As we celebrate Mother’s Day across the U.S. are you aware that there are approximately 800 families representing children who never met their mother because she died while giving birth?
I witnessed maternal death up close and personal only once as a resident physician in training but it’s an experience I’ll never forget.
The patient was in her late thirties, in labor with no apparent complications but in hindsight, her age and race (African American) were risk factors. Her blood pressure was normal, there was no unusual bleeding but when she became fully dilated and we wanted her to push, she stopped breathing. We rushed her from the labor room into the OR that became pure bedlam. A code was called, and an army of physicians rushed in and frantically pumped her chest, while my chief resident’s shaking hands grabbed the scalpel and delivered the baby at Olympian speed. The baby made it. The mother didn’t, and I collapsed into one of the nurses’ arms and burst into tears. The look on the husband’s face upon learning his wife died still haunts me to this day.
An autopsy revealed she died of an amniotic fluid embolism, meaning the fluid surrounding the baby had somehow made its way into her lungs and stopped her breathing.
I often wonder what happens to the families of the women who die in childbirth? How do those children feel looking at pictures of a mother they never knew? How do the older siblings feel knowing they will never see their mother again? My very own grandmother left this earth shortly after the birth of my youngest aunt because of peripartum cardiomyopathy. For years, my aunt felt guilty for “causing her mother’s death.”
Mother’s Day might be a celebration for some, but for others, it’s a day of mourning.
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