LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Making daily visits to Baptist Health’s neonatal intensive care unit was not what Jayla Robinson imagined when she thought of being pregnant.

“It just felt like how does this happen to me?” Jayla asked.

But it was her reality.

“I deflated ’cause I just felt like 34 weeks is not what I prayed for,” Jayla said. “I did not want a pre-term baby. I did not want the NICU experience.”

At 32 weeks pregnant, Jayla’s water broke.

“I ended up pushing up in bed trying to get on a pillow and I heard a pop,” she explained.

That led to a two-week stay in the hospital.

“I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, what does this mean? I’m 32 weeks. I’ve got 6 more weeks to go. I’m not ready for this,’” she said.

This was Jayla’s second pregnancy. Her daughter’s delivery three years earlier was also a life-or-death situation.

“It felt like an out-of-body experience. It was extremely surreal,” the mother of two said when talking about the delivery of her first child.

While in labor during her first pregnancy, she was rushed to an emergency Cesarean section.

“It got to a point of being critical. Thankfully, my daughter and I both survived that experience, but it was hard,” she recalled.

After her first pregnancy, Jayla became more aware of maternal mortality, which is when a woman dies during pregnancy or within one year of giving birth.

According to the World Population Review, the United States has the highest mortality rate of any developed country. CDC data shows that pregnancy-related deaths have consistently trended up since 1987.

“We were designed to do this so why are we dying from something that we were designed to do?” Jayla questioned.

Data also showed Arkansas was the fifth highest state for maternal mortality. A report from the Arkansas Maternal Mortality Review Committee found Black women are more than twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women in Arkansas.

“I knew that a lot of women die in childbirth. A lot of women that look like me die in childbirth. And you ask the question of in 2023, why are we dying having babies when our bodies are supposed to do this on their own?” Jayla said.

FOX 16 News went to Baptist Health OB/GYN Dr. Leticia Jones to ask that question.

“A more highly educated black woman was still more likely to die than a poor, not as healthy white woman,” Jones said. “So obviously there’s got to be some sort of implicit bias going on within our healthcare system.”

The reason is multifaceted. According to the review committee, some factors are directly related to pregnancy, like a woman’s health status, health behaviors, and access to quality health care. There are also other factors, like poverty, family and community support, and racial bias in policies, practices, and systems.

“Any maternal death is too many and the study also showed that some of those are potentially preventable,” Jones said.

In fact, the review committee found of the 30 pregnancy-associated deaths in Arkansas in 2018, 92% were potentially preventable.

“That hurt my heart and encouraged me at the same time,” Jones said.

The doctor is passionate about fixing this problem. She had this advice for doctors and patients.

“For physicians, still taking that time to listen to your patients, taking that time to take their concern seriously. And then on the patient side, to take their advice,” Jones said. “I talk to my patients. I want them to leave understanding what I said and why I said it.”

That’s exactly what Jayla did, too. She asked questions and surrounded herself with a support system that would advocate for her and her child.

“There are things that you can do to ensure that childbirth in 2023 is not a death sentence.”

The Arkansas Maternal Mortality Review Committee did make recommendations to the state. One of the major recommendations is to extend maternity coverage from 60 days to one year postpartum since 47% of pregnancy-associated deaths happened in that time frame.

As for Jayla’s baby boy, he was just discharged from the hospital over the weekend and is now at home.