Who would you be if your mother had died in childbirth?
That was the question Dr. Priya Agrawal for Merck for Mothers posed to us over the weekend on a panel at BlogHer on raising awareness to help end maternal mortality.
Really think about your answer. It’s a terrible thing to contemplate. Growing up without a mother; or consider your children growing up without you. It’s so awful you just don’t want to think about it, right?
Did you know that every year in the UNITED STATES, 1 woman every 10 minutes experiences a “near miss” with death during childbirth? I found that stat kind of staggering. That means that many of my friends could have died in childbirth and it got me thinking about my own childbirth experience with my first son Nate.
So I’m sharing my story here today. Because awareness needs to be raised. According to Dr. Agrawal, 15-20% of all women will experience a pregnancy or childbirth complication. That’s A LOT of women. And here’s the piece I really got thinking about while I was sitting there listening to her chat: no one I know thinks they could be that emergency or takes childbirth as seriously as they should.
My first pregnancy was totally uncomplicated. It was so inconsequential that the most exciting thing I can tell you about it is that I gained almost 70 pounds because my co-worker and I used to go out during lunch almost every day and get a Dairy Queen Blizzard. (My son should thank me for his own love of Oreo Blizzards since clearly I turned him onto it while he was in utero.)
I was 29 and healthy. I was due December 3rd and eager to meet our boy. And like every Mom, I was impatient towards the end. I went past my due-date and remember asking my doctor at my 40 week appointment if I could be induced.
I had no medical reason to be induced. I was healthy; he was healthy. The bottom line was that everyone talks about induction and it seems like everyone gets induced so my attitude was eh, why not.
I’m not kidding you guys when I tell you that I walked into the hospital on December 9th to be induced without a worry in the world. I acted like I was walking in for a wisdom teeth extraction. Not easy but not that huge of a deal, right? Everyone gives birth. Big whoop. How hard could it be to pop a baby out?
I did not take childbirth as seriously as I should have.
After several hours of induced labor, I started having VERY intense lower back labor pain. I remember asking a nurse something like, “can this be right? This REALLY hurts.”
I won’t forget her snarky response: “honey, it’s labor. It’s supposed to hurt.”
I remember feeling humbled, quieted and like I wasn’t brave enough. Childbirth was a rite of passage; I was supposed to be strong and I was failing miserably because I complained about the pain when it was just “normal”.
Hours went on and the reason for my lower back labor was what caused me to later have complications – my son Nate was positioned “sunny side up,” meaning he was positioned to be delivered looking up at the ceiling rather than down towards the floor. On top of that, he was a good-sized baby (8 lbs, 12 oz) with a big head that was stuck in my pelvis. He wasn’t going to turn.
But they didn’t know any of that at the time. So, once I was able, I got the epidural and I started smiling again.
Wheeeeee life is good and the anesthesiologist is my new best friend! Yahoo!
22 hours went by. Then the next piece of this story comes to be. I vividly remember that I was playing Phase 10 the card game with my husband when the doctor on the next shift came in. (Since I was in labor for so long, I had gone through two doctors.)
“I want you to look at something,” he said kind of seriously.
He directed my attention to the machine that was monitoring Nate’s heart rate. He began to indicate a problem. Every time I had a contraction, Nate’s heart rate dropped. A lot.
He had me shift positions. “If things don’t change in the next 30 minutes, we’ll have to do a cesarian,” he said.
Say what? I was shocked. Truly. I had read nothing on c-sections while pregnant and I really didn’t know anyone who had had one or if I did, we had never discussed it.
And I never figured or considered that there may be any sort of problem during delivery.
The OB left and the room definitely got quieter. My husband, Mom and I watched the monitor pretty closely. I don’t really remember much after that but I do remember the nurses and doctor rushing in 30 minutes later with what was a sense of urgency.
They quickly handed my husband scrubs and told him to HURRY. (!!)
I remember feeling total and complete panic. I thought I was going to die. I said to the doctor, “I don’t want a c-section,” and his response was something like, you will risk your child’s life and yours if you don’t do this right now.
There was no calmness and the last thing I remember in the labor room was the nurses and doctor practically running me on a stretcher out the door and me shouting to my Mom to take care of our cats if I died and my husband was too upset to take care of them.
My son Nate was in extreme distress. So I had my c-section.
And it was awful. Not that c-sections are fun but it was messy and long and I almost threw up several times during the surgery. Nate’s heart rate kept dropping and my heart rate also got so low that they had to give me something to get me going again.
I remember them holding Nate up over the sheet to show me, “you have a boy,” and being really out of it. I was like, oh hey, he has red hair? (Turns out that was blood & his hair was brown.)
I didn’t get to enjoy recovery with him. I felt like I had done something wrong. Failed. What kind of woman can’t give birth? And what the heck had just happened?
Here I am in the post-surgery room holding Nate. I was crying because everything was so overwhelming. I still have a hard time looking at this photo without feeling emotional.
Today I feel totally lucky and blessed that we both ended up okay.
I’ll also mention that my recovery was awful. I ended up in the ER a week later with severe dehydration & it took me months to recover both physically and emotionally. But I wasn’t the focus, Nate was. And I can see where something can happen to a Mom post delivery that she writes off; or that others don’t notice because hey, there’s a baby and that baby is the focus and “you just delivered a baby so you should feel crappy!”
In other words, suck it up Mom, you’re fine.
I think because we live in the US and we have good health care, we don’t consider that we are at risk too. And most states don’t have to report when it’s a pregnancy-related death so the awareness just isn’t there.
But our stories need to be shared and awareness needs to be raised.
Ryan Hansen from the Tara Hansen Foundation also shared his story over the weekend. His wife died 6 days after childbirth in 2011. Totally healthy previously, they were a happy couple living in New Jersey and about to have their first son. Tara knew something was wrong from the moment she was in the hospital recovering, yet she was released and went home for several days. It turned out that she had an infection and by the time she ended up back in the hospital it was too late.
We need to listen to our bodies. We need to speak up when we’re not heard or when someone makes us feel like we’re being silly and tells us we’re fine but we feel otherwise.
A couple more stats and then I’ll let you go. (If you’ve hung in this far, thank you! Share your story below.)
2/3 of all deaths in the US related to pregnancy and delivery happen AFTER childbirth. Everyone’s spending so much time fawning over the babies but we need to be paying attentions to the mother too.
Also, if you think these stats are just from poverty-stricken areas, you’re wrong. Did you know that a rich, educated black woman is 4 times more likely to die in childbirth than a rich, educated white woman. What? Why?
Share your story. Share my story. Share your friend’s story and check out MerckforMothers.com to see the amazing work they are doing in the US and worldwide to help #EndMaternalMortality