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Insights from mothers who almost died show importance of speaking up

By WITW Staff on August 3, 2017

In the six months since ProPublica and NPR launched a project focused on maternal deaths and near-deaths in the United States, they have heard from 3,100 women. All the women had experienced life-threatening pregnancy and birth complications, with many still enduring long-lasting physical and emotional fallout.

Survivors were asked what they wished they had known ahead of their severe complications? How was their recovery aided? How did they impress their sense something was wrong on medical professionals?

Some of those insights have now been shared, in the women’s own words. Many of the women reported knowing little to nothing about the complications that almost killed them. And even when they felt convinced something was very wrong, doctors and nurses were sometimes slow to believe them.

“If you have a hemorrhage, don’t clean up after yourself!” suggested 30-year-old Valerie Bradford, who survived a hemorrhage in 2016. “If the doctor had seen the pools of blood himself, rather than just being told about them, he might not have been so quick to dismiss me.”

A mother is seen on the operation table next to her new baby moments after a Caesarean delivery. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

“I wish I would have known what high blood pressure numbers were,” 36-year-old pre-eclampsia survivor Melissa McFadden recalled. “I had a pharmacist take my blood pressure at a pharmacy and let me walk out the door with a blood pressure of 210/102. She acted like it was no big deal (‘it’s a little high’), and so I believed her. Even after telling my husband, we really thought nothing of it.”

“My swelling in my hands and feet never went away,” recalls Brandi Miller, 32, describing her experience of placenta accreta and hemorrhage in 2015.  “My uterus hadn’t shrunk. I wasn’t bleeding that bad, but there was a strange odor to it. My breasts were swollen and my milk wasn’t coming in. I was misdiagnosed with mastitis. The real problem was that I still had pieces of placenta inside my uterus. Know that your placenta should not come out in multiple pieces. It should come out in one piece. If it is broken apart, demand an ultrasound to ensure the doctors got it all. If you have flu-like symptoms, demand to be seen by a doctor. If you don’t like your doctor, demand another one.”

Read more survivor’s stories at NPR.

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