Index Page for Maternal / Infant Deaths 
National Maternal Mortality Quilt Project ~ Ina May Gaskin

According to the scientific literature there are 2 to 3 times more maternal deaths than reported in the vital statistics collected by state and federal agencies. Approximately 500 deaths are reported. My this measure, the actual number would be 1,000 to 1,500 death each year. Most of these were medically preventable or the result of interventions such as off-label use of Cytotec and unnecessary Cesarean section.

Ina May Gaskin & Marsden Wagner speaking in Oakland, CA at
a rally protesting the high number of preventable maternal deaths.

Click on the mother name to see the quilt square created in her memory

Doris Zavala, Age 23
September 15th 2001

Nancy Lim
1951 - 1993

Tatia Maika Oden French 1969-2001

Baby Girl
Zorah Allie May French
born & died 12/28 2001

Open Letter by Maddy Oden, mother of Tatia Oden French,
on her daughter preventable death 

Mary Ann McCarthy, age 23
May 8th, 1995

Heidi Read

Christine Jehle Kim

Baby Girl Cresensia
born & died Oct 16, 1990
Andrea Johnson, age 15
June11th, 1992

Mary Siard

Dina Borrelli, age 31
July 8, 2003

Baby Boy Borelli
born & died July 8, 2003
Lena Katz Crossman, age 36
November13, 1986

Aubrey Daviner



Teresa Martinez
Died October 11th 2001






National Maternal Mortality Quilt Project ~ Ina May GaskinMattie

Presentation by Maddy Oden (mother or Tatia Maika Oden French and
grandmother to baby girl Zorah Allie May French) at the California Association
of Midwives' Conference: June 2004- Marin Headlands

We are gathered here today because of the mystery and miracle of childbirth. Exactly WHAT signals the body to begin labor is a mystery in itself.  Is it riding on the back of a motorcycle, like I did, is it a long walk?  Is it intercourse and the release of certain natural chemicals found in the body? They don’t really know and yet induction through the use of non FDA approved drugs has become the standard of care, and inducing labor, for the convenience of the doctor or mother, all to common. But is it healthy? Is it safe?

In Dec. 2001 my daughter, a beautiful, strong, intelligent black woman, went into labor with her first child. She was 32 years old, completely health and strong, as was the baby girl she was carrying and about to deliver. She wanted a natural childbirth. No drugs, no medical interventions. She knew of some of the harmful side effects of some drugs and obstetric interventions. She wanted no part of them.

She was 2 weeks past the date that her doctor had determined was her due date. Over the phone and from another location the OB/GN ordered Cytotec to induce her labor. After a few hours of pressure from the nursing staff and at the insistence of the doctor- who she trusted completely- and against her own better judgment, my daughter agreed to be induced with Cytotec. Cytotec is a drug used off label to ripen the cervix and induce contractions. 

She was given the non-FDA approved and irreversible drug .She subsequently went into uncontrollable hyperstimulation of her uterus, the baby went into distress, her uterus ruptured, an emergency C-Section was preformed and ten hours after she was induced with Cytotec, both my daughter and granddaughter were dead in the operating room of a respected East Bay hospital.

These deaths and the deaths of the women represented on the Quilt created by Ina May Gaskin and many, many more maternal deaths did not have to happen. They were and are preventable and unnecessary. An article in a 2003 issue of Health magazine states that” At last count, the FDA received 49 reports of uterine rupture and 10 infant deaths during labors in which Cytotec was used between 1988 and 2000.   Yet, the FDA has never prohibited the use of Cytotec for inducing labor.  ….

According to the World Health Organization report on Maternal Mortality published in 2000, the US ranks 30th in the world for maternal deaths.  29 other countries in the world have fewer maternal deaths then the US. the most highly technological and sophisticated country in the world. 30th.

The World Health Organization goes on to state, “ There is now a broad consensus that reduction in the MMR cannot be achieved in the absence of increased use of high quality health care services. Where MMRs are high, one must conclude that the health care system is dysfunctional, either in terms of providing adequate access to care, or in the quality of care provider, or as is most likely, a combination of the two.”

According to the CDC, Center for Disease Control, approximately three fourths of the maternal deaths go unreported in the US.  There is no accurate reporting, tracking and analysis system for maternal deaths. Even with that statistic, the maternal deaths that ARE reported are FOUR times as high in the African American community and in the Latino communities as the reported maternal death rate in the white community.  My own daughter’s death, was reported as “natural causes”- cardiac arrest. Secondary cause, amniotic fluid embolism. No mention on the death certificates that she was pregnant.

