the state

– of dying in birth. by vastate
Tuesday, 26 May 2009, 22:38
Filed under: -of civil rights, -of health, -of human rights, -of jhumphrey, -of kiddos, -of politik

i cannot shake an image from last sunday’s new york times.

it is of a group of boldly clad women.  their hands reaching down to throw dirt on a small grave.  the grave of a stillborn infant.

see the amazing photos of beatrice de gea here.  the photo i describe above is the last in the slideshow.


A father holds his baby after his wife died in childbirth in Moshi, Tanzania. “Too many die, too young,” said a doctor worried about maternal deaths.

the UN and other international health organizations regularly use maternal and infant mortality rates to gage the general health of a nation.

maybe, somehow, we expect tanzania to be unhealthy.  we can read this story and cry a little.  but still feel happily detatched.

but what about us?  what about the united states?  women don’t die having babies here, right?

not so much.

in short, we suck.

despite the billion and billions we spend in healthcare dollars, we rate low (in infant mortality rates) among industrialized nations:

infant mortality chart

we also have major issues with maternal mortality.  last year, i was contacted by ina may gaskin to participate in a study by Amnesty International on maternal mortality.


i was interviewed regarding the pregnancy health of high risk ethnic populations.  here, womens’ health expert, christine northrup, md, discusses ina may’s research:

In the early 1990s, Ina May began to research maternal death rates in the U.S. She was concerned that with escalating hospital birth interventions, such as induced labors and planned C-sections, the rates of maternal deaths would rise dramatically despite the profound medical advances enjoyed by people in the United States. Her research shows that 41 countries have lower maternal death rates than the U.S.

It is well known that the maternal death rate in any given population is a very good indicator of the overall health status of that population. Same with infant mortality. Thus, it was especially shocking when Ina May found that the maternal death rate has actually doubled in the last 25 years. It was 7.5 per 100,000 live births in 1982. In 1999, that rate had risen to 13.2 deaths per 100,000 births. By 2005, it was up to 15.1 per 100,000 live births! In some New York City hospitals, it’s higher still. Moreover, Hispanic and Black women continue to have much higher maternal death rates—perhaps four times as high or higher.

sorry, did you get that?

if you are a hispanic or black woman you are 4 times more likely to die during childbirth than your white counterparts.  4 times.

and we really don’t have a plan to fix this issue.  we’ve been sitting on it since 1982.  here are the fact from ina may’s website:

  • At least 30 other countries have lower maternal death rates than the U.S.
  • There has been no reduction in the maternal death rate in the U.S. since 1982.
  • The CDC acknowledges that we have a massive problem of underreporting of maternal deaths in the U.S. and that our reported rate may be only 1/3 to 1/2 of the actual total number.
  • Maternal death rates are four times as high in the African-American community as in the Caucasian community.
  • There is no federal requirement that the states carry out a confidential review of all maternal deaths in order to be sure that all are counted, to analyze the principle causes of preventable deaths and to make policy recommendations to prevent such deaths in the future. In most countries with lower maternal death rates than ours, maternal deaths are systematically reviewed and there are lower levels of underreporting of such deaths than the CDC says we have in the U.S.


i am keeping those images close:  the stillborn babe.  the left behind new father.

how do we work on ourselves while also addressing the needs of the world beyond?


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thanks, Jill.

Mike Davis’s book, Planet of Slums, and Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine make it clear that the crucial move, globally, to heighten poverty and infant/maternal mortality was the gutting of governmental health programs, et al. It’s no coincidence that in the US, the date you cite, 1982, marks the early years of the “Reagan revolution.”

There seems like a direct correlation between the gutting of governmental programs (“government is the problem, not the solution”), the explosive growth in the wealth of a few capitalists at the top of the heap, and the tragic (or, is it better said, evil) growth of the kinds of public health problems you discuss.

Comment by Boss

Your question was: “how do we work on ourselves while also addressing the needs of the world beyond?” I’ve come to see something I once perceived as very separate paradigms ‘become’ more and more related, the more I examine and discuss and live.

Comment by Daniel Showalter

That is to say, to work on one’s self is to work on the “whole” world. That’s how connected I have come to see it. Sorry for being unclear in the last post.

Comment by Daniel Showalter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: