May 28, 2012
As a young girl growing up in a small Long Island town called Amityville, Memorial Day was a huge holiday filled with parades and barbeques. I would inevitably end up at my friend Diane’s backyard eating a hotdog along with the rest of the kids on our block. It was also a day when we made our annual trip to the cemetery to place American flags on the graves of veterans and flowers on the graves of the deceased. Well, today, in honor of both Memorial Day and Preeclampsia Awareness Week, I’d like to take time to remember all mothers and their babies who died during childbirth, especially from preeclampsia.
What is preeclampsia and why is it so deadly? Preeclampsia is a condition of pregnancy in which there is high blood pressure; swelling of the ankles, feet, or face; protein in the urine; and abnormal kidney function. This condition requires the delivery of the baby in order to preserve the mother’s life and prevent seizures and strokes. The old fashioned term for preeclampsia was toxemia and it affects 1 out of 12 pregnancies each year. Approximately 76,000 women die annually from this disease and most people know of at least someone that it has affected during pregnancy.
When I think about preeclampsia, a woman name Dawn Fleming comes to mind. Dawn was 31 years old, a member of my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta and a popular radio personality in Orlando. Although I did not know her personally, she was from my former hometown of Queens. She was gregarious, a community activist who died unexpectedly from a preeclampsia related stroke. She had recently married and delivered a baby girl 6 days before her untimely birth. Her daughter is now approximately 8 years old and will never know her mother. When I attended Dawn’s wake, I was both angry and sad. I suspected someone had inevitably missed the diagnosis and by the time she was given treatment, it was too late. Such is the case of the vast majority of preeclampsia victims. By the time a diagnosis is made, the damage is already done. In her book, You Have No Idea, celebrity Vanessa Williams and her mother, Helen, discusses preeclampsia as the reason for her paternal grandmother’s death.
In my next blog, I will describe the signs, symptoms and treatment for preeclampsia that is also described in The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy. But in the meantime, I urge all of us to take a few moments to remember all the moms and babies who are no longer with us and pray that a cure for preeclampsia will one day be found.
April 11, 2012
My oldest son brought home a cabbage seedling from school to enter in a contest. If his plant grew the largest, he would win a $1,000.00 scholarship. For the first 2 weeks he faithfully nurtured the plant but then his attention span decreased as basketball and track gained more prominence on his radar screen. His father felt sorry for the abandoned plant and sat it on top of soil in a larger pot so that it could receive some sunlight. The larger pot represented a burial ground of a deceased plant that had met its untimely demise due to unintended neglect.
A few weeks passed. We assumed the plant was dead. On a lazy Sunday afternoon a hint of spring was in the air as flowers blossomed. The sun shone brightly and my spouse stepped into the backyard to get some fresh air. A few minutes later, he beckoned my son to come outside in a voiced filled with excitement. The cabbage plant was miraculously resurrected. Although still confined to its original container it had somehow dug its way into the soil of the larger pot and was now firmly attached. It was thriving with large, thick green leaves and had a significant growth spurt. What a teachable moment. Ignoring the confines of its container, the cabbage plant sensed a window of opportunity in the form of fertile soil and literally – dug in. We cut away its first container to allow it to thrive even more.
Pregnant moms, a tree is known by the fruit that it bears. The seed within you has the potential to blossom into infinite possibilities if given the proper nourishment. When the challenges of life attempt to intimidate or discourage you be like the cabbage plant and ignore the external barriers. Deflect negativity. It cannot do you harm if you ignore it. Focus instead, on the potential within.
What can we learn from the cabbage plant? We learn that the will to live is far greater than any external challenge.
December 28, 2011
It’s an obstetrician’s worst nightmare and it continues to happen on a daily basis. The story of Michal Lura Friedman brings tears to my eyes. After 7 years of trying, the 44 year old songwriter finally became pregnant –with twins. Her husband, Jay Snyder, a free-lance voice-over artist, describes the 9 months of Friedman’s pregnancy as pure bliss. However towards the end, her blood pressure became elevated so she was scheduled to have a C. Section the day after Thanksgiving.
