Baby, You Were Born To Run

09.22.11 How many mothers don't make it to the hospital in time?


I get this question a lot: How often do women deliver in their cars or at home because they couldn’t make it to the hospital in time? The answer depends on where you live. If you’re an American mother, these made-for-television, side-of-the-road deliveries don’t happen very often. If you live in parts of the world where healthcare facilities and providers are few and far between, well, they happen to thousands of women every day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 39,000 American babies are born outside of hospitals each year. 83% of those mothers planned on having a home or (out-of-hospital) birth. The other 17% -not so much. These moms meant to deliver in the hospital, but their babies either came too fast or they lived too far away to make it in time. That adds up to only about 6600 babies per year who are in such a big hurry to be born; they can’t wait for their mothers to reach a safe, baby-ready environment. Instead, they arrive in taxis and ambulances, back seats and truck beds, bathtubs and loveseats, on kitchen and bathroom floors.

One mom who’s birth made headlines recently, apparently slept through labor and woke up ready to push. She shouted for her 12-year-old son who had watched enough medical dramas on TV that he knew what to do. He delivered the baby, grabbed scissors and a chip-bag clip from the kitchen, clamped and cut the cord and called the ambulance. Mother, baby and big brother are all just fine.

Super speedy births don’t happen very often to first time moms. First labors usually give Mom plenty of time to hail a cab, catch a bus, drive for hours or do whatever it takes to get to the hospital in more than enough time. My first labor took so long that I had time to drive to and from my doctor’s office several times, receiving the news with each visit that, yes, I was in early labor and no, it wasn’t time to go to the hospital yet. By the time my contractions were fierce enough to warrant a bed on the labor and delivery unit, I’d been laboring for ten hours and was still only a couple centimeters dilated. Twenty hours later, my first daughter was finally born. I could have driven from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back twice during the amount of time it took for that girl to arrive.

Mine’s an American story of an over-anxious, over-prepared city mom with plenty of transportation options to get me to any of a dozen close-by hospitals, each with a perfectly equipped, private delivery room and a highly trained staff of professionals waiting to attend to my every need. Imagine if you lived somewhere like rural Peru or Africa where reaching the closest hospital means several days of walking or, maybe if you’re lucky, hours traveling bumpy roads on the back of a motorbike. That’s what labor is like for millions of women around the world. Most deliver at home because there’s nowhere to go. When labor becomes medically complicated, they hit the road and hike for hours (even days) to reach medical care; that is if there’s anyone within walking distance who knows how to deliver a baby. In many developing countries, there’s no midwife, delivery room or obstetrician close enough to help. Many (approximately 400,000) will die, simply because there’s too much distance between them and the medical care that would almost certainly save their lives.

CARE (the global humanitarian organization I love) creates safe birth facilities and trains skilled birth attendants so women in developing countries with limited access to health care have what they need to survive childbirth. Christy Turlington Burns, CARE’s celebrity ambassador for maternal health, is dedicated to raising awareness about the challenges and solutions women and girls face during pregnancy and childbirth. That’s why she partners with CARE and founded Every Mother Counts - an advocacy and mobilization campaign that raises awareness about maternal health issues.

Christy emailed this week that she’s running the distance on this issue. In fact, she’s running the ING New York Marathon this November along with nine teammates as part of a massive CrowdRise fund raising effort. CrowdRise’s goal is to generate $1 million dollars per mile for a $26 million total that will be distributed to a variety of charities. Here’s what Christy says:

“We've chosen to run because often distance is the biggest barrier to a woman and her family getting the care they need. We hope to increase awareness for the cause and make the vital connection that so many pregnant women around the world live far from health services and that distance makes a big difference. Simply put, we want to run so that others don't have to... I’m hoping you will lend your support no matter how big or small. Please click on the DONATE button to contribute what you can on behalf of one of our Every Mother Counts Runners. Or, click on JOIN THE TEAM to become a fundraiser yourself. Help us raise the much-needed funds and spread the word about this cause. Together, with your help and our miles, we can make a difference to improve the lives of so many.”

What are the chances your baby will be born at the side of the road? It’s not likely. What are the chances you could help a woman in a developing country avoid becoming a tragic statistic? That depends on you. It’s 100% if you run with Christy or you lend your support to CARE.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to and it may be answered in a future blog post."¨"¨

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