As time goes on and technology advances, it's easy to assume that medicine has also become more advanced and that means doctors are saving more lives. In some cases, it has, but in others healthcare is actually getting worse. Pregnancy and childbirth care is one such instance, according to a recent deep data dive from the Wall Street Journal.
Pregnant people in rural areas of the U.S. died of pregnancy-related complications 64% more often in 2015 than people in urban areas, according to the WSJ — which is a shift from 2000, when maternal death rate was higher in urban areas.
Truly terrifying data visualizations from the report show how drastically rural areas are in need of doctors.
The white spots on that map, tweeted by WSJ data visualization reporter Andrew Van Dam, represent areas where there are zero OB-GYNs per 10,000 women. My family lives in one of those massive white chunks in southern Oklahoma, and has felt the real-life consequences of this scary data.
My mom was 39 when she got pregnant with my baby sister. Her "advanced maternal age" (as the doctors called it, though it wasn't her favorite term) automatically made her pregnancy high-risk, so she was referred to an OB-GYN who specialized in cases like hers.
That OB-GYN was cold and unfeeling. She talked down to my mom and tried to shame her into an optional medical procedure that she explicitly said she didn't want (one that would determine if my sister was going to have Down syndrome, since it's a higher risk for older moms). As much as my mom desperately wanted another doctor, though, she couldn't get one. That doctor was the only one within an almost two-hour drive who had the specialty to handle her pregnancy.
As it turned out, there were complications when my mom gave birth. My sister was breech, trying to come out elbow-first. But her specialty OB-GYN wasn't even on-call when my sister was born (just a few minutes before midnight) and another doctor was called in to perform my mom's emergency c-section.
My mom was one of the lucky ones. Sure, there were issues with her pregnancy and with her childbirth, but she ended up with a gorgeous baby girl who is now a funny and smart 8-year-old. As the Wall Street Journal's data dive shows, for a lot of pregnant people in rural areas, the story doesn't end so happily ever after.
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