An estimated 700 to 900 women in the U.S. died from pregnancy-related causes in 2016. We have identified 120 of them so far.
The U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world. Yet these deaths of women from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth are almost invisible. When a new or expectant mother dies, her obituary rarely mentions the circumstances. Her identity is shrouded by medical institutions, regulators and state maternal mortality review committees. Her loved ones mourn her loss in private. The lessons to be learned from her death are often lost as well.
“”"The inability, or unwillingness, of states and the federal government to track maternal deaths has been called “an international embarrassment.” To help fill this gap, ProPublica and NPR have spent the last few months searching social media and other sources for mothers who died, trying to understand what happened to them and why. So far, we’ve identified 120 pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths for 2016 out of an estimated U.S. total of 700 to 900. Together these women form a picture of maternal mortality that is more racially, economically, geographically and medically diverse than many people might expect. Their ages ranged from 16 to 43; their causes of death, from hemorrhage to infection, complications of pre-existing medical conditions, and suicide. We were struck by how many perished in the postpartum period, by the number of heart-related deaths, by the contributing role sometimes played by severe depression and mood disorders — and by the many missed opportunities to save lives.
ProPublica and NPR plan to expand our 2016 photo gallery as we find more women and hear from more families. If you know of someone who died, please tell us here. Meanwhile, we highlight 16 women with portraits of their lives and deaths. Their stories are a reminder of just how much is lost when a mother dies. Examined together, these private tragedies point to a much bigger public health problem, and underscore the potential repercussions for women and families as Republicans in Congress push to revamp the health care system and roll back Medicaid.