Snyder accompanied his wife to the hospital and witnessed the birth of his babies. Then Friedman began to bleed. And bleed. And bleed. At 9:30 p.m., she became yet another U.S. maternal mortality statistic.
At least 2 women die from complications of childbirth in the US daily. Some celebrities such as Christy Turlington Burns have become a Maternal Health Advocate as a result of first-hand experience. She had a near-miss childbirth experience but lived to tell the story. Many women, including Friedman, don’t. The American Congress and College of Obstetrician-Gynecologists (ACOG), will have both Burns and Tonya Lewis Lee, the wife of renowned director, Spike Lee as spokeswomen on the topic of maternal mortality at the 2012 Annual Conference in San Diego. However, we need much more. There are obstetricians who have worked on the front-lines managing high-risk patients for years who can’t get a seat on ACOG’s policy committees and it is frustrating. Here are a few questions that should be asked at the hospital where Friedman expired:
- She had a short stature with a uterus stretched to the max with two babies. Was the possibility of hemorrhage considered?
- When her blood pressure became elevated, was it controlled prior to doing the C. Section knowing the risk of possible HELPP Syndrome that is associated with pre-eclampsia?
- Was there an OB Rapid Response Team?
- Was a Bakri balloon used once the bleeding couldn’t be controlled with uterine massage or meds?
- Was the prospect of a problem anticipated BEFORE it occurred or was there chaos trying to find appropriate meds and equipment as the tragedy unfolded?
Pregnancy is not a benign act contrary to what most people believe. Things can and do happen, most often when the hospital staff is unprepared and ill-equipped to handle an emergency. My heart bleeds for Jay Snyder. He is 41 years old, a new father and now a widow who must take care of two beautiful children, who will never know their mother. With all due respect ACOG, talk is cheap. More action must be taken to stop this.
Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do…
November 30, 2011
On a recent Sunday in the bathroom of the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, a baby boy made his entrance to life. His mother was approximately 28 weeks and delivered prematurely, however both baby and mother were healthy according to the media. Although the details of the delivery are sketchy, anyone involved in obstetrics can predict what occurred.
The mother might have had a previous history of a urinary tract infection, or complained of back pain. Did her ultrasound reveal a short cervix? Or perhaps she had a history of a previous early delivery. If it was her first pregnancy, did she complain of mild abdominal pressure? Premature labor is one of the most common reasons for birth defects and has a price tag of approximately 26 billion dollars per year. The signs and symptoms of preterm labor often go unnoticed or diagnosed because healthcare providers aren’t paying attention. A urine analysis report showing bacteria in the urine will not be addressed. No inquiry will be made as to whether the patient made frequent trips to the bathroom or whether she drank soda. Soda predisposes patients to urinary tract infections because of the carbonation or bubbly component of the drink irritates the bladder. Untreated urinary tract infections can cause premature labor. A complaint of lower abdominal pressure will be attributed it to “round ligament pain” even though the patient is well beyond 20 weeks when it is most likely to occur. A complaint of back pain will be blamed on the changing shape of the uterus rather than sending the patient to the hospital for further evaluation. In essence, some healthcare professionals keep missing the diagnosis or intervening too late.
According to the American College of Obstetrician/Gynecologists (ACOG) pregnant women can travel up to 32 weeks by air provided they don’t have any complications or high risk conditions. The change in altitude can sometimes cause the “water to break” or the placenta to separate too soon. All pregnant women who plan to travel (especially by air) should consult with the OB provider for advice and instructions. For pregnant women who plan to travel, here are some suggestions:
- Obtain a copy of your prenatal record prior to traveling in the event of an emergency
- Find out the name of the nearest Level 3 hospital where you will be staying
- Do not sit for more than 2 hours without standing for a few minutes to stretch your legs to prevent blood clots.
