Courtesy of Mykesha Mack
- Mykesha Mack’s cousin April Valentine died on January 10.
- Her fiancé and family are caring for April’s infant, Aniya.
- This is Mack’s story, as told to Kelly Burch.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Mykesha Mack. It has been edited for length and clarity.
When my cousin April got pregnant, we were both so excited. Growing up, April and I were super close. We always talked about who would get married or have kids first, and here was April — the first of us to have a biological child at 31.
On January 9, I was on standby. I knew April had been admitted to deliver her baby girl. April had chosen Centinela Hospital in part because she could be under the care of a Black doctor.
I exchanged texts with April, but then she went quiet. I thought I would be getting a picture of the baby soon, but instead, I heard from April’s brother. “There are some complications,” he said. “Pray for April.”
I started storming down Heaven’s door with my prayers. I didn’t know what was going on, but he said to pray, so I prayed. Then I got in my car and started driving to the hospital. I didn’t make it two blocks before April’s brother called again. “She’s gone,” he said. I nearly crashed.
I rushed to April’s body when I should have been visiting her baby
I arrived at the hospital and went into the ER. When I asked to see my cousin, the receptionist told me about visiting hours. I said, “You don’t understand. My cousin just died.” She replied, “The one with the baby?”
When I got up to the maternity floor, April’s fiancé walked toward me, but I brushed him aside. I needed to see my cousin.
It was awful. April was lying in a stark, pink room that looked like a jail cell. Her mom was patting her head — but she was dead. I lost it. I had been telling myself that the doctors could do more or God could bring her back. To go from that to looking at her body was gut-wrenching.
April never got to meet her daughter
Our family and the hospital are still trying to figure out exactly what happened to April. But here’s what I know: Her fiancé told me that from the moment April entered the hospital until she passed away was a horrible experience.
April was complaining of leg pain, and her nurses assured her it was normal, her fiancé said. But then she stopped breathing. Aniya was delivered by emergency Cesarean, but it was too late for April.
April’s dad died when she was pregnant. She was heartbroken that he wouldn’t meet her child. No one could have imagined that April wouldn’t meet her own daughter, either.
Editor’s note: When reached for comment, Centinela Hospital shared the following statement with Insider: “We express our deepest condolences to the family during this difficult time. However, due to patient privacy laws and HIPAA, we are unable to discuss the care and treatment of specific patients.”
We need action, not just awareness
I’ve worked with nurses as a life coach. I know that nurses are overworked, burned out, and often dealing with their own trauma. I know that Black women like April and me are more than three times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy, delivery, or the postpartum period.
Courtesy of Mykesha Mack
I heard those numbers, but I never experienced them for myself. I had never known a Black mother who died. Those were just statistics. Now, it’s a real heartbreak that I will live with every day.
This has also made me see that my work with nurses is wildly important. Nurses who care for themselves can better care for their patients.
Baby Aniya is beautiful. She looks just like the mother she’ll never meet. She’ll be fly, like her mama. April’s fiancé, mom, and sister are all looking after the baby, spreading the load as they navigate their grief. It’s my sincere hope that stories like April’s — deaths that are senseless and preventable — lead to real change. That way, by the time Aniya is ready to have her own children, she won’t need to fear for her life.
Follow Mykesha Mack and the #JusticeforApril campaign on Instagram @thenursehealer.