Chances are that at one point over the past week, you have seen someone on your Facebook feed share an article about maternal death rates in the United States being the worst in the developed word. Read through one of them and you’ll probably learn several facts that will shock you. Like how the maternal death rate after childbirth in the US is (and has been) rising, while all other countries in the developed world have declining rates. Or how the rate of maternal death has doubled in the past 15 years. Most surprisingly to me, sixty percent of the 700 to 900 maternal deaths per year are preventable.
If you are pregnant, this is NOT to scare you. I read articles stating similar facts four years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. I was already terrified, so learning the statistics about the United States and its maternal care after childbirth amped up my nerves more than I could possibly describe. Fortunately, after I had my daughter back in 2013, I did not become part of the above mentioned statistics. But I came pretty close. My experience changed the way I viewed childbirth, medication, and interventions for my two additional childbirth experiences years later.
After my daughter was born, she was not breathing well, so nurses and doctors were extremely focused on getting her airway clear, getting her purple skin tone to fade to pink, and transporting her to the NICU. The labor and delivery wing was completely full, and coincidently almost every woman was giving birth within the same hour. I’m not sure what kind of situations they were dealing with in the other rooms or how the other babies and mothers were doing. I know that their jobs are intense and often under-appreciated. I know that the medical staff was all very experienced and educated. But the fact is that my health was overlooked that night.
Minutes after my daughter was born, they wheeled her down the hall to the NICU, brought in a tray from the kitchen with a turkey sandwich and ginger ale, asked me if I needed anything, and out they went. My husband went with my daughter to the NICU, so I was alone in my room after just giving birth minutes earlier. I didn’t feel well, but I didn’t expect to feel well. I had been talking to nurses all night about how excited I was to eat a turkey sandwich as soon as my daughter was here, but the sight of that sandwich made me want to get sick. After a while, my nurse popped her head in and I was laying there, silent and not moving, but still with my eyes open. She asked me a few questions, and I can remember trying to answer them, but words wouldn’t come out. I couldn’t move. She told me I was very pale and came over to check on me.
The rest of the night was kind of a blur. I remember my midwife coming in the next morning sitting in a rocking chair beside my bed, explaining that I had a postpartum hemorrhage and came extremely close to needing a blood transfusion. I have my own opinion as to why this happened, but that isn’t important. The details aren’t even that important, because every birth experience is different. The purpose of sharing this with you is to encourage you to do your research. It’s to encourage you to voice your concerns with your doctor or midwife. To encourage you to make a birth plan (even though it may not be followed if there are complications).
When I found out I was pregnant with my second child, to say I was scared out of my mind to give birth again would be an understatement. But I did a lot of research on what could have cause my postpartum hemorrhaging and I did everything I could to prevent it from happening again. I spoke to my doctor about making a plan for what to do to avoid it during labor and delivery. I hired a doula and really, the most I used her for was to talk to her about my fears. She was comforting, calming, and supportive. She was educated on ways that I could have the birth experience I wanted to have. She helped me heal (mentally) from the birth trauma of my first child. She made sure to stay with me after the birth of my son, in case my husband had to leave, to calm my nerves about being left alone again after giving birth.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to speak up. I think one of the biggest reasons I didn’t call a nurse when I was alone and feeling ill is because I didn’t want to bother them. I didn’t want to push that button and take them away from another mother who may have been in need. But the truth is, if I hadn’t been afraid to let someone know I didn’t feel right, or to speak up and just ask to be checked to ease my mind, then maybe this wouldn’t have happened to me.
May is Maternal Mental Health Month. To help us end the stigma attached with maternal mental health complications, all month we will be featuring stories pertaining to MMH. If you or someone you know is in need of additional support, see our resources page If you have a story you would like to share, please contact us at [email protected]