By: Erika Werner, MD
On average, two to three women die each day in the United States during childbirth or shortly thereafter. As Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) physicians, we often cannot speak openly about individual tragedies because we want to respect confidentiality and privacy, but do not mistake this silence for a desire for these stories to be hidden. The loss of a mother is devastating.
As an expert in high-risk pregnancy, I want to commend Nina Martin, Emma Cillekens, and Alessandra Freitas for so eloquently sharing the stories of women who died as a result of pregnancy or childbirth in ProPublica’s recent “Lost Mothers,” article. I grieve with and for these families.
The stories shared underscored an important, but sad reality: most maternal deaths are preventable. Too often, maternal deaths result not from a single medical error, but from a system failure. A growing number of women come into pregnancy sick. They are obese, have diabetes, untreated substance use disorders or mental health conditions. Many never intended to become pregnant. And once pregnant, face barriers accessing appropriate, timely, affordable medical care. This is especially true for low-income women and minorities.
As clinicians, we fight every day to diagnose and treat illness in pregnancy, to encourage appropriate inter-pregnancy intervals, and to limit caesarean deliveries, all of which are associated with maternal mortality risk. We also advocate for changes in the health care financing and delivery system so that no woman dies while becoming a mother.
Erika Werner, MD is a maternal-fetal medicine physician at Women & Infants Hospital at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. She is a member of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, the only national, professional organization specifically devoted to reducing high-risk pregnancy complications. Dr. Werner’s research interests include obstetrical complications of obesity, gestational diabetes, operative deliveries and preterm birth.