The journey to parenthood for New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and his wife has been plagued with troubles.
In an exclusive interview with PIX11 News political reporter Ayana Harry that aired Monday, Williams and his new wife India Sneed opened up for the first time about their challenging fertility journey.
“Whatever I’m going through, I can’t — it probably doesn’t compare to what she is going through physically and mentally.” Williams said during the sit down interview.
“I am telling my story,” Sneed-Williams said, “but it is not a unique one.”
Before their wedding in July, the couple knew they wanted to grow their family; Sneed-Williams has a 13 year old daughter that she and her husband are raising together.
“I’d like more kids, he was interested in having children of his own — but there was always some doubt in the back of my mind on if we’d be able to,” she said.
Years after the birth of her daughter, doctors discovered pre-cancerous cells on India’s cervix. The cells were removed, but over the next few years, they continued to return. Sneed-Williams said her doctor pushed her to have a hysterectomy: a surgical procedure to remove the womb.
Sneed-Williams was hesitant.
“I told the doctor quite persistently I want kids,” she said.
Instead of a hysterectomy, the couple began fertility treatments, hoping she’d get pregnant. In the summer of 2020, the couple got the good news they were waiting for: they were expecting.
The joy didn’t last.
“We had a miscarriage,” Williams explained. “That was pretty traumatic.”
It was painful for both of them.
“I remember thinking of his mental health, and recognizing that there were no resources offered to me, no resources offered to him. I didn’t know how to comfort him,” Sneed-Williams said.
Through their grief, the couple didn’t give up hope: they began fertility treatments again, until this summer, when a doctor delivered a devastating diagnosis.
India now has cervical cancer.
“So in telling me ‘You have cancer,’ he’s also telling me ‘You need a hysterectomy.'”
Sneed-Williams said the diagnosis was earth-shattering for her, especially with her wedding just weeks away.
But a few weeks after she and Williams wed, their world changed again.
“A miracle baby.” Williams said. “I don’t know what else to call it — but a miracle baby.”
Now, Sneed-Williams is five months pregnant — living with cervical cancer while expecting a baby girl.
“There’s still fear,” Sneed-Williams said. “Any set of parents, any individual who’s experienced miscarriage, they still have lingering thoughts. Why isn’t the baby moving? Why can’t we feel it?” she said, adding she was always “wanting to go to the next ultrasound so we can at least get some confirmation of life.”
Sneed-Williams believes her pregnancy journey was so difficult in part because over the years, doctors consistently ignored, dismissed and overlooked her urgent health concerns and her desire to be a mother.
“It’s always been a lingering thought: am I getting this treatment because I’m Black?” she said.
Dr. Christina Pardo is a Brooklyn Obsterician and gynecologist. She’s studied the longstanding racial disparites in maternal healthcare. Dr. Pardo said Black women “have a higher chance of bias and racism from their physicians, from their nurses and from the system.”
As New York City’s Public Advocate, Williams introduced legislation in the City Council earlier this year to empower expectant parents. It includes a maternal health bill of rights.
At a rally, Williams spoke out, saying “implementing [the maternal health bill of rights] would reduce the maternal mortality rate and morbidity rates of Black and Latina mothers.”
If passed, the legislation would require healthcare facilities to inform parents of their rights, including the right to accept or deny procedures.
Williams wrote the legislation after watching his wife struggle, and after speaking with Bruce McIntyre: his partner Amber Rose Isaac died during the pandemic while giving birth in the Bronx.
Like Williams, McIntyre found a calling in advocacy, fighting for the rights of expectant mothers of color.