Speakers from across the country and from all walks of life came to the March for Moms in Washington, DC, with a single goal: motivating society to improve the lives of mothers, babies and birthing families. Held on May 6 on the National Mall, this was the second such annual event, led by the Yellow Chair Foundation and a coalition of organizations including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses and the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
This year, the resounding cry from the stage time and again was for participants to support H.R. 1318, the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2017. The Act would authorize $7 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help states establish or strengthen maternal mortality review committees. A day of advocacy in Washington also was planned by organizers for Tuesday, May 8, with visits to policymakers on Capitol Hill to encourage passage of H.R. 1318.
“We want to get the Act passed this month and that’s challenging, given all that’s going on in Washington right now, even though this is a totally bipartisan issue,” said Neel Shah, MD, Vice President of the Board of March for Moms. An assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School, he noted that mothers have been dying at increasing rates in the United States for the last 20 years.
According to a handout distributed at the March for Moms to raise awareness of issues in modern maternity care:
- The US has the highest maternal mortality of any industrialized country.
- American Indian/Alaskan Native and non-Hispanic black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to suffer maternal death than white women.
- As many as 21% of pregnant women experience moderate to severe symptoms of depression or anxiety.
- Maternal mortality rates are 3 to 4 times higher for women who do not receive prenatal care.
- More than half of all maternal deaths are preventable.
Several of the speakers related their own personal stories of survival of perinatal complications while others spoke about maternal deaths in their own families.
Eleni Tsigas, CEO of the Preeclampsia Foundation, spoke about surviving preeclampsia not once but twice, noting that 1 in 10 pregnancies are affected by hypertension. Marie McCausland, also a preeclampsia survivor, said of maternal morbidity, we “need to stop saying it could be worse and demand to make it better.”
Charles Johnson wept as he described the passing of his wife, Kira, in 2016 due to complications after a routine cesarean delivery. Wanda Irving’s retelling of the loss of her only child, Shalon Irving, underscored how even education, insurance, and a support system are not enough to ensure survival. An epidemiologist for the CDC, Shalon died 3 weeks postpartum of complications from hypertension. Whatever the circumstances, as ProPublica reporter Adriana Gallardo said, “the death of an expectant mother blasts a hole in the universe.”
Among the speakers bringing the perspective of clinicians on the frontlines of care were ACOG President Lisa M. Hollier, MD, Mary D’Alton, MD, and Aaron Caughey, MD. Dr. Hollier made an impassioned plea for ob/gyns to press for change to save mothers’ lives. Dr. D’Alton, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, shone a spotlight on the unacceptability of racial inequalities in maternal morbidity and mortality. Dr. Caughey, Professor and Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Oregon Health & Science University, described the Oregon Perinatal Collaborative’s work on developing guidelines and policies in that state to improve outcomes for women and babies.
Summing up the event, Contemporary OB/GYN Editorial Board member Christian M. Pettker, MD, Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences and Chief of Obstetrics, Yale School of Medicine and Yale-New Haven Hospital, said, “It’s fitting that we remember lost mothers in a city full of memorials. We heard about both personal and professional interests and the personal stories were so important. Family members, patients and practitioners all are asking for better funding and changes in legislation to help mothers.”