Chrissy Sample was pregnant with twin boys when the COVID-19 pandemic hit America and locked down much of the country.
Sample was experiencing consistent, intense pain in her abdomen and legs and she was frustrated with her obstetrician's lack of concern.
"I would go to the doctor and she'd say, 'oh it's relative. Oh, it's fine,'" Sample told Motherly in an exclusive interview. "It didn't feel right. It didn't feel right to be in pain all the time. But also, I'm not a specialist."
As a 34-year-old woman pregnant with twins, Sample was supposed to see a high-risk specialist, in addition to her OB. She was also supposed to see her doctor weekly for monitoring. Instead, her obstetrician scheduled her for visits that were four to six weeks apart.
"That was just how she managed her patients," Sample said. Still, she trusted her doctor to prioritize her health. She trusted her doctor to keep her baby boys safe.
At each appointment, Sample brought up her intense pain. At each appointment, she says her doctor dismissed her.
"You're normalizing my pain," she said of the doctor. "You're basically telling me that me being in pain all the time is normal. 'It's relative.' It's not relative. It's not normal. Something is wrong. I shouldn't feel this way. I couldn't walk down the block or up a flight of steps. I'm in so much pain, I'm taking cabs home from work every day because I can't bear to walk up a flight of steps to get on a train."
Finally, her doctor referred her to a high-risk specialist when Sample was six-and-a-half months pregnant. At that appointment, an ultrasound revealed that one of the twins had died.
"There's only one heartbeat," Sample remembers the specialist saying. "She says, 'this happened within, what looks like, one to three days.' One to three days and we lost the baby."
"I'm inconsolable. She feels so bad. She's teary-eyed, too. 'I don't understand why this is my first time seeing you," she said.
"I said, 'I just felt him kick, I just felt him. I don't understand, how is this possible?' I was inconsolable."
Sample underwent testing that confirmed the doctor's suspicions: her son had died within one to three days of her appointment. The doctor believed that if Sample had received the standard preventative care and monitoring usually given to a woman with a high-risk pregnancy, the loss could have been prevented.
"They didn't catch it soon enough. And it resulted in me losing my twin," she said.
Sample says her tragedy was compounded by the fact that she still had to see her regular obstetrician, who dismissed her pain as normal.
"I had to see her because no one is going to take me because I'm high-risk, we're in the middle of a pandemic now, I now have a complication of a twin that has died, I still have to give birth and keep a healthy baby in there as long as possible. And I'm stuck. I'm stuck with you."
After the loss of her son, it took Sample's obstetrician over a week to contact her.
"She said, 'I understand if you don't want me to be your doctor.' I said, 'how can I want you to be my doctor when I don't trust you? I don't trust you to take care of me. I don't trust that I'm going to be in good hands for delivery. I don't trust you. You see me every 4-5 weeks, you schedule out my appointments out so far where something happened and you couldn't catch it. You knew I couldn't get a high-risk doctor and you did nothing extra to care for me. You sent me home and told me my pain was normal.'"
"Truthfully, it was terrible," Sample added. "I still don't understand how could I be pregnant and still not cared for. It just doesn't make sense."
Less than two weeks later, Sample again began experiencing intense pain. After months of being told it was normal, she questioned whether to even call her doctor.
"[She would] just tell me it's relative," she said. "I was like, 'OK, I'll just have to suffer through it.'"
Within hours, though, she began bleeding uncontrollably. Her husband rushed Sample to the hospital, where she ended up having an emergency cesarean section. The doctor who for months dismissed her pain was the same doctor who would deliver her twins.
Her son Cassius, born almost three months premature, was taken to the NICU. Sample and her husband named their other son Apollo.
Sample's story is heartbreaking—and far too common. Sample is Black, and there are glaring disparities in birth outcomes between women and infants of color than those who are white.
The U.S. is one of the most dangerous places in the developed world to give birth—especially for women of color.
According to the March of Dimes:
- Black women are 3 times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes nationwide.
- Black babies are more than twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthdays.
- Women of color are up to 50 percent more likely to give birth prematurely.
"These disparities cannot be explained by differences in age or education," said Stacey D. Stewart, President and CEO of March of Dimes, before a House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee meeting last month. "According to the latest CDC data, maternal mortality rates among Black women with a completed college education or higher was 1.6 times that of white women with less than a high school diploma."
"Furthermore," she continued, "women of color and women who live in poverty are disproportionately impacted by both the pandemic and maternal mental health conditions, experiencing both at rates 2-3 times higher than white women."
Studies have shown that medical officials consistently underestimate pain complaints in Black patients.
Sample will never know why her white doctor dismissed her pain.
"I would ask her, 'why didn't you care for me? Why did you normalize my pain? Why did you make me think that being in pain all the time is ok when that's not really true?'"
Sample wants pregnant women to know that when it comes to their maternal care, it's okay to listen to your instincts. It's okay to ask for a second opinion or another doctor.
"Know your options, your choices," she said. "Maybe go to a birthing center. Advocate for yourself. Granted, we were in a time when the world was turned upside down. But I still don't think it's an excuse to not care for a patient. "
Baby Cassius turns one later this week. The family already held a special photo shoot to honor everything Cassius has overcome in his first year—and the brother he didn't get to know.
"It needs to be normalized that when you have loss and grief, that you feel abundantly blessed to have your baby but you also feel very sad," said Sample. "I will always see two babies. I will never look at my son and not see two babies."
"It's such a hard process of healing," she added.