Women’s History Month: What is being done about America’s maternal mortality rate?

Bringing a new life into the world shouldn’t involve gambling with your own.

Last night, my three-year-old son O.C. buttoned his four-button pajama top all by himself. I celebrated this toddler milestone as if he’d simultaneously cured cancer, HIV and the common cold. Since becoming a mom, I’ve learned that these moments are what parenting is all about: watching someone grow, learn, adapt and blossom. Don’t get me wrong; parenting is a tiring, scary, worrisome, heartbreaking addiction with no recovery program. But the look of pride on O.C.’s face when he buttoned that last button is another reminder that parenting both him and his little brother is the crack pipe I will never put down.

Will I bring a third into the world? Hell no.

I spent a minimum of 34 hours in labor with each of them. During O.C.’s birth, I lost consciousness and both my and his heart rate fell perilously low. Both of us could have died. During Gabriel’s birth, I had to battle with the hospital staff for everything including the right to walk around, the right to sit in a hot bath, the right to drink water and/or eat food. Just about everything my body was telling me to do to facilitate the birth of my children, the hospital staff had a problem with.

And when I complained about things like the fact that I could still feel the catheter in me even after I received an epidural, they took their sweet as time heeding me or furnishing me with relief. For your information, this took place at Piedmont Hospital and my healthcare providers were from Kaiser Permanente. I advise every pregnant woman in Atlanta who is interested in giving birth with hospital professionals who give a damn to steer clear of both this facility and Kaiser.

It’s because of these personal experiences that I am not surprised by America’s alarming maternal mortality rate…or specifically Georgia’s for that matter. According to a NPR and Propublica six-month investigation on American maternal mortality:

  • 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.

Did Y’all just read that? Let me summarize.

The number of women in America dying from pregnancy-related complications is rising. Treatable complications are leading to death because of hospital protocols. Hospitals are not ready for maternal emergencies. Our federal and state governments are spending very little money to support mothers’ health—though they are bending over backwards to kill abortion rights. Finally, doctors specializing in childbirth train without ever having set foot in an actual delivery room. W.T.F.

But the plot thickens.

I recall reading Serena Williams’ article in Vogue about her birthing story and having a severe panic attack because of the memories it conjured. Here was this ridiculously healthy and extremely rich woman who almost died after giving birth to her daughter. Not even she could escape the statistic that speaks volume about the state of women’s healthcare in America. According to this 2018 National Geographic article:

More than 700 women die each year in the U.S. from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. Black women have a maternal mortality rate three times higher than that of white women. At least 60 percent of maternal deaths are preventable.

And as per CBSnews.com:

In the U.S., that means at least two women are dying every day. And it’s not just deaths on the rise. So are “near deaths” … 60,000 a year across the country.

Now I could have a field day linking to all of the stories about women who needlessly lost their lives during what should have been one of the most beautiful, albeit taxing, life experiences ever. But I don’t want to further alarm any expectant mothers and/or women who desire to become pregnant and happen to be reading this. I just want you to know that there are resources available for you and that every single one of your questions, worries or concerns about your pregnancy journey is valid.

Those resources include care facilities like Orlando’s Easy Access Clinic which is run by a team of nurses and midwives who never turn anyone away. There is the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Black Mamas Matter Alliance who are working to transform reproductive health and rights. There is also the Midwives Alliance of North America which provides a listing of midwifery resources and information about the midwifery laws in each U.S. state or territory…and that brings me to an important aspect of women’s history that directly addresses the foolishness behind the current American maternal mortality rate.

Neither women nor their families used to pay thousands of dollars to nearly get killed by a hospital after becoming pregnant, while going through labor, or after giving birth. Historically, and all around the world, the vast majority of expectant mothers relied on midwives. However, as Our Bodies, Our Selves notes:

Medicine did not become professionalized in the U.S. until the last half of the 1800s. When it did, it did so in a spirit of competition. By the beginning of the 20th century, midwives attended only about half of all births in the U.S., and physicians attended the other half…

          Two reports on medical education, published in 1910 and 1912, concluded that America’s obstetricians were poorly trained. To improve obstetrics training, one report recommended hospitalization for all deliveries and the gradual abolition of midwifery. Rather than consult with midwives, the report argued, poor women should attend charity hospitals, which would serve as sites for training doctors.

          Just two years later, in 1914, “twilight sleep” was introduced. Twilight sleep was induced through a combination of morphine, for relief of pain, and scopolamine, an amnesiac that caused women to have no memories of giving birth. Upper-class women initially welcomed it as a symbol of medical progress, although its negative effects were later publicized.

          In 1915, Dr. Joseph DeLee, author of the most important obstetric textbook of that period, described childbirth as a pathologic process that damages both mothers and babies “often and much.” He said that if birth were properly viewed as a destructive pathology rather than as a normal function, “the midwife would be impossible even of mention.” In the first issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, DeLee proposed a sequence of interventions designed to save women from the “evils natural to labor.” The interventions included routine use of sedatives, ether, episiotomies, and forceps.

Le sigh.

Notice how a man came up with this bull? Tell me I’m not the only who is noticing a pattern. #StayWoke

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