In 2008, my wife, Liz, was pregnant and we were looking forward to having our first child, our daughter Madeline. I was incredibly excited about becoming a father. Like many soon-to-be parents, I was nervous, too. But I knew that with Liz, we would be amazing parents and she would be there to guide me because she was great at everything she did.
The focus throughout Liz’s pregnancy was making sure our baby was, and would be, healthy. Even though Liz had been sick and on bed rest at times throughout the pregnancy, the main concern was always the health of the baby. About 27 hours after our daughter was born, my wife got up for the first time and collapsed. We had no idea what was going on. After speaking with the doctors, we found out that she had a pulmonary embolism, due to multiple contributing factors.
Like many maternal deaths, it was preventable. Looking back, with more awareness and education surrounding why the mother’s health is just as important as the baby’s health, it could have been stopped. I think that’s a key reason I got involved and made me to want to be an advocate for maternal health.
Speaking About the Issue
Early on there were times I didn’t want to talk about it and over time it’s become a little easier. What I’ve found is that I can’t change the past at all, I can’t bring my wife back, I can’t do anything to fix the situation that my family found ourselves in almost nine and a half years ago now. But, what I can do is change the future for so many different families out there, for women and for the children that they’re giving birth to. That makes it a little bit easier.
I often have my wife in my thoughts and when I’m talking about these things, I know that she would be incredibly proud of the fact that I am willing to talk about this, doing it on behalf of people who may have not previously received this message.
It’s important to make sure that people are hearing this message, and so, as difficult as it is to talk about it, I really see it as a duty and it’s something that I think my daughter will be very proud of as she gets older. She’ll know that I didn’t just curl up in a ball and leave her to be neglected. Not only did I take care of her and do really wonderful things with her in this world, I also took the time to advocate on the behalf of other children like her to make sure that they don’t end up in the same situation that she found herself in.
Maternal Care Means the World to Me
The more that I can spread the word -- the more that I can help organizations like Merck for Mothers do the exact same thing -- the fewer people are going to be suffering from what my family suffers through, and what my wife suffered through. We’re going to have more families that remain intact who can thrive rather than pick up the pieces after something as tragic as a loved one’s death.
I think what’s been so amazing about what Merck for Mothers has been doing, along with other organizations, is bringing more awareness to the problem. Back in 2008, when my daughter was born and my wife died, there wasn’t really a discussion of maternal care, not in the same way. It was assumed that women who chose to have a baby would be just fine. So what I’ve seen in the last 9 plus years is that there’s been an actual focus, not only on the health of the baby, but there’s a lot of conversation about the moms. That’s such an important part because it’s so hard for people to fathom that in this day and age, in the United States, in 2017, that women dying during childbirth is a problem.
The most important thing is communication. I still have people tell me they can't believe what happened to Liz. People still believe these are one-off situations and not an issue affecting so many people. I try and tell people this is something that continues to happen, it’s not just an issue from 2008, and it’s not just an issue from the 1800s -- which is what most people believe. I really want to make sure that everyone gets this message – this is something that can happen on a daily basis.
Oftentimes, I think people hear statistics and they don’t really get a clear understanding of what’s going on. Hearing the personal stories, stories from people from within the maternal health world, and making sure that those stories are told, mine included, to learn that there are people who are left behind after a mother’s death, will help others better understand the importance of quality maternal care.