Nature is not always nice…

You hear it all the time – “pregnancy is natural,” “childbirth is natural.” The not always unspoken subtext is ‘what’s wrong with you – this should be easy,’ or ‘if you’d done everything right, you’d be fine,’ or ‘what’s your problem?!’, or even, ‘shut the hell up, you’re scaring the newbies.’

In the film SISTER, by Brenda Davis, about death in childbirth, a Cambodian midwife says

Pregnancy is like crossing a river. When you cross a river there could be wind or rain. The river is unpredictable. We don’t know it we will be able to cross it or not. You are not able to foresee the obstacles. Giving birth is the same.

Why do Americans think we’ve got it all under control?

Of course childbirth is natural, but sometimes nature is not so nice.

I was with my mother when the oncologist told her she had maybe six months. There was nothing she or we, or anyone could do, and she should go home and settle her affairs. He clearly did not know my mother. We drove straight to the natural foods store and bought a juicer, a case of produce – kale, cucumbers, apples, pears, oranges, carrots, ginger, three or four books on how to cure cancer with a natural diet, and loose teas that my son said looked like someone scooped up the forest floor.

In an instant, my Iowan, casserole making, cookie-baking, Jello salad queen/mother gave up meat, dairy, alcohol, refined white flour, sugar, and possibly – many people thought – her sanity.

We juiced for the three weeks I was home. We glowed. We both dropped weight, and looked (and felt) great. She was the picture of health. She had cancer by the throat.

At church a few weeks later, her good friend came up to offer support. As the friend hobbled towards us, she hacked up half a lung. She put her hand on my mother’s shoulder, turned away, hacked again, then back, and whispered, “I am so sorry to hear the news.” In our close-knit Lutheran community, word and prayer travelled fast. My mother looked bewildered but per usual said “thank you,” and inquired about her friend and the friend’s husband. He was home sick. After a litany of complaints (diabetes, arthritis, bad back, hips, a cough she could not shake), the friend hugged my mother, hacked some more and hobbled off.

My mother turned to me and said, “Don’t get me wrong. I love her, but I’m not the one who’s dying.” It was true. My mother lived another full and vibrant five years. She swore by her new dietary regime, she looked and felt good for most of the time, and she successfully integrated Western medicine (several rounds of chemo) with alternative healing modalities. My mother lived every day right up until the one she died.

When you hear the word cancer – you assume death is part of the equation – you prepare for it, you educate yourself, and you fight for your health. When you hear the word pregnancy; death is the furthest thing from your mind.

I am the last person to suggest diet and exercise don’t matter. I witnessed first-hand the power of healthy eating, alternative medicine, and a positive attitude. I am a believer; good nutrition and self-care saves lives – with cancer, pregnancy, and all areas of health. I am the first person to tell a woman who wants to have a baby that being in good shape increases her odds of a healthy pregnancy. I’m the last one to say, if a woman has had a traumatic pregnancy experience, lost her baby, or lost her life; that something she did caused it. That is reprehensible and whether it is said, or implied, it has to stop.

There are factors we can control to reduce maternal death and near-miss in the US – reduce unnecessary caesarians, unnecessary inductions, screen and support women for postpartum depression, get good prenatal care, treat your hypertension, diabetes, excess weight, reduce stress, give your body time to recover between pregnancies, avoid pregnancy when you are very young or of “advanced maternal age“, eat well, and of course don’t drink alcohol or do drugs. You can find clinical evidence to back just about any theory you subscribe to, but sometimes the demands of the heart trump clinical evidence. I am no one to judge. I am not saying if you do or don’t do these things that you messed up. I am saying if you do decide to take on pregnancy – know your personal risk factors and what you can do to mitigate them.

I’m saying sometimes, despite it all, nature trumps us.

I know of too many women who died in childbirth and played by the rules to trot out the ‘pregnancy is natural’ – ‘childbirth is natural’ mantra. When you imply that there is something she did (or didn’t do) to cause her death or near-death experience in childbirth – you are adding insult to injury. If you look at our banner on our website you see the faces of women of just a few of the women who died in the US due to complications of pregnancy. We lose two to three a day; nearly one thousand a year. It pretty quickly shatters the myth that the ‘only women who die in pregnancy in the US’ brought it on themselves.

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This is Shelly Warner Bridgewater. This is the only photo of her with her daughter before Shelly died January 16, 2005.

