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Former Kansas City Chiefs Cheerleader Krystal Anderson’s Death Unveils Conditions of Suboptimal Care 

Bintou Diarra | Editorial Lead | MS1: Alpert Medical School of Brown University | April 13, 2024

When it comes to performance, the United States fares high in several categories. We routinely rank well in terms of perceptions regarding our global reach, our job market, and our entrepreneurial opportunities. We are a nation of many feats and great technological advancement, and yet, we continue to loom behind our peers in categories that, arguably, are of greater significance. Within the past decade, the general public has been learning that the state of maternal care is among them. Our nation is in the throes of a maternal health crisis, with it being more dangerous for a birthing person to give birth now than it was three decades ago.

Unfortunately, recent tragedies, like the death of former Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader Krystal Anderson, further underscore the dismal realities of navigating the United States’ maternal health landscape. Krystal “Krissy” Anderson died at the age of 40 shortly after the birth of her daughter, Charlotte Willow Anderson, who, sadly, was born at rest, as named in Anderson’s obituary. As her husband Clayton Anderson speaks out about the conditions surrounding her passing, the details confirm that Krystal’s tragic death tells a story that, unfortunately, mirrors the experience of countless other women and birthing people in the United States. 

Krystal’s identity as a Black woman is a significant part of this story, as the burden of the maternal health crisis in the United States is not equal. Black women and birthing people are two to three times more likely to die of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications, and these numbers reflect the baseline. In states like New York, the gap is as large as eight or nine. Additionally, for Black women and birthing people, the stillbirth rate is over twice that of other demographics. As we close out Black Maternal Health Week, we must honor the lives of Krystal and other Black women needlessly lost to our deeply flawed medical establishment by facing uncomfortable truths.

As aptly noted by Krystal’s husband in an interview with ABC News, some of these harsh truths are tied to the very nature of how the United States’ medical establishment works. Krystal had previously suffered a stillbirth in November of 2022, and had a miscarriage scare in December of 2023. Aged 40 at the time of her pregnancy, Krystal was also of advanced maternal age. Despite the presence of these risk factors, the two were told that they could not work with maternal-fetal medicine specialists until week 14 of Krystal’s pregnancy. Expecting somebody who has had a loss to go four weeks in between seeing their care providers, said Clayton Anderson, is the same protocol that is done for a 23 year old of optimal health.

It felt remiss at the time, because it is.

In the absence of this tragedy, the reality of the bureaucratic nature of our medical establishment would simply fade to the background. Krystal Anderson’s tragic passing is a reminder of the deadly consequences of birth medicalization, and the systematization of pregnancy and childbirth in the United States. Under systems that do not account for variation between experiences and people, there only exists a “one-size-fits all” approach, where those who meet optimal standards thrive, and those whose identities and experiences deviate from the standard face one of two fates: survival, or death.

Under systems that do not account for variation between experiences and people, a Black woman who suffered a previous stillbirth and had a miscarriage scare, receives the same care as someone without the same background or medical history. As her experiences go unaccounted for, the chances that she’ll make it to the other side of her pregnancy and/or birthing journey safe and healthy diminish. 

In addition to investigating the systems-level issues, we must evaluate the interpersonal realities that make it more likely that Black women and birthing people have to scream to be heard. Notions of Black women’s exceptional strength and imperviousness to pain, or an unconscious disregard for our suffering, may lead physicians to dismiss Black women’s complaints, or assume that Black women and birthing people are not in need of support, even during a particularly vulnerable time. 

As we sit with the tragedy that is Krystal Anderson’s death, not only should we think about the deeply-ingrained beliefs that feed the expectation that Black women and birthing people do well despite inadequate measures, but we must continue to grapple with the question of what more could have been done, and why that was not the default. Without intentional effort to weave empathy, compassion and context into the cracks, we will continue to experience a system of care that fails to anticipate the needs of Black women and birthing people until it is too late.

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