Reproductive Health, Women's Health

America’s Mothers Dying

By Young Kim-Parker

Baby announcements are generally considered a joyous occasion. Culturally, we celebrate motherhood with baby showers, offering well-wishes and gifts to welcome the arrival of a new life. However, perhaps we should also start exhibiting more concern because in America the number of mothers dying from complications due to pregnancy and childbirth is on the rise.

On November 18th, CNN placed a spotlight on maternal mortality with guest reporter Christy Turlington Burns (yes, the former supermodel) to bring attention to America’s glaring lack of support for mothers [1]. Christy Turlington Burns nearly died after childbirth due to complications during the third stage of labor – after the child is born, women continue to labor to deliver the placenta. Her experience propelled her to form the non-profit, Every Mother Counts, to bring greater awareness to maternal health issues. CNN is airing their newest documentary mini-series, “Giving Birth in America,” to bring greater attention to a very real concern of the growing number of mothers at risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth despite all of the technological advances of the 21st century [1].

The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among industrialized countries, and maternal deaths cut across socioeconomic status – even those with graduate education and high incomes are at risk [2]. Consider the sudden death of a neo-natal nurse, Lauren Bloomstein, who died within 24 hours of giving birth at the regional health center where she worked (she died from severe pre-eclampsia – pregnancy-related high blood pressure – that was diagnosed too late) [3]. The tragedy lies in how many of these deaths are preventable. Globally, a United Nations commitment to reduce maternal mortality resulted in nearly 30-45% reduction in maternal deaths from 1990 – 2015 [2]. For the U.S., maternal deaths rose an estimated 60% during that period [2].

Individual states have taken action to pay more attention to mothers’ health needs. In the case of California, have successfully reduced their mortality rates by 55% [2]. Four states, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Oregon, have expanded Medicaid perinatal services to cover doulas, individuals uniquely trained to support expecting mothers throughout their pregnancy and after birth [4]. Increasing the training of doulas and insurance coverage of their services could save lives – cities such as Baltimore, New York, Chicago and Tampa have already begun doula training programs for the dual purposes of supporting mothers to have healthier pregnancies and to reduce infant mortality [5]. While doula training may not be sufficient, it seems to be an immediate opportunity to save lives. In time, one can only hope that more states and insurance companies will begin to cover doula services. In the meantime, instead of buying onesies and rattles for the next friend that is expecting, I’ll be contributing to doula services.

References:

[1] Burns, C. T. (2017, November 18). Maternal mortality is the shame of US health care. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/15/opinions/op-ed-christy-turlington-burns-every-mother-counts-2017/index.html

[2] Merelli, A. (2017, October 29). What’s killing America’s new mothers? Retrieved from QUARTZ: https://qz.com/1108193/whats-killing-americas-new-mothers/

[3] Martin, N., & Montagne, R. (2017, May 12). Focus on Infants During Childbirth Leaves U.S. Moms in Danger. Retrieved from National Public Radio, Inc.: https://www.npr.org/2017/05/12/527806002/focus-on-infants-during-childbirth-leaves-u-s-moms-in-danger

[4] Gifford, K., Walls, J., Ranji, U., Salganicoff, A., & Gomez, I. (2017, April 27). Medicaid Coverage of Pregnancy and Perinatal Benefits: Results from a State Survey. Retrieved from Kaiser Family Foundation: https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/report/medicaid-coverage-of-pregnancy-and-perinatal-benefits-results-from-a-state-survey/

[5] Ollove, M. (2017, September 25). Cities turn to doulas to give black babies a better chance at survival. Retrieved from The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cities-turn-to-doulas-to-give-black-babies-a-better-chance-at-survival/2017/09/22/07420956-8363-11e7-ab27-1a21a8e006ab_story.html?utm_term=.8d953053d40c