Women, Pregnancy, and "Downton Abbey": Has Anything Changed?

5 years ago

(Spoiler alert: If you didn’t watch the most recent episode and don’t want to know what happened, stop reading now.)

I also didn’t watch Downton Abbey this past Sunday -- but when I saw this letter to Lady Sybil Crawley I couldn’t help myself. I read it. And now I am utterly inconsolable and bereft. Where is a linen handkerchief when you need one?

For me, one of the enduring pleasures of the British series has been watching the fascinating Crawley sisters break out of their traditional female roles. Who would have imagined Edith -- annoying, whiny Edith -- actually had it in her to be a newspaper columnist? Yes, life for women is better now than it was in post-World War I Britain, circa 1920. But as Abigail Collazo notes in her post at Fem2pt0, women today still face similar risks during pregnancy.

You may be wondering what, exactly, killed you. It’s a condition know as eclampsia. First, you had preeclampsia, evidenced by high blood pressure accompanied by a high level of protein in the urine. Untreated, preeclampsia becomes eclampsia, which is the final and most severe phase, often leading to seizures, coma, and death. We don’t know – even now –- exactly what causes it. Only that being diagnosed early with preeclampsia and being treated for it lessens your chance of it developing. As one of your doctors noted: “once the seizures begin, there’s nothing to be done.”

Here in the United States, pregnancy is still a huge risk to both mother and child. The U.S. is ranked 50th in the world for maternal death rates, and that’s just because we’ve been steadily declining (death rates nearly doubled between 1990 and 2008. Compare that to the fact that worldwide, maternal death rates were nearly cut in half during approximately that same period). Every year there are 6 million pregnancies, which basically means every year almost 6 million women are exposed to an enormous number of life-threatening conditions.”

I had a lot of complications during my first pregnancy with my son, and could have easily died in childbirth. It's staggering that the U.S. has such a high maternal death rate. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what can be done about it.

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