Maternal health care is a right, not an option

In March 2o11, The Maternal Health Accountability Act of 2011 (H.R. 894) was introduced by Rep. John Conyers, D-MI to reduce maternal mortality in the United States, provide greater transparency for reporting on pregnancy-related deaths and improve outcomes through research, education and awareness.(See italicized text below for a summary of the Act’s provisions.) According to Amnesty International, “women in the United States face a greater risk of death from complications of pregnancy and childbirth than women in 49 other countries, and African-American women are at almost four times greater risk of death compared with Caucasian women.”

Christy Turlington Burns, who founded Every Mother Counts, reports that worldwide, “pregnancy and childbirth claim the lives of 1,000 women every day.  That’s roughly 350, 000 women each year.” Over half a million women die each year, leaving at least that many children – if not more – without their mothers to care for and nurture them. Many of these deaths are preventable, which is what makes these statistics all the more tragic.

The United States spends more money on health care than any other country, and yet there is an epidemic of maternal death due to inadequate and inappropriate care, disparities in health coverage and access to health care, lack of adequate postpartum care, among other things. More than two women die every day in the USA from pregnancy-related causes, although the numbers may actually be higher, because there are no federal requirements to report maternal deaths. H.R. 894 would make this reporting mandatory.

Maternal deaths are only part of the equation. Amnesty International’s report, “Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Heath Care Crisis in the U.S.A” reports that “each year, 1.7 million women suffer a complication that has an adverse effect on their health.” These so-called “near misses”, increased by 25 per cent between 1998 and 2005. Among the reasons for the uptick in cases are the increase in the number of c-sections performed, increased obesity (which can cause health problems including high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes) and lack of adequate prenatal and postpartum medical care.

Many thousands of women experience complications, including embolism, hemorrhage and infection, all of which may cause permanent physical and emotional damage, and make it difficult for them to bond with or care for their babies immediately following birth. These women may also suffer bouts of postpartum depression (PPD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as other physical issues, including nerve pain, numbness and adhesions from their surgical procedures.  We are a baby-obsessed culture, but we do a poor job of caring for and providing proper support for the women who carry, deliver and care for our babies.

What do I know about this issue? I was one of those “near misses.” I lost half the blood in my body due to a postpartum hemorrhage that went undetected for hours following an emergency c-section. A routine safety protocol had not been followed, which might have prevented my hemorrhage. It was about a week before I could leave the hospital and I spent several months recovering at home. I still deal with PTSD symptoms, although I’ve been able to manage them reasonably well with psychotherapy and holistic healing (including Reiki and acupuncture.) It is truly a miracle that I’m here to tell my story.  My birth story is on the International Cesarean Awareness Network’s site.

For the health and benefit of the mothers you love, as well as for the ones who will be a mother one day, I urge you to support passage of this bill. You can send your letter here or email/call your Congressmen directly. This bill is not “anti-doctor”; it is pro-safety and in a very real sense, pro-life. I advocate for this cause because no mother should ever have to experience the terror and pain I went through only hours after my daughter was born. No child should ever have to connect the day of their birth with the death of their mother, or feel in some way that their entrance into the world was somehow a harmful event.

All women should have the right – not the option – to birth and recover safely in a facility or with providers who can ensure that proper safety measures and medical protocols are being followed at all times. Please help make this a reality for mothers in the U.S. through H.R. 894 and also through the efforts of Amnesty International and Every Mother Counts worldwide.

(Photo of my husband bringing my daughter over to see me after her birth via c-section. Please do not use without permission.)

Official Summary of Maternal Health Accountability Act of 2011
3/3/2011–Introduced.Maternal Health Accountability Act of 2011 – Amends title V (Maternal and Child Health Services) of the Social Security Act to direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to award grants to states for:
(1) mandatory reporting to the state department of health by health care providers and other entities of pregnancy-related deaths;
(2) establishment of a state maternal mortality review committee on pregnancy-related deaths occurring within such state;
(3) implementation and use of the comprehensive case abstraction form by such committee to preserve the uniformity of the information collected; and
(4) annual public disclosure of committee findings. Directs the Secretary, acting through the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to:
(1) organize a national workshop to identify definitions for severe maternal morbidity and make recommendations for a research plan to identify and monitor such morbidity in the United States; and
(2) develop uniform definitions of severe maternal morbidity, a research plan, and possible data collection protocols to assist states in identifying and monitoring such cases. Amends the Public Health Service Act to direct the Secretary to carry out specified research and demonstration activities to eliminate disparities in maternal health outcomes.

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