In 1996, I was a stay-at-home mom. I loved it.
Long before I help found the Preeclampsia Foundation, the International Preeclampsia Alliance, the Lake Washington Schools Foundation and the Microsoft Alumni Foundation, I made Nutella sandwiches and messy art projects, changed diapers, cheered at football games and drove carpool. I was very, very lucky. I was pregnant with my third child, the wife of a Microsoft Senior Director, at the height of the boom, with a beautiful home in Bellevue, WA’s Bridal Trails neighborhood, a super cool Chevy Suburban with a sticker that said, “Alaska Girls Kick ***“. (Thank you, Laura Muller).
I was beyond lucky. I was blessed.
On October 1, two weeks shy of my due date, during a routine prenatal exam, I noticed my blood pressure, typically 90/60, was high-ish (138/88) and pointed it out to my doctor. She looked back at my chart and nodded that yes, it was sort of high for me, and I mentioned that my proteinuria dipstick test showed “trace” protein (full disclosure — I’d tested it myself when sent off to collect a sample). She reviewed the chart again and nodded, “Trace. You could be developing preeclampsia.. .which you’ve had before.”
I felt “off” and my doctor knew me and trusted me. I was sent to Overlake Hospital to induce and deliver my baby.
Twelve hours later, during an emergency caesarian section, I nearly died. The doctor, the woman who saved my life, was not the obstetrician, or a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, but a regular family doctor. She saved my life by recognizing how very dangerous preeclampsia can be — that there is no such thing as “mild” preeclampsia; she saved my life by sitting with me from the time she got off work at the clinic at 5:00 p.m. until 4:30 a.m. when I was finally stabilized. She never left my side. She saved my life by knowing when to escalate care, when to get a consult with the MFM on-call, but mostly, by listening to me.
The beautiful woman below was not so lucky. Tatia Oden French and her baby died on the operating table following an amniotic fluid embolism. She was induced, as I was. She had a caesarian section, as did I. I walked away. She didn’t.
Tatia Malika Oden French 6/14/69 – 12/28/01
Zorah Allie Mae French 12/28/01 – 12/28/01
As women all around the world know, women die in childbirth. Had I had my children even just 50 years ago, I might have died. Had I had my children at home, I might have died. Had I had any other doctor — one who hadn’t listened — I might have died. Had I not had my caesarian section, I might have died.
The medical advances that save lives saved mine, but the thing that truly saved my life was that someone listened to me when I said, “something is not right.”
Jennifer Binkley Carney and I started the Unexpected Project to make a documentary and share the voices of the 58,000+ women a year in the U.S.A. who nearly died in childbirth, and to remember the 1,000, like Tatia, who do.
Between the filming and the online forum we realized again and again the power of the simple act of sharing one’s story — the power to heal.
We were stunned/grateful/gobsmacked when Lucina Maternity Foundation offered to help us take the Survivors Forums offline and into real life.
Thanks to them, this April 30th, in San Jose, CA, is the Unexpected Project Survivors Forums for survivors of all kinds of pregnancy-related trauma and death — the first of its kind. Ever. It’s to let women learn, connect and heal. And this is just the first of many Survivors Forums to be hosted around the country. There are no big names here (though big names are welcome), and the doctors, midwives and doulas that are joining us are there to listen.
The real experts are the survivors and we are coming together to help others, and ourselves, understand what happened, and what is happening on a local, state, and national level of this maternity crisis.
This would not be possible without our amazing sponsors: Lucina, Andrew Basch of Morgan Stanley, Advanced Prenatal Therapeutics and the Sobrato Family Foundation) and supporters (California Quality Maternal Care Consortium, (Shelly Bridgewater Dreams Foundation, the Tara Hansen Foundation, Amniotic Embolism Foundation) and Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP), the Tatia Oden French Foundation, as well as the California Mental Health Collaborative(now the 2020 Moms Project). We are also incredibly grateful for the work of Amnesty International, Every Mother Counts, and Merck for Mothers in making safe pregnancy in the US a priority.
JOIN US at the first Survivors Forum and as a bonus, we are crowd-filming, bringing survivors together so we can film interviews for the film and for our next big thing. We’re not done — not by a long shot.
Join us, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. You can save a mother’s life — simply by listening.