Women are more likely to die in childbirth in the United States than anywhere else, according to a 2018 analysis by CNN, which used 2015 data to examine the most maternal deaths in each state and draw conclusions about the cause of death. In 27 states, the rate of maternal deaths was higher than in more developed countries like Thailand, Ireland, Taiwan, and Mexico.
Only 10.3 deaths per 100,000 live births are reported in Florida, in the second-lowest rate in the country (the national rate for all births in 2016 was 13.3 per 100,000). The Florida Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a 2016 report titled Maternal and Perinatal Prevention, attributed the Florida infant mortality rate, at 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, to improvements in maternal health and lifestyle changes. The state is home to numerous senior centers and is known for having been the first in the nation to institute paid maternal leave. According to data from the CDC, 19.9 percent of Florida residents (1.6 million adults) participated in a comprehensive health education program between 1999 and 2015, the highest participation rate in the nation.
Although Florida’s infant mortality rate is low, women living in Washington, D.C., are more likely to die during childbirth. For example, the mortality rate for live births in D.C. in 2015 was 17.1 per 100,000 live births, the highest among states, based on the CNN analysis. The high death rate reflects a 2015 analysis by CNN that documented a connection between poverty, race, and maternal death, finding that 45 percent of black mothers in the nation’s capital died in childbirth. In Florida, 69 percent of black women gave birth to children in 2015, the third-highest rate among states.
The risk of dying in childbirth begins long before women enter the hospital. Florida emphasizes family planning options, including vasectomies and contraception. It is also known for having adopted national initiatives encouraging preventative health measures and helping families financially cope.
The reason a mother’s health suffers in childbirth varies throughout the United States. In Florida, some mothers suffer from a lingering infection called lupus erythematosus, which can cause shortness of breath, kidney failure, strokes, and dementia. This condition, which is often associated with pregnancy and childbirth, can affect the delivery of the baby and result in maternal death.
The Tampa Tribune reports that three mothers in particular — Marsha Mitchell, Teri Walton, and Veronica Osmond — are being honored by The Florida Institute for Women and its Gold Coast Clinic for Health for their continuing health challenges. Mitchell, Walton, and Osmond’s mothers died from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, but their own health has significantly improved since they were diagnosed with lupus. Mitchell, 58, continues to lose tissue and has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, but her health has improved since a hysterectomy in 2014. Walton, 61, has lost over 40 pounds since her last pregnancy in 2014, has reduced her cholesterol to levels “she hasn’t seen since high school,” and has an overall healthier outlook. Osmond’s mom suffered from pre-eclampsia, diabetes, and high blood pressure while she was pregnant with Osmond, 57, and she has since regained strength through exercise and nutrition. Osmond is not so lucky — she is already planning to begin chemo to prevent breast cancer from returning after the procedure.