Who would you be if your mother had died in childbirth?

That was the question Dr. Priya Agrawal for Merck for Mothers posed to us over the weekend on a panel at BlogHer on raising awareness to help end maternal mortality.

Really think about your answer. It’s a terrible thing to contemplate. Growing up without a mother; or consider this — your children growing up without you. It’s so awful you just don’t want to think about it, right?

Did you know that every year in the UNITED STATES, 1 woman every 10 minutes experiences a “near miss” with death during childbirth? I found that stat kind of staggering. That means that many of my friends could have died in childbirth and it got me thinking about my own childbirth experience with my first son Nate.

So I’m sharing my story here today. Because awareness needs to be raised. According to Dr. Agrawal, 15-20% of all women will experience a pregnancy or childbirth complication. That’s A LOT of women. And here’s the piece I really got thinking about while I was sitting there listening to her chat: no one I know thinks they could be that emergency or takes childbirth as seriously as they should.

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My story
My first pregnancy was totally uncomplicated. It was so inconsequential that the most exciting thing I can tell you about it is that I gained almost 70 pounds because my co-worker and I used to go out during lunch almost every day and get a Dairy Queen Blizzard. (My son should thank me for his own love of Oreo Blizzards.)

I was 29 and healthy. I was due December 3rd and eager to meet our boy. And like manyMoms, I was impatient towards the end. I went past my due-date and remember asking my doctor at my 40 week appointment if I could be induced.

I had no medical reason to be induced. I was healthy; he was healthy. The bottom line was that everyone talks about induction and it seems like everyone gets induced so my attitude was eh, why not.

I’m not kidding you guys when I tell you that I walked into the hospital on December 9th to be induced without a worry in the world. I acted like I was walking in for a wisdom teeth extraction. Not easy, but not that huge of a deal, right? Everyone gives birth. Big whoop. How hard could it be to pop a baby out?

I did not take childbirth as seriously as I should have.

After several hours of induced labor, I started having VERY intense lower back labor pain. I remember asking a nurse something like, “can this be right? This REALLY hurts.

I won’t forget her snarky response: “honey, it’s labor. It’s supposed to hurt.”

I remember feeling humbled, quieted and like I wasn’t brave enough. Childbirth was a rite of passage; I was supposed to be strong and I was failing miserably because I complained about the pain when it was just “normal”.

Hours went on and the reason for my lower back labor was what caused me to later have complications – my son Nate was positioned “sunny side up,” meaning he was positioned to be delivered looking up at the ceiling rather than down towards the floor. On top of that, he was a good-sized baby (8 lbs, 12 oz) with a big head that was stuck in my pelvis. He wasn’t going to turn.

But they didn’t know any of that at the time. So, once I was able, I got the epidural and I started smiling again.

Wheeeeee life is good and the anesthesiologist is my new best friend! Yahoo!

22 hours went by. Then the next piece of this story comes to be. I vividly remember that I was playing Phase 10 the card game with my husband when the doctor on the next shift came in. (Since I was in labor for so long, I had gone through two doctors.)

“I want you to look at something,” he said kind of seriously.

He directed my attention to the machine that was monitoring Nate’s heart rate. He began to indicate a problem. Every time I had a contraction, Nate’s heart rate dropped. A lot.

He had me shift positions. “If things don’t change in the next 30 minutes, we’ll have to do a cesarian,” he said.

Say what? I was shocked. Truly. I had read nothing on c-sections while pregnant and I really didn’t know anyone who had had one or if I did, we had never discussed it.

And I never figured or considered that there may be any sort of problem during delivery.

The OB left and the room definitely got quieter. My husband, Mom and I watched the monitor pretty closely. I don’t really remember much after that but I do remember the nurses and doctor rushing in 30 minutes later with what was a sense of urgency.

They quickly handed my husband scrubs and told him to HURRY. (!!)

I remember feeling total and complete panic. I thought I was going to die. I said to the doctor, “I don’t want a c-section,” and his response was something like, you will risk your child’s life and yours if you don’t do this right now.

There was no calmness and the last thing I remember in the labor room was the nurses and doctor practically running me on a stretcher out the door and me shouting to my Mom to take care of our cats if I died and my husband was too upset to take care of them.

My son Nate was in extreme distress. So I had my c-section.

And it was awful. Not that c-sections are fun but it was messy and long and I almost threw up several times during the surgery. Nate’s heart rate kept dropping and my heart rate also got so low that they had to give me something to get me going again.

I remember them holding Nate up over the sheet to show me, “you have a boy,” and being really out of it. I was like, oh hey, he has red hair? (Turns out that was blood & his hair was brown.)

I didn’t get to enjoy recovery with him. I felt like I had done something wrong. Failed. What kind of woman can’t give birth? And what the heck had just happened?

