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Legislator shares her story ahead of Virginia’s first annual Black Maternal Health Week

Senator Lashrecse Aird, flanked by (from left) Birth-in-Color's Galina Varchena, Kenda Sutton-El and Dana Williams, Delegate Destiny LeVere Bolling and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.
Brad Kutner
Radio IQ
Senator Lashrecse Aird, flanked by (from left) Birth-in-Color's Galina Varchena, Kenda Sutton-El and Dana Williams, Delegate Destiny LeVere Bolling and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

For the first time ever, Virginia will mark Black Maternal Health Week starting Monday. The event comes after a 2023 study showed increased rates of maternal death in Black communities.

But one legislator didn’t need a study to show just how bad the problem is.

Henrico County Delegate Destiny LeVere Bolling was nearly in tears Tuesday morning as she shared her story of giving birth to her still born son after only 5 months. It happened last year, mid-campaign season. She called her doctor when issues began but was told to drink water and lie down.

“And when it came down to me finally, my water breaking and having to go to the hospital, they told me this could have been prevented had someone given you… The right care,” she said.

LeVere Bolling’s story was made even more impactful in the wake of last week’s death of her friend and former Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader Krystal Anderson who died of sepsis after giving birth.

“Black Maternal Health Week, it's not just black and white words on a piece of paper. There’s real lives at risk and we know this firsthand,” the Delegate added.

According to a 2023 study from the Virginia Department of Health, Black women consistently had higher rates of natural pregnancy-associated deaths when compared to their White counterparts and in 2019 the numbers spiked with Black women being three times more likely to die during childbirth.

Birth-in-Color executive director Kenda Sutton-El put blame on the issue squarely on a system she said has long been fraught with racism and inequities accepted as normal. Among her suggested solutions was expanding the number of Black women working in the maternal health space.

"We need to diversify the workforce," she said.

Levere Bolling and Petersburg Senator Lashrecse Aird both advocated for Governor Glenn Youngkin to sign a handful of bills that passed the 2024 session to combat the problem.

“We’ve made great progress, and I’ve been happy to work alongside so many in this room to make that progress, but it has not been enough,” Aird said Tuesday.

Among the bills is an effort to have Virginia’s Chief Medical Examiner do more study of such deaths, another would require health insurance companies to cover doula services. Both passed both legislative chambers unanimously but have yet to be acted upon by Governor Glenn Youngkin. Any action is due next week.

Aird’s request for funding for the examiner’s study is in the legislative budget currently being reviewed by Youngkin.

But the governor did send one bill elected officials said could help back for amendments; the effort would have required unconscious bias training for doctors across the state. But Youngkin’s amendment limited such training requirements exclusively to those in the maternal health field.

The amendment will be debated during the April reconvene session scheduled in two weeks.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Corrected: April 2, 2024 at 4:33 PM EDT
Text suggesting Del. Levere Bolling opposed Youngkin's amendment to the bias training in medicine bill has been removed at the request of the Delegate.
Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.