As a follow up to the information presented within the documentary The Business of Being Born (screened by the Women’s Resource Center earlier this semester), I came across an article on Alternet.org which discusses the increased rates of maternal death in California. It begins by asserting that “The mortality rate of California women who die from causes directly related to pregnancy has nearly tripled in the past decade, prompting doctors to worry about the dangers of obesity in expectant mothers and about medical complications of cesarean sections.”
One physician attributed this increase to more consistency and accuracy in the reporting of maternal deaths. A study cited in the article, however, indicates that the increase of maternal deaths is strongly correlated with the increase of cesarean sections rather than obese mothers, older mothers and fertility treatments alone. “It’s hard to ignore the fact that C-sections have increased 50 percent in the same decade that maternal mortality increased,” stated Shabbir Ahmad, the scientist in California’s Department of Public Health who organized the task force that conducted the study.
The task force is attempting to take this information and find tangible solutions to the growing problem of maternal death in California from the approach that it is easier to improve medical care than to fix more overarching societal issues like poverty and obesity. In some places, maternal care is being improved through efforts to ensure that no elective C-sections take place before 41 weeks of pregnancy. According to a report issued by the advocacy group Childbirth Connection, “Six of the 10 most common procedures billed to Medicaid and to private insurers in 2005 were maternity related.”
This alarming, yet familiar, study of medicalized childbirth practices is but another example of the way in which the current healthcare system is favoring profits over patient care. At what point will the rate of maternal deaths be enough to invoke a full-scale overhaul of the way we choose to handle childbirth in this country? Perhaps we should take a page from the books of many European countries which have much lower infant/mother mortality rates and cesarean sections and, consequently, much high rates of home birth. Either way, something has to change.