Most stories we read about maternal deaths are from the developing world. How shocking would it be to learn of a neighbor, friend, or close relative who lost her life while giving birth here in the U.S.? Here’s an example:
Despite living close to a hospital in Arizona, young Melissa faced significant challenges during her pregnancy. As a working mother, Melissa’s time demands caused her to miss several doctor appointments. Without paid leave she had to work until her labor began. As soon as her baby’s fetal heart monitor signaled distress, her doctor ordered an emergency C-section. The procedure was successful and Melissa soon gave birth to a beautiful girl. Tragically, Melissa died at home a few days later when a clot broke free and caused a stroke. Since the hospital was not required by law to follow identified best practices for post-surgical care, she was sent home too early. As a result, her death was not recorded as a maternal death because maternal loss due to adverse events is not reportable per Arizona law.
Since 2000, the world has been marshalling efforts to reduce maternal mortality across the globe. While significant progress has been made in most countries, there are still almost 280,000 women like Melissa who die every year due to pregnancy-related causes. The United States is one of the few countries that has gotten worse; we have slipped by the largest margin of any country. To put this into perspective, more women in the United Sates have died in childbirth since 2001 than soldiers have died in war. Think about that number for a minute. Even with several active war zones, twice as many women have died in childbirth.
Perhaps the reason that fewer soldiers die is because we have improved triage care on the battlefield. This may be true, but it doesn’t fully explain the difference. The underlying difference between the two is the degree of emphasis placed on reducing these losses. On the military front, we have invested and continue to invest substantial resources to care for those who protect our country, and rightfully so. However, relatively little is spent on protecting those who give birth to it. The sad part is that most of these maternal deaths are preventable.
How have several European countries nearly eliminated maternal deaths? What limits our maternal healthcare system from being as robust? Here in the U.S., maternal deaths are still thought of as a private loss. We feel bad for those who have lost a loved one, but we fail to recognize the enormous loss to our society as a whole. Keeping this a private matter limits what we are willing to demand publicly in order to create a safer environment for women. For example, are companies required to provide paid time off for mothers? Without public support, mothers are forced to bear all the risks of childbirth.
Here in the U.S., the problem is practically invisible and goes unaddressed. It’s time to publicly recognize these losses. In order to raise public consciousness about these losses, increase support for laws that will improve maternal care, we need to help people see what families and communities have lost, both at home and around the globe.
Why build a memorial? Wouldn’t it be better to simply invest more money in public health? If money or technology were the problem, then yes, this would be the solution. However, availability of healthcare is not a key challenge in the U.S., but access is. While memorials may not directly solve problems, they allow us to contemplate our personal responsibility to act and create solutions. They symbolize what matters to society, what we value, and demonstrate our will to do something about it.
Mother’s Monument exists to build memorials to publicly recognize the loss of mothers in childbirth. We will not forget their sacrifice. Beyond that, through the process of building a memorial, a community can come together to solve these problems. It is possible to create a world where we all focus on finding collective solutions to environmental and community-wide issues, a world where we can save the greatest number of lives.
It starts with a monument, brings together a community, and changes a mother’s world. Get involved at MothersMonument.org
About the Mothers Monument Project:
The Mothers Monument Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to building memorials to publicly recognize the loss of mothers in childbirth. Public memorials draw attention to causes, values and hopes, and they teach us how to react to the sacrifices of our fellow humans. Our hope is that by creating these monuments, we can help create the awareness and solidarity necessary for us to act as a community to find solutions to both environmental and community-wide issues affecting these women.