OMG! Why Are Our Pregnancy Or Childbirth Related Deaths So High?

I remember hearing about Serena Williams having complications that could have resulted in her death, following the birth of her daughter. I remember thinking, how tragic, I am glad Serena was persistent. I remember not giving it much thought after that. Periodically I would hear about pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths being high in the United States, but my pregnancy experiences, coupled with my career obligations, meant I didn’t tune in. After all, I was well past the baby having stage and had not given much thought to my daughter’s having children one day.

I am not sure when I came out of the fog, but when I did, I was completely blown away by the real danger that exists for women that want to experience motherhood.  Once out of the fog, I became consumed with reading as much as I could about women’s deaths related to childbirth. In a state of disbelief, every time I would read something else that made me gasp, I would read it out loud to my 21-year-old daughter and say, “I just don’t know if I want you all to have children.”

Before that moment, I always saw my daughters having children, if they chose to, as the natural progression of things. When I talked about my future grandkids, I talked about coming to visit, spoil them, and return them to their mothers. I never honestly considered the danger that my daughters would be in if they opted to experience the joy of motherhood. I took it for granted that women in the United States were receiving the best maternity care there was to offer in the world. NOT TRUE!

To make matters worse, everything I have read says that because my daughters are African-American, my level of concern should be even higher if they choose to have children. According to the Centers for Disease Control, black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes. Put another way; a black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman and 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer. But here is the statistic that made me almost fall out of my chair- a black woman is 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes than a white woman. HOW IN THE WORLD IS THIS POSSIBLE?

In Living With Lupus, my 21-year-old talked about the importance of knowing your body and not being afraid to advocate for yourself. This is continued proof that you must be persistent and insistent when it comes to your health. Gone are the days, if they ever existed, of you putting your complete trust in the hands of a health care provider. It is imperative that we advocate for ourselves and not worry about offending health care providers that are ignoring us when we tell them that something is wrong.

If you are anything like me and have been in a fog, here are some alarming statistics that I hope will wake you up.

  • The U.S. has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60% of maternal deaths are preventable.
  • On average, twice a day, a new mother will die.
  • The United States has some of the most advanced obstetric and emergency care found on earth but ranks only 47th for maternal mortality rate globally.
  • Our nation spends $3.3 trillion on health care each year.

I leave you with this brief clip about Kira Johnson’s untimely death. She was a 39-year-old vibrant, and healthy woman that went in for a cesarean, bringing her second son into the world. Following the procedure, Kira complained and experienced symptoms that indicated something was wrong. It took 10 hours for Kira, and her husband’s concerns to be addressed. By that time, it was too late. Three liters of blood were found in her abdomen. Kira Johnson’s husband and new born baby went home without her.

So far, I haven’t found many answers as to why the rates of death are so high for women, especially African-American women, in the United States. I have a few thoughts, of course. Whatever the reasons, I hope that helping to shed light on this serious problem will help to save lives.


Much Love,

Tonza

Author: Tonza D. Ruffin

Perfectly Imperfect but VERY PROUD WOMAN, MOM, LAWYER, and AUTHOR, but most importantly...LIFE LOVER! I laugh loud, I work hard, I play hard, I am adventurous, I am curious, I am driven, I have moments of deep insecurity, I am loving, I am vulnerable, I am explosive (not one of my finer qualities), I dance around my house alone, I am an awful perfectionist which makes my insecurity worse, I sing out loud in my car without any concern for whose watching, I have trust issues, I do not live through my children, I no longer try to force my children into the mold that I created so that I could feel validated as a mother, I am a risk-taker, I am guarded in my personal life, I am kind, I am grateful. I am so excited about the rest of my life!

8 thoughts

  1. I have two tours as lead tech on two different labor and delivery units. I cannot speak on the full gamete of the problem, but I am a direct observer of the laziness and incompetence of Labor and Delivery staff. They have no regard for the fact that a cesarean section is not only surgery , in its purest form, but it’s on two patients. Rather than be trained and prepared for these events, they embrace incompetence, and try to make their own rules. I would show up for work in the morning and to find three to four placentas in unmarked buckets. So if that Mom or baby had complications, or whatever else that physician need to get from the lab concerning that placenta is no longer feasible, because without patient labels, it’s just a bloody bag in a bucket. That’s just one of a million problems I could list here, and that was at Sibley Memorial…a HOPKINS facility. Yet, the papers in DC gave them high reviews. They had no idea that the place had failed their last Joint Commission inspection. They had no idea that every nurse on that unit was guilty of multiple counts of fraud, in my book, because their education folders were full of skills checklists that they were signed off on, but did not know how to do. I saw babies with a heartbeat left on bloody sinks. I watched those fat lazy women let blood specimens sit at the desk a dry out, because not a single one of them would put their snacks down and shoot something to the lab. So as far as prenatal. My only experience with that is as a husband, and I stayed on top of people the whole time in that role. But people might be better off with a dula, than going to your average hospital. PS, Sibley was turning Janitors into L&D techs, and turning them loose in their operating rooms with no training. Those were the techs the nurses loved. They hated my ass.

    1. Mark, I am confused about your remarks about doulas. Doulas can’t provide medical or nursing care, so how would that help women with the potential to experience complications during pregnancy or childbirth?

      1. You are right Kate, a doula is not qualified to deal with pregnancy or childbirth complications. My recommendation is that women try to find a doctor that they trust and are comfortable with and when something is not right do not stop advocating for yourself until action is taken. More importantly, our healthcare system needs to recognize the inadequate treatment and do something about the senseless deaths that seem to be occurring. There is no amount of money that can be paid out to fill the gaping hole of a mother ripped from a child’s life when it could have been prevented.

      2. Yes everyone should be prepared to advocate for themselves. Also everyone should have someone in their corner to advocate for them in case they are in a position where they are not able to advocate for themselves or their baby. Could be the woman’s partner or another important person in her life.

  2. I am white so I have no experience navigating the system as a black women. I had preeclampsia with my first pregnancy. African-American women are more likely to have this than other races. Preeclamspia requires increased monitoring of urine tests, blood pressure and water retention amongst other things. I think I gained about 30 pounds of water weight–my legs were like tree trunks. I definitely could see how poor women would have more difficulty accessing the system.

    Maybe one solution would be visiting nurses coming to the pregnant woman who have more complex needs instead of the pregnant women going to the doctor’s office? The OB/GYN practice where I live is not centrally located at all.

    I copied and pasted something I found on Medscape. Perhaps in the case of preeclampsia we need an algorithm that requires more aggressive monitoring for African-American women. Here is the quote from Medscape:

    “Black woman have twice the risk that white women have for mortality associated with preeclampsia/eclampsia. This is most likely due to inadequate access to prenatal care among black women, as well as to increased incidences in black women of genetic diseases associated with circulating antiphospholipids. It has been proven that patients with elevated antiphospholipid plasma levels have a higher incidence of preeclampsia and eclampsia. [2] However, whether this is due to the antiphospholipids themselves or to some other underlying process is not clear. [7]”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.