A local Bay Area county hospital is said to perform 85-90% inductions. The primary population, which the hospital serves, is Latino, and non-English speaking. Are these women fully informed when they agree to the procedures that the hospital wants to use? I don’t think so. Alta Bates hospital in the East Bay readily admits to a 25% C-section rate. Are all these C-sections necessary to save lives, or are they for the convenience of the doctor and sometimes the mother

The systematic inaccessibility to adequate medical care, full disclosure about drugs and medical interventions used during labor and delivery are contributing factors to the MMR being four times higher in the African American community then it is white community.  The importance placed on the ability to pay rather then the necessity to serve and heal are additional reasons that people in the lower economic brackets receive inadequate health care and thus higher maternal death rates continue to exist in the African American and non English speaking communities. Without an advocate, whether that is a midwife, doula, friend, relative, or even designated doctor, women of color are literally at the “command” and therefore convenience of the doctor. They’re by either becoming a high-risk pregnancy before the delivery, or at risk and in distress during the delivery.

The educational aspect of labor and delivery and accessibility to quality medical attention is often overlooked in these communities and thus various warning signs that signal trouble either with the mother or baby or both, are ignored and corrective, life saving measures are not taken. 

This institutional racism which begins literally with birth, can not continue to be ignored.

The purpose of the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation is to educate women everywhere and specifically in the lower economic and African American communities about maternal mortality, the off label use of drugs and fully informed consent. The information we distribute goes against the American cultural norm of expecting the doctor to always be right, and always have our best interest at heart. In our efforts to do this, the Foundation has encountered many other warriors on this same path. One such person is Kathryn Hall of the Birthing Project.

The Birthing Project is a national organization that has been in operation for over 16 years, and has delivered over 10,000 babies across the country, primarily in the African American community. One of the components of the Birthing Project is the Sister Friend Project. The SF project is where one women becomes a “ sister-friend” to a pregnant woman, who usually does not have a support system, or family to see her through the pregnancy and delivery and beyond. The SF is with the mom before delivery, and during delivery of the baby. She also follows the mom and baby for a year after the birth to insure that everything that the mother needs in terms of resources and support is available to her and that she has a good foundation in which to raise her child.

 The Birthing Project also has a component for fathers or the significant other in the mother’s life. It is a full service organization with much success and healthy moms and babies and natural deliveries.  To learn more about the Birthing Project and how you can start one in your area, please take one of the pamphlets in the back.  

I have also brought with me a letter to the FDA which Ina May Gaskin , Dr. Marsden Wagner and myself have worked on. It is a letter petition to the FDA regarding Cytotec.  We are asking them to “revisit the issue of drug labeling of Cytotec and return to the original warning from the manufacturer of the product, which specifically states NOT to give Cytotec to pregnant women”.  Recognizing the right to terminate early pregnancy, we are asking the FDA to establish much better regulations for the use of Cytotec.  Since the drug manufacturer warns of the death of both mother and child, we asking the FDA to also make this know.  If you wish to help us with this campaign, please see me before the lunch hour is concluded to read and sign the letter petition.

Life is a strange and wondrous journey, which begins with the miracle of birth. We take for granted certain “assumed” progressions and events in life. When things don’t proceed as “normal”, we should take notice that something is wrong. The high maternal mortality rate in the US is such an indicator.  We need to do everything in our power to determine exactly WHAT we are doing wrong and correct it.  I believe that education and natural childbirth is the answer.

Along with conception, eating and sleeping, childbirth is the most natural event in our lives. What we find today is a technological “corruption” of the childbirth process due to many unnecessary medical interventions that are there for the convenience of the OB/GYNs.

By educating women, mothers, fathers, brothers, nurses, midwives, doulas, doctors and the public in general about the dangers of the off label use of drugs and about the vital importance of Fully Informed consent and about the unnecessary high maternal death rate in the United Sates, I believe that we can reverse the climbing trend of maternal mortality and bring childbirth back to its rightful natural place in the delicate balance of the cycle of life.

Please join us in this struggle. In many cases, it is a matter of life and death.

Thank you.

Maddy Oden,
Chair of  the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation