Forgotten Mothers: US faces dramatic increase in maternal death

Global Business

inside&outAccording to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the number of mothers who die globally from pregnancy related complications has been cut in half over the past generation.

But as the maternal mortality rate is decreasing in many countries, it is increasing here in the United States.

CGTN’s Karina Huber reports.

A video captures the first time Lauren Bloomstein met her daughter Hailey. It was also the last time. Less than 24 hours later Lauren was dead.

Larry Bloomstein met Lauren in 2004. They later married and by 2011 Lauren was expecting.

“It was really where she wanted to go with life,” he said. “And happiest she had ever been and I could tell it was all she thought about. She just couldn’t wait to meet Hailey.”

Larry was more likely to spot a problem than husbands who aren’t doctors. He said her pregnancy was routine.

“While she said, she was tired at times. She actually really didn’t act it. She seemed pretty active. The whole time she was working. There were no other medical issues,” said Larry. “Besides knowing she was pregnant she had a bump in the front. Other than that, she really didn’t look all that pregnant the whole time. She was skinny with a little bump.”

But during labor, Lauren complained about a sharp pain above her abdomen. The doctors increased the epidural and it went away. Ninety minutes after delivering her baby, her blood pressure skyrocketed.

“The pain got progressively worse and worse to completely intolerable,” said Larry.

The doctors gave her morphine. But then, Lauren complained her head hurt.

“And then I was looking at her and I realized that half of her face if she smiled wasn’t moving and she was paralyzed on half of her body,” said Larry. “Then they called the doctor back in and the nurse and they called code stroke and she looked at me and said ‘I love you’ and that was it. That was the last thing she ever said.”

Lauren had severe preeclampsia – a condition caused by pregnancy that accounts for roughly seven percent of maternal deaths in the U.S. She died in this building – the Monmouth Medical Center in New Jersey – under the care of colleagues. Lauren was a nurse in its neonatal intensive care unit.

In the United States, women are three times more likely than Canadians and six times more likely than Scandinavians to die during the ‘maternal period.’ That’s the period that begins with pregnancy and ends a year after giving birth.

Anywhere from 700 to 900 American mothers die every year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said another 65,000 almost die. And maternal mortality is rising , while it’s falling in most industrialized countries. According to the CDC, more than half these deaths are preventable.

Research suggests that because babies are still far more likely to die in childbirth than mothers, the focus from a policy and resource perspective, is on savings babies, not mothers. When something goes wrong with mom, many healthcare providers aren’t prepared to handle it.

“The challenge is having people ready to deal with things they don’t see very often and require that very rapid and dedicated response,” said Eugene DeClerq, Professor of Community Health Sciences at Boston University. DeClerq said part of the problem is America’s complicated healthcare system.

“The bigger issue is the women who come in with no care, don’t get picked up until the fourth or fifth month with a problem, go to the emergency room to get their prenatal care and then go into labor and have a problem,” DeClerq said.

A problem that led to Bloomstein becoming a single father in an instant.

“Lauren was totally robbed of the rest of her life and Hailey was robbed of having a really wonderful biologic mom and it’s so sad to watch Hailey grow up and Lauren’s not able to see it,” Larry said.

Larry has since remarried and had another child but he is determined keep Lauren’s memory alive for five-year old Hailey and for other women. He and Hailey have been visiting Lauren’s grave regularly since she was born. It’s one way of keeping a connection alive.

Dr. Barbara Levy explains why the US has such a high maternal mortality rate

For more on why the U.S. has such a high maternal mortality rate compared to other industrialized countries, CGTN’s Rachelle Akuffo spoke to Dr. Barbara Levy, vice president for Health Policy at the Advocacy Division of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.