Comforting Words: Pregnant and at Risk

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Pregnant and at Risk

It was with horror I watched a CNN anchor quite calmly, as one could expect, read the shocking statistics that homicide was the common cause of death among pregnant women in the United States.

Why are husbands, lovers and others killing the pregnant women in their lives? As the news report did not give any details, I decided to check for more information. While doing so my dear friend and guide, Spirit, turned up and asked me, “Why does this bother you so much?”

See what I found out about being “Pregnant and at Risk” and labour with me through the Words from Scripture, Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart to my personal truths in this disturbing story.


From Judeo-Christianity (NRSV):
Job 3: 16 – 17

“ . . . Why was I not buried like a stillborn child, like an infant that never sees the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest.”


It is hard to imagine what one could say to comfort the family in grief over the death of their pregnant daughter, sister or niece, who was murdered by the one who they thought loved her most. To them, this pregnancy seemed to be the happiest time of her life and both she and her partner were eagerly anticipating the birth of their child. At least, that is how they saw the couple.

For those who planned and wanted it, pregnancy can be one of the most joy-filled times of a woman’s life. Morning-sickness, bloating and the general discomfort of walking, sitting and sometimes even breathing can cause a woman to wonder “where is the joy?” However, knowing that new life has emerged and daily grows within you can make everything else seem petty, elevating you to the proverbial cloud nine.

This joy and sense of expectancy is not shared however by many of the partners of pregnant women. Statistics coming out of the U.S. show that thirty one percent of the injury-related deaths among pregnant women were acts of murder.

The reports also had another little ‘gem’ – women under 20 years of age and women of African descent are especially vulnerable and the homicide rate among African-American women is three times more than among Caucasian women. What is even more frightening is that the authorities feel that pregnancy-related deaths are under-reported.

Do not be fooled into thinking that violence against pregnant women is isolated to the United States – the land of anything goes. Here in Canada, a 1993 Statistics Canada report states that twenty-one percent of the women participating in a sexual assault survey were victims of violence during pregnancy. Defining “Woman Abuse” and what causes it, the Public Health Agency of Canada states that the risk of abuse is heightened for women who are “young (18-24), elderly (65 or older), disabled or Aboriginal. The risk is also increased when a woman was victimized in childhood or exposed to violence against her mother. Pregnancy is also a risk factor for being abused.”

Internationally, pregnant women are no safer. While the specific statistics is hard to find, one can imagine the risk that pregnant women are at in places such as the United Kingdom, where a 2004 Amnesty International report states that about two women per week are killed by their partners.

One is hardly surprised that statistics on pregnant women is not available in this world, where in 2003 at least fifty-four countries have discriminatory laws against women and where seventy-nine countries have no (or unknown) legislation against domestic violence. Heaven only knows what happens to women with unwanted pregnancies when marital rape is recognized specifically as a crime in only fifty-one countries.

In our world, according to the Amnesty report, “at least 60 million girls who would otherwise be expected to be alive are ‘missing’ from various populations as a result of sex-selective abortions or inadequate care as they are seen less important than boys.”

The 'leaders' of many African churches are right now outraged against marriages between two people who are in committed relationships but are of the same-sex. They are threatening to withdraw from their international church community in protest against this 'immorality'. My question is simple - where is the similar concern and expression of outrage for the African women who are 175 times more likely to die in childbirth and pregnancy than Westerners?

In Costa Rica, seven point five percent of battered women reported that abuse caused their miscarriages. Moving East, the question becomes: "How many women die in India as the three million female fetuses are being aborted each year?"

As I read the information from MSNBC, the Center for Disease Control, Public Health Canada, from Amnesty and other reports, my mind went back to my own pregnancies, searching to find if there was any truth about this vulnerability in my own experience. Truth is, I was looking whether death ever came knocking on my doors during any of my pregnancies – and I was appalled at what I remembered.

I can recall my first pregnancy and how gentle and protective I was of the child growing in my belly. Though it was an unplanned pregnancy, there was a sense of special-ness that I was able to conceive and be completely responsible for the growth of the little one that I carried. Never in my life had I taken so much care about the food I ate and the pace at which I worked or did anything. As my belly swelled and my feet and face bloated, there was an inner and outer glow about me, one which people saw and commented on. “Pregnancy suit you,” they would say.

My then husband was just as anxious and protective as I was. He was gentle and generally helpful around our little apartment. In the 1980s Ukraine, ultrasound tests were not available at the time to lowly people like us. You had to have connections with the local politburo. We however decided that I was carrying a boy and so we gave him a ridiculous nickname - Ragnam, because of the amount of food I was packing away.

It was a good time for us and my husband’s kindness and thoughtfulness helped to reassure me in those moments when the morning sickness or feeling like a whale got the better of me. Sadly however, we lost our first child. Unbeknownst to me at the time, we lost much more than that.

Less than two years later, we would be pregnant again but only one of us would be happy about it. After many a tear-filled nights, pleading with him to fall in love with this second chance we were given, I knew my husband did not want this child - at least not as much as I did.

In the back of my mind I knoew I was to be on my own when the new baby arrived. There were moments though when hope surged and the possibility that things would get back to ‘normal’ seemed real. Despite my vainest hope however, there were far more terrifying moments when it was not certain whether there would be a child to celebrate or if I would be alive to see its first birthday.

The memories of my first pregnancy and my stillborn son though hidden have remained with me. However, I tend to focus more on my soon to be eighteen year old daughter’s face. This morning, as she hugged me and I looked into her eyes, I saw the confident and elegant woman she is becoming.

As I close my own eyes and remember those days when death in fact knocked on my door but destiny answered in my stead, I prayed for those mothers who lost their lives and the children they carried.

Laci Peterson’s mother is reported to have asked her daughter’s murderer, Scot Peterson, why did he not think of divorcing instead of killing her, thus sparing her and her unborn son’s lives. This is a valid question, one which the world awaits his and the response of the millions of men around the world who today will raise their hands against a wife, a lover and mother of their unborn children.


You chose, O loving God,
to enter this world
quietly, humbly, and as an outcast.
Hear our prayers
on behalf of all who are abused:

For children,
who suffer at the hands
of parents whom they trust and love;
for spouses,
beaten and destroyed
by the very one
who promised to love
and to cherish them forever;
for all people
ignored, hated and cheated.
by the very neighbor
who could be the closest one
to offer your love.

Hear the cry of the oppressed.
Let the fire of your Spirit fill their hearts
with the power of vision, and hope.
Grant to them empowerment to act,
that they may not be passive victims
of violence and hatred.
Fulfill for them the promises you have made,
that their lives may be transformed
and their oppression ended.

Turn the hearts of the oppressor unto you
that their living may be changed
by your forgiving love;
and their abusive actions
and oppressive ways brought to an end.


(Taken from and was written by Vienna Cobb Anderson)

Blessings, until next week.


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