In August, Frontier reporters will be posting some of their favorite stories from the first half of 2019 and discussing the reporting process that went into the story. Want to support The Frontier? Click here.
Too many women die — or have complications — during or after pregnancy in Oklahoma.
On average, one woman dies per month and 70 more have life-threatening complications. Maternal mortality is a good indicator of a community’s overall health, and Oklahoma’s rate is worse than the national average.
When I started investigating maternal health in the state, I had a great deal of questions. Why were women dying? Were the deaths preventable? And importantly, was anyone in the state trying to do something about it?
Some of those answers were complicated. A few questions didn’t have satisfying explanations.
The state health department has a committee that reviews maternal deaths, but the data it collects is limited. As I started digging into why women were dying (the committee has reviewed 112 deaths since 2009) something struck me: The lessons from their deaths had mostly been forgotten.
The committee has never issued a report on its findings. Only in the last year has it started documenting whether those mothers’ deaths were preventable.
When I requested data from the board earlier this year I received a slideshow presentation that broke down deaths by race, age group, pregnancy status, the woman’s insurance status and whether the death was related to pregnancy.
I named the series Forgotten Mothers. In stories earlier this year, I wrote about two mothers who nearly died shortly after delivery. Both had careers in public health. Their stories, and those of other women I talked to, reminded me that the problem crosses into all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds.
I also learned the problem is much worse for women of color.
There’s plenty of factors that go into maternal health: Oklahoma has not expanded Medicaid, so thousands of women lose health coverage after delivery. The number of birthing hospitals in the state has dwindled. Forty-one counties are considered maternity care deserts.
Doctors and experts told me mothers are older than they used to be and have more chronic health conditions.
When I was working on the first story in the series in June, a maternal mortality review committee member told me the group was in the midst of making its first report. That has yet to be finished, but I’m confident that I’ll keep doggedly following the issue.
I’ve written two stories in the series so far. But with any ongoing investigation, there’s still questions I would like answered and more stories to pursue.