I cried at my desk this afternoon while reading NPR and Pro Publica’s absolutely heartbreaking piece about maternal mortality. In case you don’t have the time or the stomach to read the entire article, the key findings of their investigation are:
- More American women are dying of pregnancy-related complications than any other developed country. Only in the U.S. has the rate of women who die been rising.
- There’s a hodgepodge of hospital protocols for dealing with potentially fatal complications, allowing for treatable complications to become lethal.
- Hospitals — including those with intensive care units for newborns — can be woefully unprepared for a maternal emergency.
- Federal and state funding show only 6 percent of block grants for “maternal and child health” actually go to the health of mothers.
- In the U.S, some doctors entering the growing specialty of maternal-fetal medicine were able to complete that training without ever spending time in a labor-delivery unit.
These findings are presented in the context of the death of a mother – herself a neonatal intensive care unit nurse – in childbirth as her horrified husband – a trauma doctor – tried to convince the attending doctors and nurses that something was very wrong and needed immediate attention.
I read this and cried as all of the scared, scary memories of late pregnancy and childbirth flooded back. How I was convinced that I was experiencing symptoms of preeclampsia which were dismissed by my doctor (but validated by test results). How I was pressured into scheduling a c-section that I didn’t want (and not given any information about alternatives). How there are things that I flat-out don’t remember – like the first time I held my son – because I was so sick after delivery, sick to the point that my partner wouldn’t leave my side, despite our plan being that the baby would always be with one of us. Begging for someone to look at an intense pain in my shoulder that made sleep impossible. Weird questions from the nurse who gave me my first post-surgery sponge bath. My swollen feet squishing like wet socks as I slowly made my way up and down the hall pushing the plastic bassinet where my son slept.
And then I remembered the article about the moral imperative behind my colleague Isabel’s work as a doula to families of color that I’d read earlier in the week and felt proud and angry all over again. Proud of my colleague and friend’s work advocating for the needs of mothers, babies, and families through pregnancy, childbirth, and new parenting. Proud that groups like hers exist to provide support for communities that are underserved by or that slip through the cracks of our healthcare system.
But then angry that it is necessary for doulas and birth worker groups and crowdfunding campaigns to do this kind of work, to pick up the slack, to compensate (and make amends) for our broken social safety net in our broken country. Angry that our system stands to actually get much worse if the AHCA actually happens.
Angry that even with my excessive privilege as a white, middle-class, able-bodied, educated, outspoken, financially secure, and fully insured woman living in a city where I have access to excellent health care, adequate public transportation, and a social safety net, the difficulties that I experienced during my (relatively very easy) pregnancy and my son’s birth clearly still affect me – so how much worse must it be for mothers and families that lack the resources to obtain adequate (primary or supplementary) care, or who experience complications or trauma or loss, or who get one of those doctors who received more training on fetal care than on maternal care, or – as in the example that opens the interview with Isabel – have internalized that the way they are being treated is just the way it is.
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