I type from an airplane somewhere between DCA and SRQ, my heartbeat quickening as I anticipate a joyous reunion with my husband and children. Yet for far too many American families, joy is replaced with grief, reunion replaced with loneliness. Saturday’s Healthy Mothers Healthy Birth Summit at Shenandoah University addressed the silent epidemic of maternal mortality in the United States.
Americans spend more on maternity care than any other nation in the world (approximately $98 billion annually), yet World Health Organization data shows 49 countries losing fewer mothers than we do. Some names might not surprise you—Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, the U.K. But how about Slovenia, Bosnia, Kuwait and Bahrain?
Amnesty International researcher Nan Strauss presented the group’s report "Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Healthcare Crisis in the USA." Amnesty concludes that at least half of American maternal deaths are preventable, resulting from lack of prenatal/postpartum care, or from overuse of intervention such as labor induction or Cesarean section. "We have the research. We have the answers," said Strauss. "We're just waiting for the political will."
Florida midwife Jennie Joseph agrees. Her answer? The Midwives Model of Care, empowering the mother through knowledge and support, minimizing interventions and referring women who require obstetrical attention. The Summit’s experts recommend the midwifery model as the standard for low-risk, normal births.
Renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin then presented her Safe Motherhood Quilt Project (www.rememberthemothers.org). The quilt honors American women who have died of pregnancy or childbirth related causes since 1982.
So what can we do? We can begin by accurately counting and discerning the causes of our maternal deaths. The Maternal Health Accountability Act of 2011 (H.R. 894) would mandate a national data collection system, and establish maternal death review boards in every state. I encourage anyone who is concerned about this crisis to contact your representatives and urge their endorsement of this bill.
Every child needs a mother. I can't wait to get off this plane and show my babies how grateful I am to be theirs.