Why Did My Wife Die in Childbirth?


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In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 650 women die each year as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications. For the men left behind in these cases, the pain is incomparable. It's only natural to wonder what caused the unexpected tragedy. What caused your loved one's death? Was there a way it could have been prevented? Sadly, in some cases, the answer is yes.

Anesthesia in Labor and Delivery

If your wife experienced cardiac arrest or respiratory arrest and died during the course of labor and delivery one of the first things you want to look into is the anesthesia that was used. In 2014, most of the anesthesia given during labor and delivery is what doctors call regional anesthesia (i.e., given through a needle in the region near the spine).

  • Epidural Anesthesia: The literal meaning of the word epidural is, "outside the dura." Doctors put a needle in the patient's back, in a space between the bony spinal column and the dura, which covers the spinal fluid. They place a little tube in that space through which they provide medicine continually, so it numbs the nerves. It's relatively safe, with none of the medication really reaching the baby, and it keeps the mother awake, able to assist with the birthing process both mentally and physically.
  • Spinal Anesthesia: With spinal anesthesia, doctors put a slightly smaller needle through the back, but directly into the spinal canal where the fluid is. The medication goes right into that space and works similarly to the epidural only more directly.
  • There is also something called a combined spinal/epidural (CSE) where both types of regional anesthetics are given concomitantly

Potential Problems with Anesthesia

While they are designed to be safe and helpful for mothers, regional anesthetics can lead to complications if not properly administered and if proper dosing and precautions are not adhered to

  • Delivery Problems: Epidurals can sometimes reduce or eliminate a mother's ability to push, which may lead to forceps delivery, vacuum delivery or a C-section.
  • Insertion Problems: Sometimes the doctor will have a hard time finding the right space to place the epidural and wind up putting it in the dura, which causes bad headaches for patients and sometimes the need for a blood patch, which puts a little bit of blood into the space, forming a clot to keep fluid from leaking out of the spinal column.
  • High Spinals: In the process of an attempted epidural or combined spinal/epidural, the medication can sometimes travel north in the body instead of down to the pelvis and uterus as intended. This misdirection can be the result of improper dosing or by laying the mother down too soon before gravity can pull the medicine down where it needs to go. This may lead to a high spinal, which causes the mother to lose her ability to breathe, have what's called a vascular collapse or even a cardio-respiratory arrest and possibly die. While this is rare, it does happen, and it is a tragedy.

Any time a mother dies during the course of a delivery, you should call into question the anesthesia process. If you believe your wife died in childbirth as a result of a medical mistake, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Ross Feller Casey.

About the Author

A leading physician and national medical expert, Dr. Charles H. Bowers, Jr., joined Ross Feller Casey’s Medical Forensic Evaluations Department in 2012.

Charles Bowers

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