Instead of judging women for their choices (and realities), we need to support all pregnant women, and their families, with education, practical help, and listening. The best thing you can do for a woman (or family member) impacted by pregnancy-related death and near-death in the US is just listen – let them share their story. Let them talk. Too often near-death survivors are told to keep the bad news to themselves, as if they somehow jinx a healthy pregnancy by sharing some bad juju. The worst thing you can do is judge her.

I truly believe my mother bought herself five more years of relatively good health due to healthy eating and a positive attitude. She wasn’t gone in six months, but she still died. We all do.

Of course pregnancy is natural, of course childbirth is natural, but then again, so is death.

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Save a Mother’s Life

If you are a survivor of a woman who died as the result of a pregnancy complication, or are a woman who survived a near-death experience in pregnancy – join us at our very first Survivors Forum, April 30, 2014, in San J

The Unexpected Power of Listening

In 1996, I was a stay-at-home mom. I loved it.

Long before I help found the Preeclampsia Foundation, the International Preeclampsia Alliance, the Lake Washington Schools Foundation and the Microsoft Alumni Foundation, I made Nutella sandwiches and messy art projects, changed diapers, cheered at football games and drove carpool. I was very, very lucky. I was pregnant with my third child, the wife of a Microsoft Senior Director, at the height of the boom, with a beautiful home in Bellevue, WA’s Bridal Trails neighborhood, a super cool Chevy Suburban with a sticker that said, “Alaska Girls Kick ***“. (Thank you, Laura Muller).

I was beyond lucky. I was blessed.

On October 1, two weeks shy of my due date, during a routine prenatal exam, I noticed my blood pressure, typically 90/60, was high-ish (138/88) and pointed it out to my doctor. She looked back at my chart and nodded that yes, it was sort of high for me, and I mentioned that my proteinuria dipstick test showed “trace” protein (full disclosure — I’d tested it myself when sent off to collect a sample). She reviewed the chart again and nodded, “Trace. You could be developing preeclampsia.. .which you’ve had before.”

I felt “off” and my doctor knew me and trusted me. I was sent to Overlake Hospital to induce and deliver my baby.

Twelve hours later, during an emergency caesarian section, I nearly died. The doctor, the woman who saved my life, was not the obstetrician, or a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, but a regular family doctor. She saved my life by recognizing how very dangerous preeclampsia can be — that there is no such thing as “mild” preeclampsia; she saved my life by sitting with me from the time she got off work at the clinic at 5:00 p.m. until 4:30 a.m. when I was finally stabilized. She never left my side. She saved my life by knowing when to escalate care, when to get a consult with the MFM on-call, but mostly, by listening to me.

The beautiful woman below was not so lucky. Tatia Oden French and her baby died on the operating table following an amniotic fluid embolism. She was induced, as I was. She had a caesarian section, as did I. I walked away. She didn’t.

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Tatia Malika Oden French 6/14/69 – 12/28/01
Zorah Allie Mae French 12/28/01 – 12/28/01

As women all around the world know, women die in childbirth. Had I had my children even just 50 years ago, I might have died. Had I had my children at home, I might have died. Had I had any other doctor — one who hadn’t listened — I might have died. Had I not had my caesarian section, I might have died.

The medical advances that save lives saved mine, but the thing that truly saved my life was that someone listened to me when I said, “something is not right.”

Jennifer Binkley Carney and I started the Unexpected Project to make a documentary and share the voices of the 58,000+ women a year in the U.S.A. who nearly died in childbirth, and to remember the 1,000, like Tatia, who do.

Between the filming and the online forum we realized again and again the power of the simple act of sharing one’s story — the power to heal.

We were stunned/grateful/gobsmacked when Lucina Maternity Foundation offered to help us take the Survivors Forums offline and into real life.

Thanks to them, this April 30th, in San Jose, CA, is the Unexpected Project Survivors Forums for survivors of all kinds of pregnancy-related trauma and death — the first of its kind. Ever. It’s to let women learn, connect and heal. And this is just the first of many Survivors Forums to be hosted around the country. There are no big names here (though big names are welcome), and the doctors, midwives and doulas that are joining us are there to listen.

The real experts are the survivors and we are coming together to help others, and ourselves, understand what happened, and what is happening on a local, state, and national level of this maternity crisis.

