Candice Cauley shares her positive journey receiving maternity care at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, where a women’s health practice is working to address alarming trends for pregnant Black women in the United States.
Candice Cauley, considering pregnancy for the first time at age 35, was worried.
“I saw in the news that Black women are three times more likely to die from giving birth than white women,” she says. “It was scary.”
Adding to her worries, the South Los Angeles resident had previously sought care from physicians that she felt were dismissive of her concerns.
These experiences led her to Evelyn Nicole Mitchell, MD, an OB/GYN at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, part of Keck Medicine of USC, where Dr. Mitchell is on a mission to provide strong, culturally sensitive women’s health care.
Candice began commuting to Dr. Mitchell’s practice in Glendale for preconception care.
“Before she even examined me, we sat down and had a conversation,” Candice says. “Right there, that was different than any prior experience I had.”
Black women face greater childbirth risks and care discrepancies
Candice’s fears are shared by many Black women in the U.S. who are or who want to become pregnant.
According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are three times more likely than white women to die due to pregnancy complications.
Risk factors include hypertension, diabetes and preeclampsia, a lifethreatening condition that causes high blood pressure and potential organ damage in previously healthy pregnant women.
Discrepancies in care and treatment are also to blame for disproportionately high mortality rates, according to the CDC.
“Black women are, unfortunately, not being listened to,” Dr. Mitchell says. “Their concerns are not being thoroughly worked up and appropriately treated, leading to huge disparities in outcomes.”
Our expectations for the care we provide are high because our patients deserve that.Evelyn Nicole Mitchell, MD, an OB/GYN at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital
When Candice first met with Dr. Mitchell in August 2019, she and her husband had been trying for months to get pregnant.
“I was thinking something was wrong, especially at my age,” Candice says. “But Dr. Mitchell assured me that I shouldn’t start worrying yet.”
Three months later, Candice became pregnant. With the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, she began experiencing headaches.
Dr. Mitchell was there to support her.
“She told me that any time I want, if I have questions, if I’m feeling something, just tell her,” says Candice, a former high school teacher who now works as a yearbook representative.
“She was saying, ‘We’re in this together.’”
Empathetic maternity care at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital
At USC-VHH, Dr. Mitchell is part of a women’s health practice comprised of mostly women of color.
She says that while the same depth of care should be provided to all patients, no matter the physician’s personal background, diverse representation is a positive step.
“I see myself in many of my patients,” Dr. Mitchell says. “I have experienced discrimination and bias as a patient — my family members as well.”
Together, Candice and Dr. Mitchell developed a birth plan, including Candice’s hopes to avoid a cesarean section.
Dr. Mitchell also encouraged her to enroll in USC-VHH’s maternity courses.
When Candice went into labor in August 2020, her baby’s heart rate began to drop any time she pushed. Suddenly, a C-section began to seem like a possibility.
Knowing Candice’s wishes, Dr. Mitchell exhausted every other option.
“I was very thankful for that,” Candice says. “Being a Black woman and having a Black woman as my doctor, I felt that she was looking out for me.”
Ultimately, Candice gave birth to a healthy baby, her son Carter, without a C-section. She also avoided any other complications.
A second positive experience of childbirth at USC-VHH
After the positive outcome of her son’s birth, Candice knew she had found the right care. So when she got pregnant again in 2022 at age 38, there was no question where she would go.
Candice and her husband welcomed their second child, Charli, at USC-VHH in January 2023.
Once again, Dr. Mitchell and her team were there.
The couple got to know all four OB/GYNs in USC-VHH’s practice throughout both pregnancies. The staff makes this effort for all moms-to-be so they will never feel like they’re working with a stranger in case of emergency.
“Our expectations for the care we provide are high because our patients deserve that,” Dr. Mitchell says.
Candice continues to enjoy life with her husband and kids, taking Carter for bike rides and attempting to get a full night’s sleep when baby Charli allows.
Despite her busy schedule, she will always make time to see Dr. Mitchell.
“As long as I live in California, she’ll be my doctor,” Candice says. “Knowing I’m getting good care, I don’t mind taking a drive.”