- If you are complaining of back or abdominal pain before traveling, contact your provider immediately
Fortunately the baby born in the airport bathroom appears to be fine. However not all unexpected births have a happy ending. Pregnant moms, if you have to travel, please don’t push the envelope.
Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.
November 16, 2011
A recent medical study by Dr. Ira J. Chasnoff of the Children’s Research Triangle asserts that Hispanic women who have assimilated to American culture have a greater risk of having children born with fetal alcohol syndrome. According to Chasnoff , pregnant Hispanic women in San Antonio had the second highest drinking rate of 29 cities in the states that were studied. I find that rather hard to believe based on my twenty-one year history of taking care of Hispanic pregnant women. I have seen first, second and third generation Hispanic women and never encountered alcoholism among any of them. However, Chasnoff brings up an interesting point about alcohol and pregnancy. There are two schools of thought. According to Good Morning America, there are physicians such as Dr. Jacques Moritz, who think an occasional glass of wine is okay to consume during pregnancy however the U.S. Surgeon General and the American College of Obstetrician-Gynecologists advocate strict abstinence from alcohol while pregnancy.
According to medical literature, more than one-half of women of childbearing age report drinking alcohol and 1 out of 8 women report binge drinking. Alcohol appears to have negative effects throughout the entire pregnancy, not just during the first-trimester. At present, it is not known how many drinks consumed would affect the fetus, therefore strict abstinence is recommended before conception and during the pregnancy.
What happens if a pregnant woman is alcohol dependent? She will need close monitoring because of the adverse effect on the fetus including support from a multidisciplinary team of healthcare and social work providers. Women who consume three or more drinks per day are encouraged to enter an alcohol treatment program. Women who drink less than 3 drinks per day are encouraged to receive counseling. The pediatrician should be present at the birth of a woman who is alcohol dependent in the event the baby has alcohol withdrawal. Women who continue to drink should be discouraged from breastfeeding.
Dr. Chasnoff is to be commended for studying substance abuse and pregnant women but please don’t stereotype ethnic groups in the process. Pregnant women should abstain from drinking alcohol if at all possible. Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.
November 14, 2011
OMG, Michelle Duggar is pregnant again. Is she competing with the wife of Feodor Vassilyev? Vassilyev was pregnant 27 times between 1725 and 1765 and gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, 7 sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets. 67 children survived infancy making her the woman who had the most documented number of children in the world. Vassilyev had a history of multiple births. What’s Duggar’s excuse?
I’ve written about Duggar before out of genuine concern and received over 2,000 comments on the Basil and Spice website. Many were unkind. People like Duggar because of her affable personality but want to ignore the facts: with each subsequent pregnancy, her life becomes fraught with danger. Her last pregnancy was extremely high-risk, complicated by pre-eclampsia and the emergency premature delivery of her daughter who only weighed 1.3 pounds at birth. It was a very close call. According to Answers.com, the Duggar family gets paid an estimated $25,000 to $75,000 per episode on the reality television show on Channel TLC. So, is it perhaps the show’s ratings that have prompted this 45 year old mother of 19 children to have yet another child? Is it the Baby-Doll syndrome where women have multiple children because they like the baby doll effect of having a newborn? I’m still scratching my head. However, I would be remiss if I did not, as an obstetrician offer some advice (albeit unsolicited) regarding the dangers of extreme parity (aka a great number of pregnancies). It was the same advice I offered almost 2 years ago.
- Mrs. Duggar, you are 45 years old and have what’s known in obstetrics as Advanced Maternal Age. This condition predisposes you to several high-risk conditions including pre-eclampsia, preterm labor and a host of other issues.
- You’ve carried 19 children in your uterus and its muscles are stretched to the max. Post-partum hemorrhage lies high on the list as a future complication and is the most common cause of maternal death in the industrialized world.
- You’ve also had a cesarean section and now have the potential to have a placental abruption (early placenta separation from the uterus) as well as a placenta accreta (the placenta sticks to the uterine incision and is extremely difficult to remove).
