Monday, May 22, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Let's break the silence on another taboo subject

When I first started working as a 25-year-old staff writer on my company's monthly employee newsmagazine, one of my duties was to coordinate the monthly listings of executive appointments, service anniversaries, retirements and "in memoriams" -- the deaths of both pensioners and active employees. Sometimes the necessary details -- spellings of names, locations, job titles (those pesky acronyms...), etc. -- needed clarification, and I would have to make some phone calls.

I wasn't always prepared for the stories & additional information I'd hear -- never more so than the day, early in my career, when I was breezily informed that the 35-year-old supervisor I was calling about had died in childbirth. Childbirth??!  Who, in 1980-something Canada/North America, with all the benefits and miracles offered by modern medicine (not to mention universal healthcare), died in CHILDBIRTH??

Unfortunately, more women than we might think -- and even more unfortunately, 30 years later, it's still happening with alarming frequency.  Those of us who have endured miscarriage, stillbirth and other forms of pregnancy or infant loss know the silence, the taboos that surround our losses -- not only among family & friends, but in the medical community itself -- the lack of established protocols, reliable statistics and research.

But maternal death (or near-death) remains, it seems, is also an unspeakable subject -- despite the fact that some 700 to 900 American women die every year from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes -- and a further 65,000 come far too close to dying for comfort.  This is a far higher rate than any other developed country -- and almost 60 per cent of these deaths are preventable.

So I was happy to see that NPR & ProPublica have recently joined forces to shed some light on this important-but-overlooked loss-related health issue. They kicked things off with a devastating story, "The Last Person You'd Expect to Die in Childbirth," which focuses on the death of Lauren Bloomstein, a 33-year-old woman whose doctor failed to recognize the warning signs of pre-eclampsia & HELLP syndrome. (Ironically, Bloomstein was, of all things, a neonatal intensive care nurse.)  That was followed by "What We've Learned So Far About Maternal Mortality From You, Our Readers." Item #1:  "We realized that it's part of a pattern:  Treating the death of a mother due to pregnancy or childbirth as a private tragedy rather than as part of a public health crisis," says writer Adriana Gallardo. (Hmmm, this sounds familiar...)

"We're just getting started," Gallardo promises. Want to help them?  Through my 10 years of pregnancy loss support group facilitation, almost 20 years in loss & infertility online forums and almost 10 years of blogging, I know that that many of the loss moms I've encountered were near-casualties themselves. (In fact, I discovered that my own mother had had pre-eclampsia and, in her own words, "We're both lucky we're here.")

If you know someone who died or nearly died in pregnancy, childbirth or within a year after delivery -- or if you ARE that person (whether your baby lived or died) -- consider telling ProPublica your story.  Further information on how to contact them can be found here.

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.


  1. I read that article too. And was reassured to read that in my country my odds were so much better. I did never go back to my hospital for the after-birth-conversation, as I did not want to find out how close I came to being in danger. Was too weak anyway...

  2. This article brought back my whole L&D experience, including the moment I signed the DNR order prior to surgery following my own diagnosis with HELLP syndrome. I honestly was in disbelief that I was close to dying. And I firmly believe the reason I am alive is because my doctors did care about my health as well as the health of the Beats.

    It's shameful that women's health care is at such a low in the US. It shows how little we actually value 50% of the population. How it's still a select few who actually matter in the eyes of the ruling class. It shouldn't be that way. And we're long overdue for changing that.

  3. I am so glad that they are doing this important series but sad that it needs to exist.

  4. Thank you for sharing this article. I'm so glad that our position in Canada is so much safer, but both my sister and step-sister had dangerous deliveries (involving too much blood loss), and I'm very aware that they could have been a statistic somewhere else.

    It's so frustrating that this is still such an issue in the U.S. especially since so many of the deaths are preventable.

  5. I know two women who had dangerous deliveries with massive blood loss, and I work with someone whose wife's mother died in childbirth (the wife is 29). I've known a woman almost die having a hysterectomy from blood loss arising from a complication. It seems that these things just aren't very widely spoken about: no one wants to 'scare' pregnant women or think that something like a hysterectomy is anything other than routine. It staggers me what women go through, from stillbirths to almost dying on the maternity bed, they deserve war medals really.