas births in 2011 and 2012, the rate had increased to 28.8% of pregnancy-related deaths in 2016. Despite advances in fetal and maternal medicine, this rate continues to increase.
There are lots of ways to explain this increase, as well as the loss of Erica Garner. But the core of the issue is this: prenatal and postpartum care is not appropriate, accessible or affordable to the whole community it claims to serve. Maybe Erica didn’t have regular access to a doctor she trusted. Maybe her physician provided subpar care to her because of her race or her health insurance. Maybe her complaints and concerns were brushed off. Maybe she was forced to return to work before her body had an opportunity to heal.
When these reasons are spelled out, they may sound absurd—but the data is clear. Institutionalized racism DOES impact the quality of healthcare minority populations have access to and outcomes DO suffer as a result. And this issue is not restricted to the perinatal community. Healthcare disparities are easily one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the US.
What it comes down to is this: Erica Garner was an avid advocate for change, fighting against the very thing that in the end, contributed to her death—“the full weight of U.S. American history and it’s white, colonizing progeny, [that] killed Erica Garner.”
Change is well overdue.
If you are a birth worker, work in healthcare, or public health, please jump over to an article by Nova Cox, who provides a list of relevant resources to help address this issue.