Here I am in the post-surgery room holding Nate. I was crying because everything was so overwhelming. I still have a hard time looking at this photo without feeling emotional.

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Today I feel totally lucky and blessed that we both ended up okay.

I’ll also mention that my recovery was awful. I ended up in the ER a week later with severe dehydration & it took me months to recover both physically and emotionally. But I wasn’t the focus, Nate was. And I can see where something can happen to a Mom post delivery that she writes off; or that others don’t notice because hey, there’s a baby and that baby is the focus and “you just delivered a baby so you should feel crappy!”

In other words, suck it up Mom, you’re fine.

So here are the 3 things I learned are causing pregnancy and maternal-related deaths today in the US:
1. bleeding in pregnancy
2. hypertension (which can lead to preeclampsia)
3. pulmonary embolism (clot)

I think because we live in the US and we have good health care, we don’t consider that we are at risk too. And most states don’t have to report when it’s a pregnancy-related death so the awareness just isn’t there.

But our stories need to be shared and awareness needs to be raised.

Ryan Hansen from the Tara Hansen Foundation also shared his story over the weekend. His wife died 6 days after childbirth in 2011. Totally healthy previously, they were a happy couple living in New Jersey and about to have their first son. Tara knew something was wrong from the moment she was in the hospital recovering, yet she was released and went home for several days. It turned out that she had an infection and by the time she ended up back in the hospital it was too late.

We need to listen to our bodies. We need to speak up when we’re not heard or when someone makes us feel like we’re being silly and tells us we’re fine but we feel otherwise.

A couple more stats and then I’ll let you go. (If you’ve hung in this far, thank you! Share your story below.)

2/3 of all deaths in the US related to pregnancy and delivery happen AFTER childbirth. Everyone’s spending so much time fawning over the babies but we need to be paying attentions to the mother too.

Also, if you think these stats are just from poverty-stricken areas, you’re wrong. Did you know that a rich, educated black woman is 4 times more likely to die in childbirth than a rich, educated white woman. What? Why?

Share your story. Share my story. Share your friend’s story and check out MerckforMothers.com to see the amazing work they are doing in the US and worldwide to help #EndMaternalMortality


  1. Oh I am just crying!! That moment you met Nate, the photo, the feelings of being a failure because you couldn’t do it. I KNOW! I am sending you HUGS!! Many of them!! You are brave to share your true feelings and story.

    • Thank you so much for commenting and for sharing, Sarah! My story pales in comparison to yours – so important we keep telling our stories and helping to raise awareness!

  2. Boy , do I ever remember those moments when I was with you in the labor room. Every detail you describe up to being in surgery of course(I was relegated to a wait area at that point, of course) I recall as being of such concern. Abbie and I waited and watched through a round window as drs went in and out of the delivery room. We tried to analyze and interpret expressions on their faces. We even questioned one , as I recall , who indicated all was ok. It is so true that health concerns for both Mom and baby can and sometimes do arise. Childbirth can indeed cause complications, some severe. Very grateful you and Nate survived. A very good article, and one to hopefully enlighten and help raise awareness to this very real concern.

  3. I also almost died giving birth – it sounds so dramatic, but I should have, really. I lost so much blood I almost had to have a transfusion. I was torn to shreds inside and had surgery to repair and all sorts of complications during recovery. It is scary to think how many women died in childbirth before modern medicine.

    “We need to listen to our bodies. We need to speak up when were not heard or when someone makes us feel like were being silly and tells us were fine but we feel otherwise.” YES!!!! They left freaking packing inside me and didn’t know it and when I said I was in pain, they made me feel like I should suck it up. FIVE WEEKS after I had my baby, I went in to get it checked out and they found that rotting packing. How I didn’t have a serious infection is a wonder to us all. Needless to say, I changed doctors after that. ANYWAY. We have to trust our instincts and advocate for ourselves. Thank you for raising awareness.

  4. oh Whitney – the story had me but the picture brought me to tears. I love you and thank you for sharing this moment.

  5. And with Caleb – I lost so much blood that I passed out after having him and when I woke up I had 6 doctors around me and everyone was shouting and I couldn’t say what they wanted me to say because I was so weak but I knew that they needed me to respond. And I was just looking at them all thinking – I have to tell them what they want. But I couldn’t. So yes, I had a scary moment too. Luckily – I came out of it. But after three difficult pregnancy, I will not roll the dice again.

