Federal watchdog report shows COVID-19 was a factor in maternal deaths

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More women are dying during and after childbirth.

A Congressional report released this month examines how COVID-19 played role in some maternal deaths and outcomes during the pandemic.

Danielle Wilson is one of the many mothers who gave birth during that time. She has three kids, but she said giving birth to her youngest was a traumatic experience.

“Because I have a chronic illness, I’m very aware of needing to advocate for myself and speaking up and asking questions, but at the same time, when you’re in pain, and you’re scared, you just you want to be heard,” said Wilson.

Wilson said at 38 weeks, she was induced because of a sudden onset of preeclampsia followed by a complicated delivery.

“During my labor, my husband whispered to my doula, like keep talking to her. She’s losing a lot of blood,” she said.

Around 10 days postpartum, she was re-hospitalized with sepsis.

Wilson is alive to tell her story but that’s not the case for every woman.

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report estimates COVID-19 was a contributing factor in about 25 percent of maternal deaths in 2020 and 2021. The report also shows an increase in preterm and low birthweight births among black women during the pandemic.

“80% of maternal deaths are preventable - 80% - that’s astonishing that we aren’t doing more,” said Tina Sherman, Senior campaign director at MomsRising. “We know that it is policies and procedures that are part of the cause and we know that we can undo those policy procedures. We know we can put into place better policies and procedures.”

Advocacy organization, MomsRising, has been pushing for federal changes through the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021.

It’s a collection of bills that would improve various aspects of maternal health including efforts to increase support for maternal mental health and diversify the perinatal workforce.

“So that when folks go to the doctor, they see someone who is reflective of them, and others understands them,” said

The report shows U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials told GAO that COVID’s impact on social inequities like access to care, transportation and jobs worsened maternal health outcomes too.

Health officials said the pandemic also highlighted the effect of racism on maternal health.

Because of some of these challenges, Wilson believes more minority women should have doulas by their side.

“You don’t go to court without a lawyer and you really shouldn’t go into labor and delivery without a doula,” said Wilson. “I feel like that really needs to be something that’s accessible to black and brown mothers in their communities - affordably.”