This would not be possible without our amazing sponsors: Lucina, Andrew Basch of Morgan Stanley, Advanced Prenatal Therapeutics and the Sobrato Family Foundation) and supporters (California Quality Maternal Care Consortium, (Shelly Bridgewater Dreams Foundation, the Tara Hansen Foundation, Amniotic Embolism Foundation) and Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP), the Tatia Oden French Foundation, as well as the California Mental Health Collaborative (now the 2020 Moms Project). We are also incredibly grateful for the work of Amnesty International, Every Mother Counts, and Merck for Mothers in making safe pregnancy in the US a priority.

JOIN US at the first Survivors Forum and as a bonus, we are crowd-filming, bringing survivors together so we can film interviews for the film and for our next big thing. We’re not done — not by a long shot.

Join us, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. You can save a mother’s life — simply by listening.

My Mother’s Gift

When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, the first thought is, “Am I going to die?”
When a woman finds out she’s pregnant, she doesn’t think, “Am I going to die?” It is the furthest thing from her mind.

Me - back when my mother still had influence over my hairstyle.

Me – back when Anne’s mother still had influence over her hairstyle.


My mother left me a lot of things — children’s books, family photos, reams of music, her heavily annotated copy of The Messiah, art, 19 years’ worth of teaching supplies, linens, more linens, my great-aunt’s Spode china, a love of Brubeck, a sense of rhythm and most importantly, the ability and desire to spontaneously burst into song. Trust me… it is scary.

Read the rest of Anne’s latest Huffington Post piece here

Register for the Survivors Forum in San Jose, CA

You are not alone. You do not need to be alone. There are other people (survivors) who get why you avoid baby showers, or why you worry when someone you love is pregnant – maybe worry too much. There are survivors who get that you both want to tell your story – the unabridged story – and you never want to think about it again. You are a survivor and you are invited to join OTHER survivors of pregnancy-related near-miss and death in a safe place to share your experiences, learn from experts, and find a way to make sense of what happened.
 

Eventbrite - Unexpected Project Survivors Forum

We have exciting news to share, and we plan to film 1:1 interviews for the documentary UNEXPECTED. Please join us.

Every mother, every time. Postpartum depression is no joke.

Suicide is a leading cause of death for women during the first year after childbirth. 1 in 7 women will experience a mood or anxiety disorder during pregnancy or postpartum, yet nearly 50% remain untreated. In pregnancy, maternal mental illness negatively effects fetal development, and leads to adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight and premature delivery. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) can impair infant and early childhood cognitive and emotional development. Despite overwhelming empirical evidence, there is no universal mandate for care providers to screen pregnant and postpartum women for depression, anxiety, or family history of mental illness–a well established risk factor. Join us at the Unexpected Project in supporting the work of Walker Karraa and postpartum healthcare advocates who are calling for universal screening for postpartum depression – Every mother, every time.  Screen every mother, every time to prevent and treat perinatal mental illness.

Every mother, every time – Please show your support and sign!

WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO:

Every mother, every time. Universal mental health screening for every pregnant and postpartum woman.

Suicide is a leading cause of death for women during the first year after childbirth. 1 in 7 women will experience a mood or anxiety disorder during pregnancy or postpartum, yet nearly 50% remain untreated. In pregnancy, maternal mental illness negatively effects fetal development, and leads to adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight and premature delivery. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) can impair infant and early childhood cognitive and emotional development. Despite overwhelming empirical evidence, there is no universal mandate for care providers to screen pregnant and postpartum women for depression, anxiety, or family history of mental illness–a well established risk factor. Screen every mother, every time to prevent and treat perinatal mental illness.

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/every-mother-every-time-universal-mental-health-screening-every-pregnant-and-postpartum-woman/rG1jLyYj

Link

SAN JOSE, Calif., March 28, 2014 – The Unexpected Project, a national movement to raise awareness and foster discussion about maternal death and near-death in the U.S., announces its Survivors Forum, a first-of-its-kind gathering of survivors, families, and friends of pregnancy-related death and near-miss in the United States. The Forum will take place Wednesday, April 30, 2014, at the Sobrato Center for Nonprofits, adjacent to Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California. The conference is sponsored in part by the Lucina Maternity Foundation, whose mission is to reduce preventable maternal and infant deaths and injuries by improving the delivery of maternal health care.