  6. Oh my friend – that picture of you brings me to tears…. I SO understand this completely. I’m so glad you are both ok….but I remember feeling just as you did….that childbirth was SUPPOSED to be painful and I was SUPPOSED to be tough. I too, nearly died. I hemorrhaged, lost more than 60% of my blood during delivery and though they THOUGHT I was in the clear (they gave me ‘enough morphine to knock out a 300 pound football player’ I was still complaining of being in extreme pain over and over again so Jeff finally went to the chapel to pray because they said it was normal until I finally BEGGED them to look) It turned out I had developed an internal hematoma and was bleeding where no one could see by looking at me. I had emergency surgery 5 hours after Delaney was born. I would have died in the room if I hadn’t continued to complain. We MUST continue to speak up. xoxo

  7. That photo. I feel like I’m in the room with you. So important to share this. THANK YOU!!!

  8. How scary! I’m glad everything turned out ok. I’m surprised anyone would take pregnancy or birth lightly. It is a very difficult and unpredictable process but it’s great you’re raising further awareness.

  9. Oh my goodness… what a scare!!!!

    Thank you for sharing your story and helping raise awareness of this important issue.

    I definitely do not fall in the group of those who don’t take giving birth seriously. I am a worrier and there’s nothing I took MORE seriously than giving birth.

    The chances that something can go wrong during birth are HUGE!!! I’m always shocked by how calm most people are about it.

    But I totally hear what you’re saying about people not paying enough attention to the moms AFTER they go home.

    With hospital costs so high, moms are rushed out of the hospital and often not given enough attention.

    I do hope this issue gets more news and attention and that lives are saved because of it.

  10. hi Whitney, thank you for sharing your story. I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet while we were both in NYC at BlogHer15. It is so important for individuals to tell their stories about their experiences with severe maternal complications. It is also critical for researchers to gather these stories so that this data can also be part of the scientific literature. My colleagues and I are conducting interviews with women who experienced severe complications (like hemorrhage or preeclampsia, 4th degree tears, infections, cardiac events, etc). We are happy to give you more information about our study or for anyone else who might like to participate. Please contact me at cmorton at stanford.edu for more details. Thank you again for sharing your story. Kind regards, Christine

    • Hard back labor 11hrs first child nothing fir pain.potcine is evil. Then c-section by myself. Hubby Army away. 8lbs 1oz. 5 yrs later they stop my labor staring nov thudec I said no more . My supposed premie jan 6 was 9lbs,13ozs. My husband said premature huh small pelvis so it was a c-section. Then vertical incision with 3 indv. Incisional hernia repairs. Till 2yrs march had a compartmental surgery fron hell .cut fron under boobs to hoo ha and across like a anchor. Had 3 total hernias . A bonus day sugery may after. And now I feel there will be another surgry. But at least I know the pain of hell I will be in.

  11. Although this is an older post – it struck a chord here. Our town ,Bethlehem PA , just lost a mama( to 4 beautiful babies) from complications with a c- section. I believe it was a blod clot.I didn’t know her but we found out through our elementary school. ( same school district) Our school is raising money to give to the family. It is so heart breaking. How wonderful that you are raising awareness.

  12. Something I would do all over again for my son…I have a blood clotting disorder, the higher the hormone level the higher the risk for blood clots. Because of this, I kept having miscarriages until my doctor discovered this clotting disorder. With that being known, I was on Lovenox (a safe blood thinner used during pregnancy) injections during my pregnancy with my son. I was to be on this medication until I was 36 weeks (so I wouldn’t bleed to death during childbirth). At 38 weeks, I had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right, even though my son was still very active. I was induced that week, and labor was going as planned until things changed and I needed a c-section. The second my son was out and my husband was over at his side, I no longer worried about blood clots. Before the doctor started stitching me up, a nurse came over to my head and told me that it was gonna take a while longer than usual because my uterus/stomach/placenta was full of clots that they had to suck out. Even after that, I didn’t worrying about clots because my son is the only thing on my mind. Two weeks later, I started getting a dull pain in my left side, I just thought it was because I slept wrong so I didn’t think anything of it. Three days later, I started getting that same pain in my right side also but I still didn’t think anything of it. We were visiting family that night, so I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. When we were leaving, it was becoming more painful to breathe by the minute. We were 45 mins away from the hospital and about 20 mins in to our ride home, the only thing I could get out of my mouth was “hospital”, so my husband started heading that way. Twenty minutes after that, I was in serious trouble, I couldn’t breathe at all, I just had tears running down my face because it hurt so bad but I couldn’t get a breath in to cry. We rushed to the ER which the waiting room was packed. They took me right in, put me on a breathing machine and read my test results within 30 mins to my surprise. I had bilateral pulmonary embolisms (multiple blood clots in both of my lungs). I never had clots in my lungs before that, just clots that caused my miscarriages so I didn’t know the severity of it. Once they read the tests, they started pumping me full of clot busters and I thought I would be able to go home that night. I had to stay a week but they let me go back to the maternity hall so I could use the nursery crib for my son since he was only two weeks old. Every day I was in there, my high risk obstetrician came in, stating he was wrong because he should have put me on a blood thinner right after my c-section but he didn’t. But yes, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat for my son.

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