Maternal Malady

Pregnancy is supposed to be a happy time, full of new beginnings, poopy diapers, and late-night feedings (okay, so maybe it’s an exhausting time). But it’s a dangerous proposition for a growing number of women in the United States. The Los Angeles Times recently ran a story about the increasing maternal death rate—two women die every single day of problems related to pregnancy and childbirth, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The maternal mortality rate—that’s the number of women who die within 42 days of delivery—is higher than that of 40 other industrialized nations, despite the fact that we spend more per birth than any other country in the world, and for every woman who dies, another 50 are extremely ill following delivery (think: hemorrhaging and kidney failure).
Experts aren’t exactly sure why these numbers are trending upward, but they suspect it’s at least in part because preexisting conditions (like cardiovascular disease and diabetes precipitated by obesity) aren’t being diagnosed or considered during prenatal treatment. It’s also a gender, race, and economic issue. A study conducted by the CDC, state health departments across the country, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists discovered that Black women are nearly four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women. And Amnesty International reports that almost 13 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 are uninsured, and women of color are less likely to receive prenatal care. When we do actually get care, we often have little say in the critical decisions that surround birth—a fact that has contributed to nearly a third of births being via Cesarean, which in turn contributes to the increased mortality rate. And before you ask, the recent health reforms have little immediate affect on the issue: People (like me) who have to buy insurance on the individual market are screwed every day when it comes to maternity coverage—you see, pregnancy is considered a preexisting condition.

What can we do about it? On a personal level, we have to take more control over our bodies when it comes to both the small decisions (“What should I eat today?”) and the big ones (“Should I have a scheduled C-section?”). Collectively, we can join with Amnesty International in lobbying Congress to introduce and support the “Global MOMS Act,” and push them to establish an Office of Maternal Affairs to advocate for women’s rights and improve access to and quality of maternal care in the States.

Several people whom I’m close to have experienced difficult pregnancies and deliveries of late—and don’t get me started on just how hard it is to buy maternity coverage. Do you have any stories to share? Any insights, or suggestion on what we can do to tackle this problem? Do share.


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