April 11-17 is designated Black Maternal Health Week, it's an opportunity to spotlight racial disparities in childbirth-related deaths of mothers and babies.
Xaviera Bell is using her story of heartbreak and loss to bring comfort to other moms and spark a much-needed change in the healthcare system.
"The four hours and 16 minutes that Zander was with me... he grew me more in that four hours than I had ever grown in 37 years," said Bell.
Not a moment goes by when Bell doesn't think about her son Zander -- the tiny baby she lost because he entered the world much too soon weighing less than a pound.
"I remember delivering him and I just wept," said Bell.
What should have been tears of joy were those of extreme sorrow over a birth outcome that Bell says could have been prevented if her doctor would have taken her concerns more seriously.
"I was explaining to my doctor, I said listen I'm feeling a little bit of cramping. I just feel like Zander is in my cervix. I knew very early on that Zander was a boy. I knew at 11 weeks," Bell said.
By nearly 22 weeks gestational age, according to her doctor's calculations, Bell was sent to the hospital for a procedure to strengthen her cervix and prevent miscarriage, but it was too late. Doctors determined she was already in pre-term labor and had been for days.
"They said you know we are so sorry we cannot do your cerclage. Your bag of water is hanging down too far. You are dilated two centimeters so you're going to have to deliver your son. He is not going to survive. And then the doctor said I'm so sorry for your loss," Bell said.
Bell, who had come into the hospital with hope for a family, left devastated.
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"So many things happened that I wanted to change. I think specifically... I remember when birthing Zander the nurse said 'he's bigger than I anticipated, should we call the NICU?' and the doctor looked at him and said 'no,'" Bell said.
Through her non-profit organization Zeal of Xander, Bell now uses her own experience to educate other Black mothers on being their own advocate during pregnancy and to provide support after the terrible loss of a child.
"I ensured that I got the appropriate counseling that I needed because I needed something tangible to hold on to too. I needed some practice. I needed some procedures. I needed a road map as to how I was going to survive because every part of me wanted to die with my son," said Bell.
Not wanting her family to suffer yet another tragedy, Bell decided that her son's death would mean something. Zeal of Xander also works to raise awareness about the high mortality rates among Black mothers and Black infants who are dying at twice the rate of white infants. President Biden issuing the first-ever presidential proclamation highlighting the gaps in pregnancy and childbirth death rates.
"When you think about the Black experience in the birthing space, our biggest concern is whether or not both of us are going to make it out alive," Bell said.
And it's the memory of her son Xander and dreams of what could have been that keep Bell guiding others and pushing for change.
Zeal of Xander has been offering virtual support sessions for grieving parents during the pandemic as well as providing care packages and financial assistance for burial services for families in need. Bell also plans to lobby for healthcare reform and work to remove racial bias in the healthcare system.