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Tragic Loss of AZ State Treasurer's Wife and Newborn Son Brings Home Reality of Maternal Mortality

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The recent deaths of Arizona’s State Treasurer Dean Martin’s wife and baby boy have stunned the Phoenix community, reminding us of the risks of childbirth. Typically, the possibility of death while giving birth is far from a new mother’s mind. At least here in the United States, where we have a relatively low maternal death rate. However, what many people may not realize is that this rate is actually on the rise.

Nearly 600 women in the US die in childbirth each year. Back in the 1980’s and 90’s, maternal mortality was at a steady rate of 7 to 8 deaths for every 100,000 live births. According to the CDC, this rate increased to 12 to13 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2004. This rise of maternal deaths could correlate with the fact that more women are having children later in life, as well as the fact that there are more births by C-section which involve more risks.

Doctors don’t like to talk about losing patients, and the risk of dying while giving birth is an especially scary topic that is most often avoided. When Arizona State Treasurer Dean Martin publicly announced the death of his wife and newborn son just a couple of hours ago, he did not touch on the cause of their deaths. Instead, he mentioned that what had happened with his wife and son during the birth was a rare occurrence and that expectant women shouldn’t be worried. But with our country’s maternal death rate increasing, it would appear that we should be worried. And talking about it.

The loss of a mother in childbirth is tremendous, potentially impacting multiple generations of a family as well as the surrounding community. No matter what the national statistic is, 600 or fewer, we are still losing too many women. Especially when preventable. If we are willing to talk more about the reality of maternal death and to devote more resources to reviewing each death on a state level, we will be able to turn around the increasing maternal death rate and make motherhood much safer than it is today.

Add a Comment19 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

For more on maternal mortality, see Ina May Gaskin's website on the subject, rememberthemothers.net

October 7, 2009 - 3:34pm
EmpowHER Guest

It would appear that this tragic death was due to the ruptured tumor...therefore not a 'pregnancy related death'. Likewise, if the rising maternal mortality rate is linked to the higher cesarean rate, those deaths are surgically caused, not pregnancy related. They are 'maternal mortality' simple because a mother has died around the time of birth, but to then deem pregnancy and birth more dangerous, when it is actually a dangerous to have unnecessary surgery (because anything above 15% is unnecessary according to the WHO), is to cause mothers to fear pregnancy and birth instead of the real problem.

September 14, 2009 - 3:48pm
(reply to Anonymous)

I'm not so sure that the rising mortality rate is linked to the higher C-section rates. In my case, two of my three C-sections were performed to save my life. Thank goodness for C-sections or I (and my babies) would have been another pregnancy death statistic.

How do you know the tumor, in this particular case, wasn't related to the pregnancy (ie: the growth and/or rupture of the tumor)?

September 14, 2009 - 9:31pm
EmpowHER Guest

I can't believe what I'm reading. A man has just lost his wife and child and the first comment posted is about grammar! I tried to read through the rest and found nothing useful, just people interested in the sound of their own words. This is a great example of everything wrong with the internet.

July 15, 2009 - 1:33pm
EmpowHER Guest

It's ridiculous to say that this is just a "silly scare tactic". I think that the people who are saying this aren't associating the numbers with real people. Within those 600 women could be your wife, mother, girlfriend, sister, cousin, niece, or your best friend.. These are real people that we're talking about, not just numbers.

June 15, 2009 - 8:40am
(reply to Anonymous)


June 15, 2009 - 9:19am
EmpowHER Guest

Silly scare tactics... Be informative, don't put fear in minds.

People die. You point out freak occurences, and gave the impression that 13 in 100000 is a lot... And that the only reason they died was beceause of giving birth... I dont like it when people abuse information.

June 5, 2009 - 3:39am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

13 in 100,000 is a lot for a developed country, compared to what our own government says should be the expected maternal mortality rate: 4.3/100,000. For every maternal death, there are 50-70 'near-miss' events, and a larger number of severe maternal injuries. Maternal morbidity (injury) is the 4th leading cause of infant death in the US. Most women giving birth will be just fine, but although maternal death is rare, it is not a 'freak' occurrence -- most expert panels of maternal mortality estimate that between 50-70% of these deaths could have been prevented, through improvements in systems level responses (the right hospital; timely and relevant treatment for hemorrhage; clinician communication and training) as well as patient level factors. Most women giving birth are young, and healthy, and can withstand a lot of 'interventions' or 'errors' and survive. The point here is that death and injury are expensive in both financial and emotional terms and _unnecessary_. This is not scare tactics, but information based on data. Women going to the hospital to have a baby need a patient advocate at their side every bit as much as your grandmother. And we need to take the problem seriously because the trend is going in the wrong direction.

June 5, 2009 - 9:33am
(reply to Anonymous)

I agree with you, Anon, wholeheartedly. Whoever says we are putting out "silly scare tactics" has no idea what they're talking about, and quite frankly I find that comment extremely offensive when I think about the deaths that are happening that could be prevented.

We seriously have to take notice and determine why our maternal death rate as a nation is increasing, and why there is still such an alarming racial disparity. If we don't speak out about this and get our states to take a closer look at this problem, then more women will die unnecessarily.

June 5, 2009 - 10:26am
EmpowHER Guest

The maternal mortality rate in California has tripled in just 8 years. While rare events, maternal mortality is one the rise, and is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. For every death, there is an estimated 50-70 'near-miss' events, which are extremely costly in dollars but also in social and emotional impacts to the woman and her family. Racial disparities in this area are the largest of any public health issue -- African American women are 3-4 times more likely to die from childbirth related causes, yet are not at greater risk prenatally for these conditions: preeclampsia, eclampsia, abruptio placnetae, placenta previa and postpartum hemorrhage (see Tucker et al AJPH 2007).

The US has reached an historically high rate of cesarean section -- over 31%, and the mortality and morbidity rates have increased alongside this. Correlation is not causation but we have to seriously look at the types of interventions becoming routine in birth, and work to reduce non-medically necessary ones.

California is now conducting a statewide review of all pregnancy-related deaths, you can find more information at www.cmqcc.org.

June 1, 2009 - 12:56pm
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