Every year, approximately 58,000 women and their families survive a harrowing brush with death during or in the weeks following their pregnancy. Every day, two to three women are not so lucky. Because these deaths and near-misses are rare, families and friends often do not have information and support from people who really understand: the people who’ve been there.

Read the rest here…

 

Did you have a traumatic childbirth experience or lose someone? Join us!

In 1996, I was a stay-at-home mom. I loved it.

Long before I help found the Preeclampsia Foundation, the International Preeclampsia Alliance, the Lake Washington Schools Foundation, and the Microsoft Alumni Foundation, I made Nutella sandwiches and messy art projects, changed diapers, and drove carpool. I was very, very lucky. I was the wife of a Microsoft Senior Director with a beautiful home in Bellevue’s Bridal Trails, driving a Chevy Suburban with sweet heated leather seats, and expecting my third baby. I was beyond lucky. I was blessed.

On October 1, two weeks shy of my due date, during a routine prenatal exam, I noticed my blood pressure, typically 90/60, was high for me (138/88) and I pointed out to the doctor that my proteinuria dipstick test showed “trace” protein. I was hardly what one would call – really sick – but my doctor knew me and trusted things were ‘off’. I was sent to Overlake Hospital to induce and deliver my baby.

That is when I nearly died.

An affluent, well-insured, married, educated, white woman with the best of care. No doctor messed up. I just nearly died after twelve hours of labor, during an emergency caesarian. I crashed on the table. I walked towards the light.

As women all around the world know – this happens.

In November 2011, Jennifer Binkley Carney and I started the Unexpected Project to make a documentary that shares the voice of the 58,000+ women a year in the U.S.A. who nearly die in childbirth, and to remember the 1,000 who do; and in 2013 we joined with Lucina Maternity Foundation to launch the Unexpected Project Survivors Forums – a safe place for survivors of all kinds of pregnancy-related trauma and death – to learn, connect, and heal.

Did you know that the maternal death rate in Texas is comparable to that of Somalia? We’re watching you, Texas!!

We know awareness saves lives. We know access to good care saves lives. We know this film and these forums can save lives and heal hearts.

JOIN US at the first Survivors Forum – we are crowd-filming – bringing survivors together to us – so we can film interviews for the film AND provide a safe place for survivors to connect, learn, and heal. Register at www.unexpectedconference.org

Join us, Wednesday, April 30, 2014 and add your voice. You can change the system – you can make a difference simply by showing up.

Anne

 

Want to do something to actually save a woman’s life?

Did you know?

  • Postpartum depression is a leading cause of maternal death in the US (suicide)?
  • Pregnancy-related complications significantly increase the risk of postpartum depression?

What can you do?

Help her come to our first Survivors Forum, April 30, 2014, at the Sobrato Center for Nonprofits, San Jose, CA. 

If you are a survivor or know a survivor (widower, parents, child, friend, partner) of pregnancy-related death or near-miss – join us. You are not alone.

We are planning to host Survivors Forums around the US, in areas such as NY/NJ, Chicago, Seattle, and Miami areas. If you are interested in making that happen – email info@ unexpected project dot org or call 425-891-3309.

I Blame PEOPLE

Yeah, okay, it’s true. I read PEOPLE magazine. I need to keep up on, um, social trends like what dress looks best at the SAG awards. I’m taking notes. Seriously. 

Much to my husband’s chagrin, I can’t get through the check-out aisle without lingering over that top wire rack where PEOPLE sits – the latest issues – oh no, the one about Biggest Losers – stretching my fingers out to just touch, touch it, and linger over the cover.  Hey, he has his Sudoku…I have my PEOPLE.

Okay, fine, I’m addicted. Are you happy now?

It is no different than how some women love Godiva chocolate, or other women love Ryan Gosling, or good lord, Godiva chocolate while reading about Ryan Gosling in PEOPLE. In a bubble bath…but I digress. You get my point.

I have a problem. Clearly, I need help.

Aversion therapy is the recommended treatment so all I have to do is identify one or two things about PEOPLE that bother me and focus on them. That’s actually pretty easy.

1)   They use the word “nosh” – as in ‘to eat’ – apparently with great sophistication at some spectacular event.  That word, to me, is like chewing cotton balls. I never, ever nosh; and, 

2)   They can’t go a week without talking about someone’s “body after baby.”

