Deadly Motherhood?

Today NPR reported that many more women die in the US from childbirth (percentage-wise) than in other developed nations.

That’s an interesting story to run right before Mother’s Day. Their intent appears to have been an emotional appeal for increased spending and training rigor for those who care for women during pregnancy and delivery. Sad stories of women who died were featured.

But what is the source of the statistic? Years ago during online discussions of abortion, I became aware that any death of a woman who has been pregnant is attributed as being caused by childbirth. So all abortion-related deaths are binned as deaths due to childbirth.

Is it really much more dangerous to give birth in America? Or is the use of questionable abortion practices (e.g. use of abortion rather than contraception to avoid children) artificially inflating the “death in childbirth” statistic?

If the statistics commingle deaths associated with abortion and deaths associated with full-term delivery, then it would be ironic if a pregnant woman conflicted about her future chose to have a dangerous abortion because she incorrectly perceives giving birth as the dangerous act.

P.S. – the image shows a child whose mother suffered from pre-eclampsia, which would have been fatal if the mother had not received proper medical attention.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

12 thoughts on “Deadly Motherhood?

  1. There is an old saying about statistics and misinformation. Getting the impression that abortion is safer than childbirth certainly serves an evil purpose.

  2. Mothers ought to be honored for the risk they incur to bring life into the world. As a male of my acquaintance has said, there are only two people who necessary have bled for you: your mother and Jesus Christ.

  3. The fact is that our American birthing practices and pregnancy care practices are actually harmful to mothers and babies. There are other studies that do not include abortion numbers. The U S, sadly, does have a much higher complication and death rate for birth mothers and babies than Europe or Japan because of our model of pregnancy and childbirth as a medical condition. Our way of seeing birth is in need of change! I studied childbirth statistics for some research I did and found that prior to the Industrial revolution, mothers living on rural areas of New England had a rate of death in childbirth equivalent to today’s numbers in the US. Infant mortality rates were also in line with today’s numbers. It wasn’t until mothers moved to cities with dirty water, air, and food during the Industrial revolution that death rates increased incredibly. We are comparing today’s numbers to those in the worst situations available for women and children historically speaking. Our medical industry has done a great job in dealing with traumatic and extraordinary situations but far too often created problems where there were none.

  4. Hi Winona,

    Are you confident the numbers cited in the NPR report are not inflated by abortion-related deaths? I believe they cite that US mothers are three times as likely to die as mothers in other developed nations.

    What are the practices of other nations that make their death rates so much lower. We are talking more than 100% reduction relative to the reported US numbers.

  5. I have been present at twenty four births, eight of which took place in a home with midwives attending, one in a birthing center with midwives attending, and the remainder in hospitals. Ten of the hospital births were my children. Whether midwives or doctors were in charge at the hospitals, and no matter how busy the maternity ward, the mothers were hooked up to electronic monitors and pretty much left alone except at scheduled checks. This was consistent over a period of 55 years. At home and in the birthing center the mother was always attended by a midwife who relied on touch, sight, and vocalizations to keep track of the progress of labor. Birthing in a hospital is often very lonely and for the inexperienced mother there is a tendency to avoid signaling for help because there is an assumption that the machines are conveying everything necessary to the nursing station. On one occasion the nurse hurried into the room, not in response to the mother’s call, but because the monitor seemed to have stopped working. The mother told the nurse that the baby had been born but the nurse ignored the mother and proceeded to check the monitor connections. Finally she pulled down the sheet and shrieked with surprise at the sight of the baby. In cases of actual medical concerns there is more care and personal monitoring. One dirty little secret that everyone wants to ignore is the role of narcotic birth in endangering both the mother and child. Epidurals have become the norm. If labor is impeded by physiological factors such as a smaller birth canal, the narcotic is transferred to the baby for a longer period, resulting in reduced function. Institutionalizing normal birth, particularly substituting electronic monitoring for experienced nursing, removes much of the psychological support that birthing requires. It is wonderful that conditions such as pre-eclampsia can be cared for by highly trained and experienced medical personnel in a hospital setting, but many otherwise normal births become stressful and the mothers and babies are exposed to the super germs that are more commonly found where sick people are concentrated.

  6. So if US mothers all had thorough prenatal care and opted for mid-wife-assisted natural childbirth (close to hospitals, in case of complications), would that bring the much, much larger maternal death rate in line with other nations?

    By the way, love the story about the nurse shrieking when they saw the baby had already been born. Classic.

  7. I think the difference might be due to how differen countries report on and count maternal deaths. This link here is on infant deaths, but it shows how differences in reporting across countries can make the USA look bad when it’s actually better:

    “heroic efforts to save newborns are common in America while these same infants are considered ‘unsalvageable’ in other countries and not counted against their mortality statistics.”

    My guess is something similar is true in the USA for maternal death.

  8. I recently listened to a podcast on Science Vs regarding abortion. It seemed as if statistics show that at least with very early abortions risks to the mother are lower than childbirth. While I personally lament abortion in general, if we are talking about risks to women, back room coat hangar-style abortions is a real cause of female mortality.

  9. Seconding what Ivan said. I suspect many of the mothers who die in childbirth in the US would have died before childbirth in other countries. Would be interesting to compare those stats to see if that’s true.

  10. It’s dangerous to reason without data, as Hans Rosling (bless his soul) pointed out in his 2006 TED talk:

    I’m questioning the basis for the data itself, which I suggest includes abortion-related deaths.

    The analogy to death statistics regarding infant mortality isn’t fully applicable, as I can’t see where there would be deaths of women where the women would not be considered to be alive in some other country’s accounting…

  11. I agree they aren’t fully applicable, but I’m bettering there is something analogous going on. “m” above said that maybe “many of the mothers who die in childbirth in the US would have died before childbirth in other countries” –

    or perhaps it’s something like abortion related deaths are counted here but classified as something else elsewhere, or maybe we count any death that occurs during or near childbirth regardless of cause (say due to a car crash or cancer or AIDS or whatever), but other countries might classify those as deaths due to the actual cause of death.

  12. I am skeptical of the claim that a lesser rate of “natural childbirth” is responsible for any increases in the maternal death rate. If there has, in fact, been much of an increase in the maternal death rate. The CDC has an informative article here: reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pmss.html

    It would not surprise me that, if there is a problem, it can be largely attributed to the fact that American women are older and more overweight (more likely to have cardiovascular issues) during pregnancy than used to be the case, esp. for first time mothers. (And to the fact that our African American population needs better maternity care than they are getting [the discrepancy between white and AA maternal deaths is shocking]. If we subjected our older, less healthy population of mothers to the model of maternity care they used, say, 300 years ago, the death rates would be even higher than they are.

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