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Say Her Name: Christine Fields’ Tragic Passing and the Harrowing Realities of the United States’ Maternal Health Crisis

Bintou Diarra, A.B | Medical Anthropology, Brown University | December 7, 2023

The family of Christine Fields should be celebrating the birth of a child.

Instead, they are grieving the loss of yet another mother that Woodhull Medical Center failed. Christine Fields died shortly after giving birth at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn back in November, and her family continues to demand justice. In a new lawsuit, the family is seeking $42 million for the hospital’s failure to perform a proper c-section and their neglect to follow-up after the procedure. Christine’s death comes a mere three years after the death of another Black birthing person, Sha-Asia Washington, at the same hospital. 

This disastrous event is part of a broader trend of maternal mortality in the United States. It is more dangerous for women and birthing people to give birth now than it was thirty years ago. Unfortunately, both victims belong to the population bearing the greatest burden. Black women are three to four times more likely to die of childbirth-related complications, and these numbers represent the baseline. In New York City, which stands as one of our nation’s hardest-hit regions, Black birthing people are up to eight times more likely to die of childbirth-related complications.

Understanding the framework underwriting Christine Fields’ death requires a closer look at the legacies and normalized thought processes that diminish our care of Black mothers overall. While her passing is a shocking occurrence, it is a disastrous product of obstetrics’ and gynecology’s routine failure of birthing people. 

We cannot evaluate the state of maternal health in our nation without an acknowledgement of the elephant in the room. In addition to the realities of the maternal health crisis, Christine Fields’ tragic passing reflects the implications of the United States’ birth medicalization. Unfortunately, medical intervention has grown overused in low-risk pregnancies and childbirth, and its concomitants are antithetical to the head goal. 

While the aim is to better facilitate the birthing process, medical intervention can heighten the complexities and overall risk of complications and mortality for birthing people. A growing body of research unveils the association between c-sections and life-threatening complications during childbirth and subsequent deliveries. In the delivery room, deeply-ingrained beliefs regarding the value of efficacy and structure can rear their ugly head. According to Christine’s family members, the c-section that resulted in Christine’s death was one she was hesitant to have. 

This fixation on order, timeliness, and structure sets the troubling foundation for an aversion for the depth of care that pregnant people require. Christine’s family asserts that the birth deviated from Christine’s wishes in more ways than one. She worked with a doula and had a birth plan, to which the hospital neglected to closely follow. This sends a harrowing message. Under our current model, birthing is about survival, rather than dignity, safety, and empowerment. Under this model, birthing plans are rendered futile.

It is crucial that we sit with this prioritization of survival, as it breeds deadly consequences for Black birthing people and birthing people overall. One of the determinants of these consequences is the model’s narrowed scope, which mirrors the scope of care. As long as the birthing person makes it out of the delivery room with their infant, the birth is deemed a success. Christine Fields left the delivery room with her infant, and died of cardiac arrest in the time after.

Our conceptions of pregnancy and childbirth allow birthing people to fall through the cracks through the systematic limitation of care. The postpartum period is maternity’s most dangerous time, and yet, it was a time marked by little to no follow-up or care for Christine Fields, even after she experienced birth trauma.

Evidently, the United States’ current practices and the various thought patterns underlying them require evaluation and analysis. In a nation where Black birthing people continue to experience death and brutalization under what are supposed to be systems of care, it is our responsibility to honor their legacies through intentional efforts at sparking accountability and change.

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