This week, a father of two filed a lawsuit against the hospital where his wife died shortly after giving birth to their new son. In the lawsuit, the father alleges that after what was supposed to be a joyous occasion, he saw his wife’s catheter turning pink with blood and asked a hospital employee for help. Her response: “Sir, your wife just isn’t a priority right now.” After being allowed to bleed internally for almost 10 hours, the hospital finally took the mother back to surgery, where she died from complications from her cesarean section.
Sadly, this mom is not alone. Tragedies like this are far too common in the United States, which has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the entire developed world. Every year, more than 50,000 women are severely injured during childbirth, and about 700 mothers per year die due to complications from childbirth. Worse, the U.S. is the only country in the developed world that has a rising maternal death rate due to pregnancy-related complications. Even more alarming is the fact that African American, Native American, and Alaskan Native women are about three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women.
The troublingly high rate of mothers dying due to pregnancy complications has led to what some are calling the Maternal Mortality Crisis. The crisis has parents (and soon-to-be parents) across the country asking: why is this happening?
A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) suggests that 60% of mothers that died from complications from childbirth could have been saved if they had access to better medical care. Other possible explanations include:
- A lack of consistency in hospital protocols for addressing potentially fatal pregnancy complications.
- Hospitals that may be prepared for taking care of a newborn child are unprepared to deal with a maternal health emergency.
- Federal and state funding for maternal health is inadequate: only 6% of block grants for “maternal and child” health go to the health of mothers.
- Failure, by some U.S. doctors specializing in maternal-fetal medicine, to receive adequate training. Until recently, young doctors who wanted to work in the field didn’t have to spend any time learning to care for birthing mothers.
Studies have also shown that the exceptionally high rate of mortality for mothers of color is primarily due to systemic racial bias in the health care system. In other words, these mothers’ symptoms, complaints, or requests for help are ignored or taken less seriously due to the color of their skin. This needs to be addressed immediately. It is unacceptable for medical staff to treat women of color with less diligence than white women. In addition, according to a co-author of the CDC study, the negative effect of chronic stress on an expectant mother’s body caused by structural or systemic racism is being explored as another possible explanation of the higher mortality rate.
Many government agencies and non-profit organizations have begun working on strategies for lowering the maternal mortality rate in the United States. Some of these strategies include:
- Helping mothers to manage underlying chronic health problems that could lead to pregnancy complications.
- Educating expectant mothers to recognize early indicators of potentially life-threatening complications so that they can seek health care before it’s too late.
- Increasing access to better health care, transportation, and housing.
- Standardizing the way that medical treatment providers respond to pregnancy-emergencies, including ensuring that C-sections are only performed if medically necessary.
- Training medical staff to recognize if an expecting-mother has any risk factors that increase her risk of complications from pregnancy and ensuring that they take appropriate steps to address those risk factors.
It is unacceptable for the United States—arguably one of the wealthiest countries in the world—to fail at making childbirth as safe as possible. Acknowledging the problem is a start. Passing legislation to support maternal health is the next step. And training the medical community to respect mothers and reject racial bias is essential. It is not OK for doctors and nurses to treat mothers as if they are expendable once their baby is born. They need to realize that maternal-fetal medicine includes both baby AND mother.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a hospital’s negligence or a mistake involving pregnancy or childbirth, call our experienced medical malpractice attorneys 630-527-1595 for a FREE EVALUATION of your case. Do not suffer in silence. We can help you get justice and compensation for your pain and suffering.
To learn more about preventing life-threatening complications from pregnancy, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternal-mortality/index.html