Where is God when a mother dies in childbirth?

You know that instant alarm you feel when a loved one’s normal voice on the phone is not normal? I knew something was wrong by the way my daughter said, “Mom?”

A mother’s mind races in a thousand directions at that tone. What happened? What happened was indeed tragic, horrible, unbelievable: Her friend May had died in childbirth.

In a hospital. In the United States. In 2019. May had gone in with her husband to have a baby, a routine event even if it feels like the most amazing thing ever to the expectant couple.

But something went wrong. Only the father and the baby went home.

She is a baby girl, a tiny, perfect, beautiful brand-new baby, whose birthday is always going to be the day her mother died. Tragic, horrible, unbelievable.

And I am wondering, questioning, silently:

  • Where was God in that labour room?
  • Why her?
  • Why a young first-time mother?
  • Why not take an old bird like me?
  • Can I go back in time and volunteer to switch places?

I know that is not how God works.

Not that I know how God does work. Not that anything I think I know about how God works or does not work is necessarily true.

A lump of disbelief, a railing at injustice and a stunned sadness sit in the hearts of those who knew this bright and vibrant woman.

We do not know what to do.

We can try to channel our desolation into researching the facts:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year about 700 women in the United States die from pregnancy or delivery complications.
  • The U.S. maternal death rate is higher than any other developed country.
  • This risk of death is three to four times higher for African-American women than for white women.

Here we find plenty of outrage, both for the numbers and the racial discrepancy.

May is now counted in this ill-fated group of 700: As with any mortality statistic, however, one is too many if you know her. If she is yours.

We know about death—we have experienced its very real, cavernous loss—and yet we are caught unawares by it.

We can sandwich our sorrow into educated action that might tackle the causes of maternal death or into advocacy for safer conditions for childbirth, for better access to prenatal care, for wider support for pregnant women and single parents, for something, anything, good to come of tragedy.

We can contribute to the GoFundMe account for the young family or drop off nutritious meals or offer our time to help get stuff done or pray, pray, pray, even as we know that whatever we do will not change the past.

Whatever we give will not be enough. Continue reading

  • Valerie Schultz is a freelance writer, a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and the author of Closer: Musings on Intimacy, Marriage, and God. She and her husband Randy have four daughters.
  • Image: Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash
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