I will never forget her face; the laboring patient in Room 4. Although it happened almost 20 years ago, her memory is forever etched in my mind.
She was older, perhaps in her 30’s and about to deliver her first child. We disconnected the fetal monitor from her abdomen, gathered her IV but the moment we sat her up as we unlocked her bed, she lost consciousness. Although it took less than a minute to transport her from the labor room into the delivery room, she lapsed into a coma. The OR nurse tore open the instrument tray as the chief and senior residents scrubbed and gowned. A code called to the delivery room needed no further explanation. They zapped her body several times with electrical paddles but there was still no pulse. While the Code Team did CPR on the other side of the drape, the chief and senior residents did the C. Section at reckless speed. When they pulled the baby out of his mother’s womb, he barely cried while I on the other hand, sobbed uncontrollably. I couldn’t believe that we had just lost a mother.
The baby lived but the autopsy revealed that his mother had an amniotic fluid embolism, which meant that either fluid or fetal cells entered her blood stream and essentially caused a heart attack. I will never, ever forget the look on her husband’s face, when we informed him that she had died. It was my first exposure to a maternal death as an obstetrician and thankfully my last.
For most families, Mother’s Day is a holiday but for others it’s a day of mourning. Each day thousands of women enter U.S. hospitals to give birth and two of those women will end up dead. One-third of all births end with complications and 92 women will have nearly missed death. This is totally unacceptable however, the seriousness of this condition has finally reached center-stage.
Several organizations, including Unexpected.com and Lucina Maternity have launched a campaign called “Save a Mother’s Life” to raise public awareness about preventable maternal deaths and start programs in an effort to reduce bad outcomes. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) have also jumped in with an independent program. It is now time for all of us to roll up our sleeves and become actively involved.
This blog is In memory of all the mothers who entered a hospital to have a baby but never returned safely back home.