Mothering the mother: Sister Zita Iwuoha combats black mother mortality in Allegheny County and beyond

From 2013 to 2017, Zita Iwuoha said she assisted in the deliveries for between 150 and 200 first-time mothers in Allegheny County. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

by Brittany Hailer, PublicSource

The mother-to-be labored for 20 hours before she stopped breathing. The doctor who turned to leave the room didn’t notice.

Then Zita Iwuoha, her midwife, started screaming.

“Call a Code Blue!” Iwuoha yelled, “Call a Code Blue!”

Within seconds, the hospital room filled. The woman was experiencing an eclamptic fit. The doctor had administered anti-seizure medication, but failed to see she had stopped breathing.

The Pittsburgh mother survived. While her 2015 birth story sounds horrific, uncommon even, such close calls are the reality for many mothers in the United States. As many as one-third of women report that their births were traumatic, according to research compiled by Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth.

Furthermore, 700 to 900 U.S. women die of complications related to childbirth each year. And if the mother is Black, she’s three to four times more likely to die.

In Pennsylvania, the maternal death rate in the early 1990s was 5.1 deaths per 100,000 births.

The rate more than doubled to 11.4 deaths, according to numbers from 2012 to 2016, the most recent data available. The rate for Black mothers was more than twice that, at 27.2 deaths.

The majority of these deaths are preventable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Mothering the mother: Sister Zita Iwuoha combats black mother mortality in Allegheny County and beyond

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