AUSTIN (Nexstar) — While the pandemic dominates most health-related headlines, there’s another crisis in care lurking and getting worse: maternal health and premature births.
That’s part of the conversation March of Dimes featured this week as part of its “It Starts with Mom” virtual series.
“Unfortunately, during this pandemic, we can’t put pregnancy on pause,” the nonprofit’s president, Stacey D. Steward, said Monday.
“My OB came in immediately. And she’s like, ‘I think we’re having the babies today.’ And I’m like, ‘no, we’re not. I’m only 34 weeks,'” mom of twins Leah Bahrencu said, sharing her story of giving birth prematurely back in 2017.
She went to her OB-GYN’s office after experiencing pain and inflammation in her upper abdomen, and her doctor sent her to the hospital right away.
“The nurses started whispering I started seeing more nurses come in, and everybody started moving really fast. And they said, ‘we’re taking you into go have surgery right now,'” Bahrencu explained. “‘We need to get these babies out.'”
Bahrencu’s twins, Lukas and Sorana, were born that day, Jan. 17, 2017. But they wouldn’t get to go home as a family for another four weeks.
“I went into liver and organ failure. And then because my kidneys weren’t working, I was actually like, drowning myself,” Bahrencu said, explaining the complications the emergency C-section led to. “So my lung started failing because of all the fluids inside. So I went into lung failure, and was put into a medically induced coma.”
She says she can’t remember most of the experience, which is hard, because at the same time, her daughter Sorana was also suffering.
“She actually suffered a traumatic brain injury. So the right side of her brain, they did two MRIs was not functioning at all,” Bahrencu said. “They basically told her she was going to be a vegetable that she was going to not eat, drink, walk, talk, play sports.”
But, both Leah and Sorana began improving.
“She’s been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. But if you watched her, you would not know that she had any sort of struggle, any sort of life-fighting issues. I mean, she just, she’s amazing,” Bahrencu said, describing her now 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
She’s not alone in her struggles.
In Texas, the rate of premature births has surpassed the national average for the past decade and has been steadily increasing over the last three years.
Studies by the state’s health department show many of these early births are preventable, which is why March of Dimes is trying to raise awareness and increase access to care.
“Too many women that are uninsured, too many women that live in places that don’t have access to even… a hospital that offers obstetric services or are too far away from an OB-GYN for prenatal visits,” Stewart said.
She also explained there are more factors outside of health care that impact a women’s health before and during her pregnancy.
“Do they have income to help support themselves and their families? Can they get to those jobs? Are there transportation, transportation systems that make it easy for them to get to those jobs? Do they have access to safe, decent, affordable housing, right, to raise their families? Those are the things in in life that really influenced our health overall,” Stewart said during Monday’s virtual event.
Bahrencu is now using her voice to encourage women to reach out when something feels off, even if they’re worried about the cost of care.
“In the back of your head, you’re thinking, ‘I can’t afford that,’ you’re not going to bring it up to anybody, you’re just going to not go to your appointments, you’re going to make up an excuse or something. And that can be super detrimental,” she said.
One benefit of the pandemic: its increased telehealth services to rural areas, which has helped increase access. That’s something state lawmakers are hoping to extend and expand this upcoming legislative session.
More resources for mothers with questions can be found on the March of Dimes’ website.