Guest Post: Loss Parent Sharing Advice: Shannon Mysliwiec
April 22, 2020
Guest Blog: Reflections on NICU Experience by Ali Dunn
June 28, 2020

Black Lives and Black Families Matter

May 31, 2018 is a day we will always remember for two reasons: (1) it was the first time we got to hold Colette and (2) it was the day Colette died.  When we held her, I told her “we’ll continue doing the work that needs to be done in this world here, you go and continue the work and the fight from above.”
I knew that my badass daughter, who defied odds, who even in utero had a rebellious nature to her, would have and I believed (and still do) could continue the fight.
Two years later, in 2020, as we honored her angelversary and stayed quarantined in advance of our second child’s imminent arrival, we saw the protests that were occurring throughout our nation in response to the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.  While it was hard to see my beloved hometown so destroyed, I understood and stood by the protestors.  I will never know what it is like for African Americans in this country and moreover, I will not pretend or put my thoughts on those feelings, but what I do know is what I have seen, what I have heard, what I have read. We have a racial problem in this country.  I know that many people will defend police, saying that not all of them are bad or that not all of them are racist, that it is a few bad apples in the bunch.  I agree and have found personally and professionally that most police officers are genuinely trying to do the best they can.  But, the institutions that allow the racism and implicit bias to go on and to stoke the fires of these thoughts and actions need to be changed. Just this week, the Washington Post analyzed data nationwide and found that while blacks account for less than 13% of the population, they are shot and killed by police at twice the rate of whites.  I have heard countless stories from parents of black children as they sit down to have the conversation with their kids about how to interact with police when they are approached by them.  The conversations usually focus on putting hands in the air, following every single instruction given to them, and to do whatever they need to do to remove themselves from the situation quickly.  If you do a Google search on this topic, you will see many videos with kids as young as five or six being instructed on what they should do.  I cannot imagine what a parent goes through when they have to teach their child what to do to avoid being killed by police, but parents of black children have to do this regularly. As a mom who lost a child, my heart goes out to every single parent that has had to worry about whether their child makes it home safely and even more so to every parent whose child did not return home.  A few years ago, before I was even pregnant with Colette, we went to see Trayvon Martin’s parents speak about their son.  I was so moved by both of them, but especially by his mom, who talked about how she did not have a choice, that she did not want to be an outspoken advocate on this topic, but how as Trayvon’s mom, she knew she had to.
After losing Colette, I think of Sybrina Fulton, almost daily because once I was a mom and then lost my baby, I knew just what she meant by wanting to change the world in her child’s name.
In the midst of all of this, I am so pleased to see that she is running for office in Florida and I wish her the best in her campaign. But, the problem is not just with police officers.  I was both stunned and angry about the news that Covid-19 has taken more lives in the African American population that any other racial group.  There are reports nationwide that Covid has killed blacks at almost three times the rate of white people. (Read more here.)  You can find many explanations by those in power as to why this disparity exists, such as the fact that in New York City, 95% of the frontline, “essential” employees are persons of color.  Again though, this goes back to the institutions that continue to place people of color at risk for catching a disease as well as dying from the disease. For me, I feel like I really understood the issue when I heard the term “weathering” used in the context of race.  Weathering is a term that is used to describe how the constant stress of racism and the repeated impacts of microagressions due to race may lead to an earlier aging process and poor health, particularly when it comes to chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.  It made sense to me.
When you feel like you are constantly battling against a world that attacks you, that labels you unfairly because of your race, that makes assumptions about the type of person you are, it can feel like your body and mind are in a permanent state of fight or flight.  So, of course, you would get tired and sick.
Closer to the foundation’s mission, we have seen time and again how this weathering plays out for pregnant and postpartum moms.  Black women are three to four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth.  Black women are also more likely to die of a preventable death than white women.  While previously this phenomenon has been explained away by income and/or socio-economic factors, data now shows even when taking those things into account, black women still die at a much higher rate than white women.  For example, a black woman with a graduate degree or higher is still more likely to die than a white woman with only a high school education.  This certainly was true in the case of Kira Johnson, a  black woman who died postpartum due to a hemorrhage that her husband, Charles , repeatedly tried to address with the medical team at Cedars-Sinai, where he was dismissed repeatedly until it was too late and she died on the operating table. Why did it happen and why does it continue to happen this way?  The data, research, and anctedol stories point to institutional and personal racism as well as implicit bias.  Simply put, medical professionals have biases that they may not even realize that cause them to dismiss or question the reports of pain or suffering of black patients and the institutions around them continue to stoke that belief.  However, progress may be coming.  In 2018, at their annual conference, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists put forth a policy statement to specifically address the racial and ethnic disparities in health care and to state that it needs to be a priority for all obstreticians and gynecologists to do better—to be aware of this issue, to deliver service in a culturally appropriate manner, to raise awareness, and to make research and patient care that acknowledges and addresses these disparities.  That points to an institution acknowledging the implicit bias and racism inherent in its institution and taking a stance that says this can no longer be the case. We will also continue to shine a light on these disparities and to continue to engage in conversations and learn from each other how to best combat the racism and the effects it is having.  We invite you to share resources, ideas, and opinions on these matters. I would also urge all of you, regardless of race, to take a stand against racism.  We cannot live in denial that these implicit biases and underlying racist history and tones do not exist.  In fact, we need to acknowledge these disparities and see that this is leading to lives lost.  Support the protestors in whatever way you can.  Acknowledge and check your own implicit biases.  Do not simply say I am not a racist, but actively confront racist and biased comments, statements, jokes, and actions and say that is not acceptable. We can make amazing strides, but we can only do it together.  This is not a black issue, this is not just affecting one city or area, this affects all of us on a daily basis, and together, collectively, we will be able to enact change.  Wishing support, love, peace, health, and safety to all.

--Michelle