I was 27 years old when I got pregnant for the first time. My husband was in the military at the time, which meant my care was fully covered. I started care as soon as I got the positive test results. I chose the hospital I wanted to give birth in. I took a tour of the place. I never saw a bill.
But hundreds of thousands of women across the country have much different experiences. Women aren’t given choices, are scared to assert themselves, and sadly, many of them are dying during childbirth. Model and advocate Christy Turlington Burns joined a #BlogHer15: Experts Among Us panel Saturday afternoon to share how her organization, Every Mother Counts, is hoping to change that.
“We are told [childbirth is] supposed to be a joyful experience,” said Yasmeen Hassan, global executive director of Equality Now and panel moderator. “[But] for many, many women around the world, pregnancy and childbirth is something that is fraught with dangers… and even death.”
Turlington Burns said that while maternal deaths have declined globally, they are actually on the rise in the United States. Only seven other countries have seen an increase.
“Why women are dying here when we have made so much progress in the last 100 years is frightening and surprising,” she told a group of nearly 2,000 bloggers and media professionals.
Turlington Burns showcased a new series, Giving Birth in America, which followed a group of young women in New York as they shared their birth stories. Stories that, frankly, surprised me.
Chanel Porchia-Albert, founder and executive director of Brooklyn-based Ancient Song Doula Services, said the stories are all too common. Women are rushed to have C-sections, whether they want them or not, and many are often afraid to question the medical professionals.
“With low-income women of color, it happens more often than not,” she said. “We have to start thinking about the approach to care. It’s important for an individual to feel like they have options, to feel like they have choices,” Porchia-Albert said.
Turlington Burns said her interest in maternal health issues began when she had complications during her own pregnancy.
Dr. Priya Agrawal, executive director of Merck for Mothers — who was also on Saturday’s panel — said “near misses” like Turlington Burns’ are all too common.
“It’s really important to remember that the maternal deaths in this country is the tip of the iceberg,” Agrawal said. Many women, she said, may experience a traumatic birth, from which they can actually suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.
While some women experience complications that are not preventable, Agrawal said, many more experience difficult births that are entirely preventable. Delay in seeking care and delay in access to care — many low-income women may not have the ability to make it to appointments — are just two reasons, she said.
“There are some things that absolutely shouldn’t be happening,” she said. And unlike when someone is taken to the hospital with something like a heart attack, there is not really a similar across-the-board standard for women experiencing pregnancy complications.
“We’re all working to make sure no woman dies while giving life,” Agrawal said.