USA Today published an article today entitled The Rate of Women Dying in Childbirth Surged by 40%. These Deaths are Preventable. Let’s talk about this because I was almost one of those statistics. But first things first. Ya’ll need to stop believing that the United States is immune to a high maternal mortality rate as if we are some kind of super power where doctors don’t make mistakes, have personal and loving relationships with their patients, and would never suffer in their own personal lives at your expense. It’s laughable just reading what I wrote.
Doctors are humans too and they have lives just like we do and respond just like we do when tired, hungry, under stress, etc. Short cuts are made. That’s us…human. Doctors aren’t the only reason for the increase in maternal mortality though. I suppose one could blame me for “getting pregnant” in my 40’s and that it’s my fault I almost died but let me share my story.
Here I am just moments after giving birth at age 42. My pregnancy was one of my more difficult pregnancies (the easiest was my pregnancy at age 38). I’m not sure why, I was relatively healthy at the time though I was overweight and considered morbidly obese by my health care provider. For reference, my picture below shows what my obstetrician considered morbidly obese. This is me about three weeks from my scheduled induction.
I do have a “fat apron” as people call it and the nurses had no qualms pointing it out and sharing with me that my life would be better without the fat. I know there was discrimination because of my size and if I was being shamed and rough housed by medical staff at this size, I cannot imagine what women endure who are larger.
So there, I had two factors that contributed to the fatal condition that God saved me from. I was fat and over 40!
After having my baby, I went home the next day. We get more sleep when we are out of the hospital so as soon as I was medically cleared to go home, I did. I should have recognized something wasn’t right but I ignored it. The ride home was nauseating. I couldn’t look out the window at all while the car was in motion. That had never happened before. I decided that it was my age and didn’t think any more about it when I got home.
As the day progressed, I began to have some stomach discomfort. This is two days after the birth. My stomach was really aching and I wasn’t very hungry because of it. I decided I would bind my belly as I had heard this can help the organs go back into place better.
This was the best we could do with this kind of binder because I was so uncomfortable. I couldn’t wear this binder though. As soon as my husband tied it off, I couldn’t get it off fast enough. My abdominal pain was too much to bear.
The nurse-midwife had been to our home earlier that day to check on me and the baby. I mentioned how much my abdomen was uncomfortable and it bothered her enough to say that she would visit me again the following day. She did come back and my pain was worse. It was a right sided pain and if you look at the “right” side in this picture (opposite), it’s poking out more. Something wasn’t right and she suggested to my husband to call for an appointment immediately.
This was our third child so I told my husband to stay home with the kids and I would drive myself in to be seen. After all, it was just abdominal pain and it was probably related to giving birth over 40. That’s what I kept telling myself anyway. Reading the notes today on those visits and apparently the pain was severe, I could not sleep, it radiated to my back, and I had shortness of breath.
I was seen by my obstetrician who palpated my belly and told me I had gall stones. She said I didn’t need OB so she referred me to the urgent care doctor. Urgent care was downstairs so all I did was walk downstairs to be seen. The doctor there sent me for an ultrasound of my gall bladder and ran some blood tests. I didn’t have gall stones and he said, “your labs are off but there is nothing out of the ordinary. We’re going to get you ready for discharge.”
I didn’t feel any better but something inside me remembered an article I had read a few months back. I’m certain it was my Guardian Angel with the Holy Spirit prompting me to ask the doctor the next question. “Will you please share the labs with my obstetrician? I read an article about postpartum preeclampsia.” I could see the disdain on their face. They just wanted me out of there. The doctor reluctantly agreed and the nurse came in to take my vitals for discharge.
Unfortunately for her and thank God for me, my blood pressure had risen significantly by that time. It went from 140/78 in the OB’s office to 171/93. Doctor noted that, “Patient states pain is constant, hurts in back when sitting” and their plan was to send me home until I asked for them to consult with OB. I was admitted back to labor and delivery and as soon as they IV went in, all I saw were stars and my blood pressure spiked again. It was higher and I was in danger.
It’s infuriating reading these notes because it’s full of lies. It lists I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia during pregnancy yet, I never had a pre-eclampsia diagnosis and if I did, it would be malpractice for them not to check my BP at my appointments leading up to my induction (BP was not being checked at any of my visits prior to my induction).
Pre-eclampsia is treated with Magnesium Sulfate and then delivery of the baby if things get worse during treatment. Postpartum pre-eclampsia is treated with Magnesium Sulfate and prayers. The baby was already delivered. It’s up to the body to heal at this point and some never heal. Some women die. Some have issues for life.
So, are maternal deaths preventable? Yes, but I don’t think doctors are really trying to prevent them, especially when they send women away. If the OB had checked my labs instead of saying, “It’s your gallbladder” they would have seen something was amiss.
A friends sister was sent away one week postpartum after visiting her OB because she had a fever. Her milk supply was low as well but the doctor said she had a virus. Nevermind that she had a c-section and was at risk for a uterine infection. I’m so glad her sister reached out to me and was encouraged to seek a second opinion. If she had ignored this fever as her obstetrician did, she would likely be dead…from a uterine infection…BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT SHE HAD!
Countless women share their stories of how they went in with a concern and were sent away with nothing more than a physical exam. They either got worse and someone finally listened or they died at home or shortly after admission. Maternal deaths are getting worse. What’s it going to take for doctors to turn this around?
It’s not enough to go in to be seen. It’s not enough to list the warning signs. We had them! Right upper quadrant pain is a warning sign! Fever within two weeks of delivery is a warning sign! We trust our doctors and they are failing us. We MUST question our doctors now. It’s not enough to trust them.
The question isn’t are these deaths preventable? The question is, why aren’t doctors listening? Why aren’t they following their own protocols that they developed? Why are they sending us home? Why aren’t they concerned? Why are women having to push for better care? Again…why aren’t they listening? We’re dying!
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