The Bible says to go forth and multiply and you’ve followed directions well. Now pat yourself on the back and give your body a well deserved rest. You escaped serious harm because of Divine Intervention and a skilled medical staff. Please, do not push the envelope.
November 7, 2011
A recent article about the shameful infant mortality rate in the U.S. caught my attention. Certainly the statistics quoted are nothing new but still remains alarming. However, the Op Ed by CNN contributor Deborah Klein Walker gave the subject matter a new spin. Walker wrote “This is one of the greatest injustices in our country: that a baby’s chance of having a healthy life is largely dependent on where he or she is born. States and local communities vary widely in what care their leaders choose to provide to women and children.” If Dr. Walker were present, I’d give her a great big hug for her courage to say what no one else dared. A baby can die based on a hospital zip code.
Every pregnant mother needs to take a mini course in hospital politics because they are directly affected. A hospital is no longer a place of healing. It is a business and at times, ruthless. I have witnessed a colleague forced out of business because she said no when a hospital wanted to buy her practice so they withdrew her admitting privileges instead. I recall bitter battles with my former employer because I would not encourage my patients to deliver at a hospital that was notorious for being under staffed, overworked and a haven for medical errors, simply because of a business relationship that my employer had with thatehospital.
I commend our federal government for initiating programs such as Healthy Start and the new home visiting program, but dependence on government assistance alone cannot guarantee a healthy baby. A pregnant mom must do her due diligence. She must investigate the credentials of the provider and hospital where she intends to give birth. What should a pregnant mom do if she lives in a community or state that has a high infant mortality rate? Give birth at a teaching hospital that’s affiliated with a university or medical school. Most of these institutions receive federal and state financial support and are obligated to provide care to patients.
Can a baby die based on the zip code where it’s born? Unfortunately, yes unless the mother is willing to do her homework and take the necessary precautions to avoid that from happening. Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.
October 24, 2011
Infertility or the inability to have a baby can be devastating and affects approximately 10 percent of the female population. There are many conditions that prevent women from having children including and Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser syndrome (or MKHS). MKHS is a rare disorder that affects a woman’s ability to conceive. At present, for every 10,000 women, only 1 to 2 will be affected. Both Sara Ottoson of Sweden and Melina Arnold of Australia have this condition. MKHS is characterized by the absence of a vagina and part of the cervix. Patients with this condition have normal breast development and functioning ovaries. Genetically, they also have female or double X-chromosomes and look like normal women. The problem comes to light during adolescence when a teen fails to have a period. The condition is also known as Vaginal Agenesis because they are born without a true vagina, a problem that can be corrected through surgical and non-surgical procedures. Unfortunately, they are unable to have children and usually adopt or use a surrogate mother. Those options, however, might soon change.
Both Ottoson and Arnold plan to have biological children using those mothers’ transplanted wombs next year. The wombs that these women resided in prior to their birth will potentially be used to nurture their unborn babies. Ottoson and Arnold will be making history in the same manner as Louise Brown did in 1978 when she became the first successful “test tube” or In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) baby. Has a womb transplant been attempted before? Yes, about 10 years ago in Saudi Arabia but it was an unsuccessful procedure. After four months, the 25-year-old patient’s body rejected the transplanted uterus of a 46-year old woman. Ottoson will receive the uterus of her 56 year old mother but will not be able to conceive through IVF until she has waited a full year to make certain that her body will not reject the donated organ.
If womb transplant becomes successful, it will also be a powder keg regarding ethical and legal issues. It would also provide an option to women who are cancer survivors and desire fertility. All eyes will be on Ottoson and Arnold next year. It will be history in the making.
October 12, 2011
The fact that Amber Miller did not fall or faint or develop complications while running in the Chicago Marathon is nothing short of a miracle. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What on earth was her physician thinking when she was given the green light to half-run half-walk a 26.2 mile marathon? Miller was not your usual runner; she was approximately 39 weeks pregnant.
