By Allison Stevens
Friday, June 25, 2010
My mother survived childbirth dangers that would have killed her 100 years ago, giving me a keen appreciation for modern medicine. But an alarming number of U.S. women are still dying in an apparently anachronistic way. We need a U.S. action plan.
(WOMENSENEWS)--When I was a kid, my family and I used to make a parlor game out of the question, "What would life have been like if we had lived a century ago?"
It always made for an interesting game, so long as we skipped over the fact that most of us would not have made it into the world in those days.
That's because my mother and sister most likely would have died in childbirth, preventing my brother from ever even being conceived. The only offspring with decent odds of existing was me, a girl who would have grown up without a mother or any siblings.
Back in the 1970s, my mom was a young healthy woman--she was training to be a physical education teacher--who was pregnant for the first time with twins.
The problem was, she didn't know she was carrying twins and neither did her doctor. Ultrasound was rudimentary back then and the doctor was hardly an expert sonogram reader. He saw me (and yes, it had to be me!) on that fuzzy black and white screen all those years ago, but missed my sister.
The pregnancy weighed heavily on my mom's petite frame and she asked her doctor if she could possibly be having twins.
"No dear," he simply said. "You're just pregnant, Princess."
My mom went into labor and delivered me without a problem. But the doctor was not prepared for the arrival of my sister. There was no second set of neonatal tools; there wasn't even the realization that she was on her way.
After I was born, the doctor was preparing to sew up my mother's episiotomy when the medical intern who was holding her legs in place (mom says they didn't use stirrups then) turned to the doctor and said something to the effect of: "Stop! There's another one in there!"
The doctor reached in and pulled out my sister, who had been deprived of oxygen for two minutes because her umbilical cord, which was separate from but fused to mine, had detached from the uterine wall. Since no one had prepared for a second birth, oxygen was not immediately available for my sister. She spent the first day and a half of her life in the intensive care unit, but made it out alive.
If the intern hadn't notified the doctor, she probably wouldn't have survived. My mother's life might have been jeopardized too and I would have lost my best friend.
Four years later, my mother was having another difficult delivery. My 10ish pound baby brother's head got stuck in the birth canal and two doctors had to pry him out with forceps. My mom couldn't have an epidural because the doctors feared it would stop the contractions and further endanger both of their lives. Somehow they both made it through that gruesome delivery.
This modern-day happy ending always left us glad that we were born in the 20th century in the United States.
The surprising reality is that not everyone in modern-day America gets a happy ending.
More than two women die every day--every day--during pregnancy and childbirth in the United States, according to Amnesty International. Low-income, African American and immigrant women suffer disproportionately.