Neonatal intensive care nurse Lauren Bloomstein had been on the receiving end of complicated pregnancies. It was her job. She took care of other people’s babies every day.
Her own pregnancy was not complicated. She delivered a 5-pound, 12-ounce daughter named Hailey on Oct. 1, 2012.
But 20 hours later, the 33-year-old, first-time mom was dead, according to a joint story by NPR and ProPublica.
Only U.S. rate rising
National Public Radio and ProPublica produced a six-month investigation series into maternal mortality. What they discovered was shocking, given that Americans enjoy — or should — the best care in the world.
Among their findings:
- In the United States, women are dying of pregnancy-related complications at a higher rate than in any other developed country. America is the only developed nation seeing this rate rise.
- 700 to 900 women die in the U.S. from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, and about 65,000 almost die — by many measures, the worst record in the developed world.
- American women are more than three times as likely as Canadian women to die in the maternal period (defined as the start of pregnancy to one year after delivery or termination); and six times as likely to die as Scandinavians.
- In Great Britain, The Lancet recently noted, the rate has declined so dramatically that “a man is more likely to die while his partner is pregnant than she is.” But in the U.S., maternal deaths increased from 2000 to 2014.
Bloomstein, who delivered in the hospital she worked among the colleagues she trusted, died from HELLP (hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, low platelet count) syndrome, which can lead to a hemorrhagic stroke. Hospital professionals thought the pain she was experiencing was reflux.
Many, varied reasons
There’s no clear “why” the U.S. is the only developed country where the rate of women dying of pregnancy-related deaths is rising. Among the reasons explored in the report:
- Half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so many women don’t address chronic health issues beforehand.
- More older pregnant women present with more complicated medical histories.
- Greater prevalence of C-sections lead to more life-threatening complications.
- Caregiver confusion about how to recognize worrisome symptoms and treat obstetric emergencies increases chance of error.
‘Can’t fathom it’
Hailey, now 5, has her mother’s brown hair and green eyes. Bloomstein’s widower, Larry, wanted to find out how one of the most common complications of pregnancy was missed repeatedly over two days, leading to her death. He has filed a complaint against the hospital.
Meanwhile, the licensing board found the hospital staff failed obstetrics guidelines and has called for mandatory training on preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome, among other steps.
“I can accept the amount of pain I have been dealt,” Larry told the news organizations. “But (her pain) is the one thing I just can’t accept. I can’t understand, I can’t fathom it.”