The death of Kerry Martin, the wife of state treasurer Dean Martin during what was supposed to be routine childbirth, and the death tonight of her newborn son has shocked and saddened many in the state. Our condolences go out to the Martin family.
It is also a time to reflect on the dangers of childbirth. During the middle ages childbirth was one of the most common causes of death for women. In fact, the gender balance was kept roughly even because about as many women died in childbirth as men died in war and occupational accidents combined. Even during the nineteenth century and the early part of the last one, death during childbirth was still a leading killer of women.
Modern medicine has made death during childbirth much rarer, but it still happens. The most recent statistic I could find was that the rate of childbirth death in the United States was 13 women per 100,000 births.
However, let's put that number in some perspective.
The occupational death rate for all occupations in America is 3.9 per 100,000. Office workers, who are mostly women, have the lowest rate, 0.4 per 100,000 annually source
From the same source, firefighters die at a rate of 10.6 per 100,000 per year. Construction workers overall have a death rate of 11.0 per 100,000 though some subcategories in construction (such as electrical workers) are higher. Police and sheriff's officers risk death at a rate of 18.2 per 100,000 (source.)
What this means is that women going through childbirth are risking their lives at a rate that is comparable at least to firefighters, construction workers and police officers (and keep in mind that the 13 per 100,000 is only the death rate of women who go through childbirth, and would be significantly higher if we factored in those who die during pregnancy due to complications from pregnancy.)
That isn't to say that women shouldn't choose to bear children (if none of them did then the human race would become extinct in short order) but it is worth remembering at this sad time that for a woman childbirth represents her putting her life on the line (literally) and we should respect it at least as much as we respect firefighters, police officers and construction workers who at least get a paycheck for what they do.