Two weeks ago I heard about a New York man who had just lost his wife due to complications from a C-section after delivering twins, right here in New York City. Within five hours after giving birth to two healthy babies, she started to hemorrhage, and died. The celebration of two new lives was juxtaposed with a tragedy, and an overwhelming sense of loss. And it happened right here, in our backyard, at the very same hospital that a close family friend gave birth only a few weeks before.
Having researched maternal mortality for a few different classes (including this one) and interned for a maternal health organization for two semesters, I was aware of how many women were affected by this global epidemic. I knew that every minute another woman dies from pregnancy related causes. I knew that compared with the ratios from sub-Saharan Africa, where the risk can be as high as 1 in 7 women dying from pregnancy-related causes, the United States’ risk of 1 in 4800 was undeniably shocking but served to put things in perspective. I knew about the startling statistics that the United States ranks only 50th in terms of maternal health around the world. Yet regardless of all of these numbers that I knew, it was still a tremendous shock to hear about it happening right here, so close to home. Things like this remind us that although this is a global crisis, it can hit us much closer to home than we had ever imagined, and really alter the way we think about statistics like 1 in 4800.
Despite the fact that causes of maternal mortality can differ from country to country – sometimes from not enough medical intervention, and sometimes from too much – this is still an issue that affects all women, all around the world. And it is an issue that is yet to receive the global attention and prioritization it deserves. Hundreds of thousands of women die every year from pregnancy-related causes, and almost all of those deaths could have been prevented.
While the 99% versus 1% rhetoric seems to have infiltrated all aspects of social, economic, and political life these days, with people occupying Wall Street one day, and occupying the food movement the next, being a woman in the developed world makes me a part of a different kind of 1%, with a responsibility to call attention to another glaring disparity. Over half a million women die from pregnancy related causes every year, and 99% of these deaths occur in the developing world. This unfolding climate of the 99% versus 1% provides us with a new advocacy tool to elevate the fight against maternal mortality to becoming a local, national, and global priority. Recent happenings remind us that maternal mortality a heartbreaking tragedy that affects us right here, in New York City, and we are only 1% of this problem. It is time for maternal mortality to move to the forefront of the global conscience, because women dying from pregnancy-related complications every day is unacceptable here, and is unacceptable for the other 99% of women around the world.