A couple of emails I received recently are breaking my heart. Maja is due to deliver soon and apparently has a normal pregnancy. She’s desperately afraid she’ll die in childbirth. Angela is grieving because her sister went into labor after a normal pregnancy, but delivered a stillborn baby. She wants to know what happened. These are not easy questions to answer, but they’re worries so common to pregnancy and rarely discussed out loud, that I think they deserve discussion. I’m going to tackle Maja’s question today. Next week, we’ll talk about Angela’s.
I can’t tell from Maja’s email anything about where she lives, her age, whether she has any ongoing health problems or has access to healthcare. While none of that should matter, all too often, a woman’s survival of pregnancy and birth depends on those factors.
If Maja lives in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia where women die during pregnancy and childbirth on a fairly regular basis, I’d say her fears are well grounded. In the developing world where women can’t always get the healthcare they need, whether that’s due to transportation issues, lack of healthcare providers, educational, cultural or social factors or other reasons, the sad fact is that 800 women die from pregnancy and childbirth-related conditions every day. Yep…Every. Single. Day. Most of these deaths are absolutely preventable and unnecessary.
If Maja lives in parts of Europe where women generally do very well and rarely die from pregnancy-related complications, I’d say her fears are normal, but most likely unnecessary. Countries like Finland, England, Ireland, Greece and others know how to take care of their mamas. Women generally have all the support they need to come through pregnancy and birth thriving.
How about if Maja lives in the US? Our maternal mortality rate is fairly low – about two deaths per day or 800 deaths per year. When you compare that to the over four million babies born annually, the odds for survival are excellent. That said, every one of those 800 mothers who die in the U.S. every year are women, probably much like Maja.
Pregnancy is almost always a normal, healthy physical function that most mothers survive in great shape. In fact, pregnancy enables the body to do some of its best work. Most mothers adopt healthy diet and exercise habits, clean up their lifestyles, ditch their bad habits and enjoy some of the best health of their lives. When it’s time to give birth, most mothers in America are well supported by midwives, doctors and well staffed, supplied health facilities. If they’re healthy before and during pregnancy, chances are excellent they’ll be fine during and after birth too.
But what if Maja is a teenager or an older mom. What if she has high blood pressure or diabetes? What if she lives in a violent relationship or has substance abuse issues? What if her doctor goes heavy on the unnecessary medical interventions and c-sections? What if she’s African American? Well then, she’s at higher risk for complications than women without those factors to consider. That doesn’t mean she’s doomed for problems. Not at all. In fact, the odds are always in a mother’s favor that she’ll survive and thrive. It just means that she has issues that require custom care and extra support.
Maja, I’m going to assume that none of those risk factors apply to you, that you’re safe, have excellent healthcare and no major complications. Your fear is normal because pregnancy and birth are huge transitions, but try to find your way to accept it as normal and healthy. Try to see your body as strong, capable and frankly, pretty freakin’ awesome. You’re growing a brand new person with that rocking-hot body of yours. If you can do that, you can do anything. Talk to your midwife or doctor about your fears. Tell your mother or sister and count on the fact that the odds are definitely in your favor. In fact, they’re excellent.
Next week – Angela’s question. Why did her sister’s baby die?