Maternal Mortality on the Rise
The U.S. has the highest number of maternal deaths in childbirth of any high-income developed country. Why?
Maternal mortality is every mother’s fear. You’ve carried this precious life for nine months, and when it’s time to deliver the baby, the prayer is that you both come through whole and in one piece.
In 2019, there were 754 maternal deaths. In 2020, that number rose to 861. And in 2021, that number reached 1,205. That is roughly 33 deaths for every 100,000 live births. This makes the United States the one with the highest number of maternal deaths in childbirth of any high-income developed country. That is a staggering number.
Why on earth are these precious moms losing their lives as they are giving new life to the world? According to The Washington Post, there were several factors that may have played into this spike.
Racial disparity, of course, is first and foremost on WaPo’s list. Women who were black or indigenous are dying at a much higher percentage rate than other women. Black women represented 41.4% of maternal deaths in 2021, and Native American women represented 26.5%. Hispanic women experienced the lowest maternal mortality rate at 11%. Some of these deaths among black and Native American women may be due to lack of access to quality care; however, there are other contributing factors that need to be taken into consideration that seem to fit a little better than the racism narrative. If it were all racism, then Hispanic women, logically, should also have high mortality rates — but they do not.
Women who are considered geriatric mothers (40 or older) were at a much higher risk of death. As The Washington Post reports, “The mortality rate was highest for women older than 40: 138.5 deaths per 100,000 live births, which was 6.8 times higher than the rate for women younger than 25.”
Having children later in life is a growing cultural trend. Mothers are using their 20s and 30s to establish themselves in the workplace before having children. Part of this is the workplace stigma of not being as reliable a worker once kids enter the picture. Another part is the feminist narrative that work is the highest form of good and independence. These two stories that women are fed, along with the high cost of living (i.e., the need for a two-income household), are pushing women to hold off starting their families. Clearly, it’s not good for their health.
The COVID pandemic also contributed in significant ways to this 2021 spike. Having COVID during pregnancy placed extra stress on an already maxed out body. COVID and the vaccines have been associated with heart health complications, and cardiovascular complication is the top cause of maternal death according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the pandemic, one could also point to women being hesitant to even seek medical help as quickly because of exposure risk. However, this particular risk has been declining as the disease has mutated and herd immunity has taken effect. The Associated Press says that as COVID waned in 2022, so did maternal deaths.
Perhaps the most surprising connection of all these deaths was obesity. According to The Wall Street Journal, contributing conditions that led to these mothers’ deaths were hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and stroke. And according to the Department of Health and Human Services, roughly four out of five black women were likely to be overweight/obese, 50% more than their non-Hispanic white counterparts.
These women who lost their lives giving birth are more than statistics. They were mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, and their loss is devastating. We cannot bring these precious lives back, but their deaths may point to some practical steps for other women bravely seeking to start families. So what is the solution? Some factors are out of people’s control, like sicknesses such as COVID. However, maintaining a healthy weight/good cardiovascular health and starting your family earlier in life (20s and 30s) might be positive steps toward preventing this sort of tragedy.
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