JEFFERSONVILLE, IN (WAVE) – Each year, 700 women in the United States die from pregnancy-related complications. Another 50,000 suffer life-threatening complications from pregnancies.
Those numbers are among the highest pregnancy-related mortality rates in the developed world, right here in the U.S.
A recent report from March of Dimes shows much of Indiana is living in what’s called a maternity care desert.
The report breaks down county-by-county data around the country, finding more than 5 million women live in maternity care deserts, where there are no hospitals providing access to obstetric care and no O.B. providers. Another 10 million women live in counties with limited access.
In Indiana, nearly one-fourth of the state’s counties are considered maternity care deserts, creating healthcare risks for women and their children.
Harrison County mother Shelby Barr said she knows the risks and uncertainty pregnancy can bring. Soon after delivering her daughter Caraline, she was gone.
“We didn’t get to take her home,” Barr said.
She calls Caraline her angel baby. She said she was here and gone so quickly.
“She passed away,” Barr said. “She was our firstborn.”
The mother of three lives in Lanesville with her family.
Losing her firstborn was tough, making the pregnancies that followed more stressful. She chose to make the trip to deliver at Clark Memorial Hospital in Jeffersonville.
“It definitely made each pregnancy hard,” Barr said. “You worry the whole time. And then, worry if anything happens I have a 25-30-minute drive to the hospital, to the doctor.”
That long drive proved worth it when she delivered her second son. He rushed to the NICU in Louisville just minutes after being born.
“It happened very, very fast,” Barr said. “You know, within seconds of saying, we’re going to have a doctor over here, a couple minutes later we were sending him over to the hospital. He was in the hospital for four days in the NICU, which isn’t very long compared to some people’s stay. But we traveled every day to him so had it been an hour away, that would have made it really hard, especially with another one at home.”
Barr lives in an area with limited obstetric-care providers and services. But farther away in more rural Indiana counties, those resources go from limited to nonexistent.
“It is definitely a problem,” said Katrina Thompson, Maternal Child Health Director for Kentucky, West Virginia and parts of Indiana. “When you have 700 women who are dying during or surrounding childbirth, that’s definitely a health crisis.”
Twenty-five of Indiana’s 92 counties are in a maternity care desert with limited obstetric services and providers for women. In Kentucky, it’s 58 out of 120.
“They also need to have places to deliver that are adequate for not only their safety but the safety of the baby,” Thompson said.
If you’re dealing with high-risk pregnancies or complications arise, that can become dangerous for mothers quickly.
“Sometimes, it can be a matter of life and death,” Thompson said.
Having a doctor and services nearby is vital for mothers and their babies, Barr said. Having lost her angel baby Caraline, Barr and her family know just how precious life can be.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “Without losing one, I wouldn’t have the other three.”
March of Dimes is rallying behind #BlanketChange to call for legislative action and new ways to bring obstetric providers and services to women in unserved communities, while reducing the high number of pregnancy-related deaths.
For more information on maternity care deserts or to find out how you can help support change, visit the March of Dimes website.