One solace in the midst of this frightening experience was that the Black woman neonatologist who came into Morenzoni’s room to speak with her before baby Aria was delivered via emergency C-section had been a NICU baby herself.

After 110 days in the NICU, with Morenzoni by her side, diligently pumping breast milk every couple of hours, baby Aria finally went home to her parents. Today, she is a joyful, babbling 14-month-old toddler who meets all of the developmental milestones for her age.

While Morenzoni and her daughter survived the threats of preeclampsia and preterm birth, not all families’ stories end happily. To add to the litany of threats that Black pregnant people and their babies face in the U.S., we now have another heartbreaking data point.

Viability, or a baby’s ability to survive outside of the womb, is not guaranteed at a specific date in pregnancy. A baby’s odds of survival depend upon multiple factors, plus a sizable quantity of unknowns. When a baby arrives this early, doctors and families must make life-altering choices under intense pressure and tight time constraints, based on clinical information as well as the families’ beliefs and preferences. The earlier an infant is born, the less likely they are to survive, and, when they do, the more likely they are to face complications.

“It’s a gray zone,” Venkatesh told HuffPost. It’s also a moving target. Just five years ago, said Venkatesh, he and his colleagues would not offer life-saving interventions to babies born before 23 weeks, as it wasn’t considered possible that they would survive. But with advances in care, some of these babies are now able to live.

But when Venkatesh and his colleagues examined the rates at which periviable infants were given assisted ventilation, antibiotics and surfactants to mature the lungs and other organs — the most common efforts doctors deploy to sustain and potentially save these babies’ lives — the data revealed a cruel trend.

Many factors are at play in these fraught situations, from a family’s religious beliefs to the technology available at a given hospital. But when viewed alongside the existing data about Black infant mortality and Black maternal mortality, the inescapable conclusion is that some of these babies were killed by racism.

Dr. Melinda Elliot, a neonatologist and chief medical officer of Prolacta Bioscience, which produces a human milk-based fortifier for premature infants, believes some of the discrepancy is related to cost. “Many premature infants of color are born at inner-city or safety net hospitals,” she said. “There are exceptions, but these hospitals are often less well funded than those in suburban areas.”

Morenzoni feels that she and her daughter received excellent care from a diverse team of doctors and nurses, but after spending all those days in the NICU observing other families’ stories play out, she says that the findings of this study don’t surprise her.

“And sometimes, [people don’t receive the same care] just by the issue of our lives not being important enough,” Morenzoni continued. “There’s this stigma, especially for Black people, if they feel that we live in poverty, or we have other children. ‘Oh, they’ll just have another one.’ I work in health care. I’ve heard statements like that before.”

This content was originally published here.

Picture of Michael Bourdon

Michael Bourdon


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