A matter of life and death: When a mother’s life is thrown into jeopardy to save her baby

Since the 1980s, maternal death rates in America have increased. Why are so many new mothers dying? Alexa Hornbeck investigates.

A Matter of Life and Death is a 10 minute documentary exploring America’s high maternal mortality rates. The piece expands on the research regarding the poor data keeping, medical shortcomings, and stigmas surrounding maternal deaths by highlighting how pre-existing conditions play a role in maternal health.

ProPublica and NPR conducted a six-month long investigation to determine just how many women were dying from pregnancy or child-birth related causes. They found that, in America, “700 to 900 women die each year from pregnancy or childbirth related causes”, and “that’s the worst in the developed world.” Their research has shown the power of collecting testimonies as a way to understand the scope of the data regarding an issue which has remained seemingly invisible.

My two primary characters highlight the trends (race, age, socioeconomics) which influence whether a pregnancy is high-risk: the survivor, Kathy Chateau, and the 31 year-old daughter of a deceased mother, Odette Henderson.

While pregnant, both women were told by physicians that complications they were experiencing were due to preeclampsia, and would resolve after giving birth. However, each of these women had the same pre-existing condition which was masked and aggravated by pregnancy complications.

Elliot Main, the founder of the CMQCC (California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative), elaborates on how pregnancy can aggravate and mask pre-existing conditions, and whether this is considered a part of preventable maternal deaths.

The documentary highlights the need for a more thorough evaluation of a woman’s health, not only in relation to her pregnancy and the health of the infant. And also the guilt families experience in pursuing discovery of maternal health issues.

One Comment

  1. Nichole Liggins, MD

    Thanks for bringing light to such an important, but not often discussed topic.

    As an ObGyn Physician, it is good to know that our country is recognizing a problem and searching for solutions. My practice is an ally of the CMQCC, and their recommendations influence our practice on a daily basis.

    Great job Alexa and “Thank you!” to the amazing ladies who shared their stories !!

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