FLORIDA — Florida has some of the highest numbers of babies and mothers dying in the country — ranked in the top ten. However, maternal mortality is a worldwide issue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year in the U.S. hundreds of people die during pregnancy or in the year after. Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause.

Fast Facts:

  • Infant mortality is the death of a live-born baby during the first year of life.
  • Maternal mortality (or death) is the term for when a mother dies from a pregnancy-related health issue or an existing condition exacerbated by pregnancy. It can occur at any time during pregnancy or in the 42 days after giving birth.

Justice For All's Saundra Weathers and Tammie Fields share the personal stories, highlighting the racial disparities during what is supposed to be the most magical time of our lives: childbirth.

Family of mom who died days after childbirth highlights risks during Black Maternal Health Week

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch issued a proclamation designating April 11 - 17 as Black Maternal Health Week in the city of St. Pete. The city’s proclamation aligns with National Black Maternal Health Week, which also starts on April 11. The week started back in 2018 by the Black Mamas Matter alliance to raise awareness and help improve Black maternal health outcomes.

We’ve heard the difficult birthing stories from women like tennis star Serena Williams talking about how dangerous it was for her to give birth as a Black woman. It’s sparked a conversation that birthing experts say they’ve been emphasizing for years.

Numbers from the CDC show how Black mothers are dying at higher rates, and those numbers continue to climb. One Bay area mother says, sadly, her daughter’s death is counted in those numbers.



Fathers making an impact on Black Maternal Health

We’ve heard the devastating numbers from the Florida Department of Health that show Black women were almost four times more likely to have a pregnancy-related death compared to white women. The numbers from the CDC for Black infants in the U.S. have 2.4 times the infant mortality rate as whites.

Those are the kind of numbers that have dads in our area coming together to help with solutions. 

Jamaur Johnson is one of those dads who wants to do more.


Black mothers impacted by infant deaths tell their stories

We're learning more about the health disparities linked to Black mothers and pregnancy-related deaths.

Spectrum News is also examining more troubling statistics a group of mothers wants to shine a light on by sharing their stories of loss.

Like most moms, not only can she remember every moment, Jennifer Johnson saved everything she could when she had her first son, Malachi.

“Malachi means messenger of God, and Omari means he who is full of life,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to talk about it and not feel it. I’m there.”

The pictures of her tiny baby are a reminder he was here, too. His birth certificate — stamped with the word “deceased” — along with the void left behind, is a reminder that he’s gone.

Amplifying the voices of mothers like Jennifer is what Xaviera Bell had in mind when she started collecting stories for her book, The Mourning After.


Black Maternal Health Week events wrap, but work continues

In 2020, non-Hispanic Black mothers in the state of Florida were nearly 4 times more likely to pass away due to pregnancy-related causes. This disparity is larger than what is seen nationally.

If the alarming statistics showing Black infants dying at the highest rates in the Tampa Bay area don’t get your attention, Marshara Fross is hoping her story does.

“I actually ended up losing one of my twins. I lost one of the twins around 12 or 13 weeks. And that was kind of a jarring process because I didn’t really know how to feel,” she said.

The details and danger are there. "I went to the hospital and they were just like 'yeah it seems like you might be miscarrying,' after kind of feeling ignored for a while," Fross said.

Sadly, this is her and the story of so many others who look like her.


Saving moms: 80% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, says Orlando clinic founder

“We have the highest maternal mortality rate amongst all developed nations — we are worse — in the entire developed world in terms of birth outcomes in this country,” said Jennie Joseph, founder and president of Commonsense Childbirth in Orlando. Meanwhile, the CDC says 80% of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable, according to data from 2017 to 2019. 

Joseph, a mother, has made it her life’s work to let expectant families know they don’t have to be afraid. Education and help are available for better outcomes.

For as long as she can remember, Joseph said she has always wanted to work in this career field.

“My brother was born when I was 10 years old and I decided that that was my baby, and I just commandeered that baby right out of my mom’s arms and that was when it hit,” she said. “I want to work. I want to be around babies.”

That was in England, where she could not start training in midwifery until she was 20 years old, but her passion and her persistence got her in the door when she was 19.