Not cool, PEOPLE, not cool.

I get it. Women want their bodies back. Celebrities are under enormous pressure to ‘get their bodies back’ – and I get that PEOPLE sells magazines by keeping us all filled in on how Kim, or Hallie, or Drew, or J. Lo got her body back. Yay. Her body is back.

PEOPLE – I could have learned to deal with the noshing and such, or at least closed my eyes and moved past it as quickly as possibly, but when you out and out lie to the women of America, I’ve got to take a stand.

PEOPLE – I’m breaking up with you.

The first rule of pregnancy is – psssst…you are not alone – you have company, sometimes they come in packs…and the company is hungry, and active, and restless. 

You want to sleep?? Too bad – the company is wide-awake and ready to party.

You want to relax? Forget about it. Company is jamming to the Kodō Drum Dancers of Japan. You need an intermission.

You want to slip into that little black dress…hold that thought…

There comes a point in most pregnancies where there is nothing you want more than to kick that company out…um, as in ‘welcome the precious bundle of joy’.

The truth is, your house guests left a swath of destruction in their wake. Everything is out of place, you can’t find anything, everything is leaking, you can’t figure out how to fix it, you’ve got stuff that is supposed to be on the inside that is now on the outside and what they haven’t completely destroyed, they have certainly damaged and used beyond all recognition.

Don’t get me wrong – I am super proud of my fellow preeclampsia survivor Kim Kardashian’s fit form – but I am prouder of how honest she’s been about having to work so hard to get there. She’s followed a strict Atkins diet, and is exercising, kicking butt, every day. She also reportedly has a chef and trainer on hand to ensure she follows the plan. I’m not knocking her. If I were Kimye, I’d hire all the help I could.

But, PEOPLE, I don’t want to hear about how so-and-so stepped out six weeks after the baby having (shock) dropped the thirty pounds of baby weight.  

Do the math. According to my source – babycenter.com – an average sized woman should plan to gain between 25 and 35 pounds during pregnancy. If you were underweight, (Hello, Hollywood!), that recommendations bumps up to 40 pounds; and we’re not even talking twins here…

Each baby accounts for 6, 7, or 8 pounds of that weight. The placenta, amniotic fluid, and all the extra water and blood volume you gained to support the pregnancy is another 8-12 pounds. So right off the bat – that is 20 pounds. Oh, and are you nursing, yeah, well, while it can help you lose weight, you typically hang onto that last 10-15 pounds. It is like a biological autopilot that kicks in just in case you can’t find food. So there’s your 30-35 pounds – all accounted for. I assure you – it is not alway due to too many Doritos.

The average woman will be back to normal six months to a year after the baby. Does she have to exercise and eat right? Yeah, but no more than she did yesterday, or last year.  And the celebrity who miraculously dropped the thirty pounds – it is not the same as a woman (or man) who joins Weight Watchers, watches their diet, exercises thirty minutes a day and loses thirty pounds in seven or eight months. 

Second – being back to ‘normal’ quickly is not – for the most part – normal (nor healthy). Of course there are those freaks of nature that deliver the baby, wash up, and slip back into their size 2 Citizens of Humanity jeans – but they are not the norm – they are not even most of those celebrities.

When you celebrate their ‘return’ to normal – that’s not right. They’ve changed. This was a journey – blissful, beautiful, fraught with problems – whatever it was, it had scars, and bumps, and rough patches and sometimes grief and tragedy. They (and we) are not the same and to suggest otherwise is just wrong. 

So PEOPLE, as much as it pains me…I’m breaking up with you. Pregnancy is a beautiful thing, nursing a beautiful thing, babies – a beautiful thing, but the last beautiful thing on that list that I care about is how she looked good six weeks after the baby. Seriously?! Is she intact? Is she able to nurse? Does the baby have colic? Is she a good mom? Is she struggling with post-partum depression? Anxiety? PTSD? Is she sleeping? Please. PEOPLE get real.

Whether she knows it or not, Kim Kardashian, (and every woman who had preeclampsia) had essentially ‘near-death’ experience in childbirth. The last thing she should care about is how cute her butt is, or how flat her stomach is. Let her be ‘normal’ at least once in her life.

This is in no way to say that women should not care for their bodies, their babies, or their health, but the last thing she should care about is whether or not she ‘got her body back’ when the truth is…

she never lost it in the first place.