Although pregnant women are encouraged to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle that includes aerobic exercise, moderation is the order of the day. A woman’s body changes when she becomes pregnant. She has more fluid circulating in her body; hormones from the pregnancy make her ligaments more relaxed, thus she waddles. As the baby enlarges, the diaphragm (aka muscle of respiration) gets pushed up making it difficult for pregnant women to breathe. The heart rate increases and the center of gravity changes as the uterus becomes larger thus, increasing her risk of falling.
Miller participated in 8 previous marathons including one when she was pregnant with her first child. At that time she was 18 weeks. She says that she’s “crazy about running.” As the mother of two sons who were Junior Olympic Track and Field participants, I can relate. However, where is the voice of reason? Prolonged exercise means an increase in heat production which may or may not affect the fetus. Years ago, pregnant women were discouraged from running or performing any exercise that would increase their core temperature for fear it would adversely affect the fetus. Unborn babies cannot regulate temperature because their brains are not fully developed and it is a special part of the brain that controls temperature. In recent years, this rule has been relaxed because the medical studies are inconclusive. However, it is not recommended that pregnant women perform more than 45 minutes of continuous exercise and it should be in a temperature controlled environment. This was not the case with Miller. Although she ate frequently and drank water, she ran and walked for over 6 hours, developed contractions and subsequently went into labor. If her physician gave her permission to run at 39 weeks, then perhaps he or she should have accompanied MIller to monitor the process.
26.2 miles at 39 weeks is not a benign act and I certainly hope this will not become a trend among pregnant women. Can you imagine delivering a baby in the middle of a marathon? It would not be a pretty sight.
October 10, 2011
The story of Tanya* is compelling. She was 24 weeks pregnant with her third child and the hospital was threatening to send her home. Two years ago, she faced similar circumstances and delivered a baby at 23 weeks. Luckily, the baby is now two years old but the one before that was not so lucky. Tanya presented to a local hospital during her first pregnancy because of complaints of abdominal pain. She was sent home because her contractions “weren’t regular.” Ten hours later, Tanya returned to the hospital because of a “nagging feeling that something was wrong” although her contractions were still not regular. Unfortunately, her cervix was dilated and the contractions could not be stopped. Her son was born alive but died one hour later because the hospital was not equipped to deal with premature newborns. Tanya’s second pregnancy was similar to her first because she developed premature contractions again, at 23 weeks. As with the first pregnancy, her contractions were not strong and regular so she was discharged home from the hospital with a monitor that was supposed to help. It didn’t. Luckily, she had an appointment with her high risk physician the next day who informed her that she was dilated although she did not have regular contractions. Her preterm labor could not be stopped but this time, her baby did not die.
Tanya contacted her Bedrest Coach, DarlineTurner-Lee, owner of Mamas On Bedrest that provides support to high risk pregnant moms and Lee contacted me. She asked for advice regarding Tanya who was 24 weeks and about to be inappropriately discharged home from a specialized teaching hospital. I offered strategies on Tanya’s behalf but there weren’t necessary. One of the physicians at the hospital convinced the staff to allow Tanya to remain in the hospital until 28 weeks. There are lessons to be learned from her case
- Trust your instincts. Tanya was correct in not wanting to be discharged home because of her previous history. Women who delivery preterm babies (especially at 23 weeks) are bound to do it again. The chances of survival are far greater at 28 weeks than at 24 weeks
- She obtained an advocate and sought a second opinion. 2 heads are always better than 1 especially when there is doubt about a diagnosis or treatment
- If you have a high risk problem, always attempt to be admitted to a Level 3 hospital where they have specialized care for newborns
Tanya expressed her gratitude by saying “. . . I thank God for people like you and the staff who fight for our little miracles.”
1 out of 8 pregnant women will deliver a premature baby in the US each year. Hopefully, this time, Tanya will not be one of them.