SAN DIEGO — The maternal mortality rate in the United States has increased over the last few years according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Black pregnant people continue to be disproportionately impacted.

Recent data from the department estimates that Black people are about three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related cause compared to white people.

The death of a loved one while giving birth is an all too common tragedy Black families experience nationwide, leaving them to grieve on a day that should have been one of immense joy.

“This is the last thing we expected,” Mykesha Mack, the cousin of a Black mother who died while giving birth, said to FOX 5. “This was April’s first and only baby that she prayed for, that she dreamed of. April couldn’t wait to be a mom.”

Mack’s cousin, April Valentine, died in an Inglewood hospital on January 10. She was 31 years old.

Her partner, Nigha Robertson, said nurses and doctors repeatedly ignored April and her concerns while she was giving birth.

“We asked to see the doctor a couple of times, because April wanted to see a doula and she was denied,” Robertson said to FOX 5.

According to Robertson, that was only one of the issues that arose during delivery: despite arriving to the hospital at around 8 p.m., nurses didn’t administer an epidural to Valentine until 2 a.m.

“April was responsive, she was conversating … we were having a conversation about taking pictures when the baby come home: me and her, taking pictures with the dog,” he said. “We had already paid for family pictures and the newborn pictures.”

“Once they gave her the epidural … immediately her eyes rolling to her head. She starts screaming, ‘I don’t feel good,’ ‘my legs feel numb,’ ‘can you get a doctor,’” Robertson said.

Robertson said when 6 a.m. rolled around they had not seen a doctor, despite Valentine’s requests. He said he was told by nurses that they couldn’t call the doctor.

“Everybody is scared to call the doctor, give me the doctors number let me call them,” Robertson recalled of what he said. Nurses continued to say they couldn’t do that, instead giving him facility number for the doctor who was not there.

The partner said Valentine continued to complain about pain in her legs, which had started to swell. During this time, he said his partner also started vomiting.

According to Robertson, the doctor did not arrive until about 4 p.m. He said the doctor and nurses told them everything is normal and to expect their daughter soon. But soon after, April stopped breathing.

Robertson said he pleaded again for some attention, screaming for help down the hallway. Nobody came, he said, so he tried to jump in to attempt CPR.

While he was trying to revive her, he described seeing her taking a deep breath, before grabbing his arms.

“Tears came down her eyes and they rolled to the back of her head (before) her arms went limb outside of the bed,” he said of Valentine’s final moments. Robertson said his partner was whisked away at the same time, to deliver his baby by cesarean section.

Maternal mortality across all racial demographics is on the rise, according to data from the CDC, however, the rate of death for Black people due to pregnancy complications remains significantly higher than other ethnic groups.

The maternal death rate for Black individuals was about 68.9 deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2021, jumping up from 44 in 2019 and 55.3 in 2020. In contrast, the death rate for white pregnant people was 17.9 in 2019, 19.1 in 2020 and 26.1 in 2021.

The CDC outlines several factors contributing to these racial disparities, including quality in healthcare, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism and implicit bias.

“Not terribly long ago medical students were still taught that black people in general don’t feel pain the same way other people do,” Nikki Helms, a midwife at Birth Center in Bankers Hill, said to FOX 5. “That mentality is still practicing our hospitals and urgent care centers.”

Learn more about community midwives here

Helms is a licensed medical practitioner who focuses on the infant and the overall care of the birthing parent. She said the Black maternal mortality rate can be tackled through cultural competency and more diversity in pregnancy care specialists, like midwives.

“It’s been shown that midwifery education is one of the things that is going to make (the Black maternal death rate) change,” Helms said. “Black-owned birth centers, more Black midwives, more Black women in midwifery school, that is going to help turn the tide,” Helms said.

Dr. Maryam Tarsa, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at UC San Diego Health, said it is important to look at the differences in care offered to marginalized populations to understand how to improve maternal mortality rates.

“I think we do a good job at triage for the patients — understanding someone has this infection, someone has (this) need,” Tarsa said. “What we don’t do well sometimes is the follow through the more detailed oriented care.”

These gaps are what often lead to fatal — but preventable — complications families, like Robertson’s, experience when a loved one goes into childbirth.

“They took my girl, they took my baby’s mother, then they took and a piece of my mind,” Roberston said.

“It’s hard for me to sleep,” he continued. “Closing my eyes, that whole scene constantly (plays) back in my head. It’s hard for me to even look at my daughter, because (of) the tragic moment of her being brought into this world.”

Valentine’s cousin, who launched a GoFundMe for Valentine’s daughter, said the family is seeking litigation for April’s death.

Mack said they are in contact with Los Angeles City Council, as well as the County’s Board of Supervisors. Mack said they have not heard a response back from the hospital or its CEO.

Prime Healthcare, which owns Centinela Hospital, sent this statement to FOX 5 Thursday:

Due to patient privacy laws and HIPAA, we are unable to discuss the care and treatment of specific patients. But we can share that we are committed to delivering compassionate, quality care to all patients. Centinela Hospital has taken appropriate steps in response to this incident. Despite the highest standards of care, there are certain medically complex and emergent situations that cannot be overcome. We express our sincere condolences to the family during this deeply sad and difficult time. Centinela Hospital Medical Center has been recognized as one of the top-performing hospitals in the nation for patient safety and excellence. Our healthcare team reflects the varied ethnic and racial makeup of the community, and we treat patients who comes through our doors with dignity and respect. We do this regardless of race, national origin, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, and military service, among other categories. Centinela Hospital invests in mandatory education on diversity and implicit bias for our caregivers. Our thoughts and prayers remain with all those impacted.