Imagine you are lying down at home, 28 weeks (about six and a half months) pregnant. You are weeks away from holding your precious bundle of joy. In the next room is a nursery waiting to welcome the newest addition to your family. You can fill the baby kick and you gently rub your stomach feeling the little movements inside of your belly. Joy begins to overwhelm you, but suddenly confusion and then panic interrupts your blissful daydreams with the sounds of a blaring alarm. It is the town’s tornado warning system to alert the community that a tornado is quickly approaching and for everyone to evacuate or take shelter immediately.
You sit up quickly to realize that your spouse has the car, and you are alone at home. Windows shake furiously and the house begins to tremble in the winds of the approaching wrath. Time is short and fleeting and the tornado is nearing. You need to get to the shelter outside across the yard or hurry to the basement.
Stories like this are common — women pregnant during a natural disaster, such as a tornado, hurricane, flood, earthquake, wildfire, or blizzard.
True Story: Surviving a Tornado While Pregnant
Watch the video and listen to the story of the Van Essendelft family. A family of eight and a mother who was 9 months pregnant. Five days later, after their family home is destroyed by the tornado, Carla Van Essendelft had given birth to a baby boy.
Now search the web and you will find parallel stories like that of the Van Essendelft family where pregnant women are survivors of extreme natural disaster. Unfortunately, you will also find tragic ones as well.
Stressed and Vulnerable
As someone who has been pregnant, doctors had advised to avoid stressful situations since stress could cause several severe issues for the woman and her baby.
According to the March of Dimes, stress for an extended period can cause high blood pressure and heart disease. This type of high-level stress can cause the chances of a premature or low-weight birth to be increased.
Not only can a stress become heightened during a disaster, but stress can also continue after the disaster.
Carla Van Essendelft and her family’s home was completely destroyed. They had lost everything and nearly lost each other.
Now imagine again, you were pregnant and in a natural disaster. Everything you have owned is gone in a matter of seconds! No house, money, clothes, food, clean water, transportation, and all your personal documents are now missing or destroyed.
For a pregnant woman, this can add more stress and make her emotionally, mentally, and physically vulnerable, especially if there are social and economic variables involved.
Economic and social circumstances can play a major role in how much disaster will affect a pregnant woman — and thus, her baby. “When you have women who have fewer resources, physically or emotionally, that gets harder,” Harville said. (Source: https://reliefweb.int/report/world/pregnant-women-are-particularly-vulnerable-disasters)
The article above examines the vulnerability of pregnant women and states that pregnant women are often an afterthought in emergency preparedness.
Studies have shown that women are more vulnerable than their male counterparts, following a disaster as they have differing physiology which makes them more prone to injuries and trauma.
Additionally, another article provides that the socioeconomic status of the woman may also negatively affect her chances of getting access to healthcare resources.
Sadly, with these variables mentioned, this can prove to have dire consequences for pregnant women and their unborn babies when not included in emergency preparedness.
Pregnant women are amongst other groups such as senior citizens, children, racial or ethnic minorities, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and those with functional and access needs which are “high-risk” or vulnerable populations who are often overlooked.
Including vulnerable populations in emergency preparedness is paramount to ensuring that these groups are provided the right safety information and resources and that they can be reached quickly during a disaster.
Preparing Expecting Mothers
So how can expecting parents prepare for disasters?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides excellent tips for expecting parents and their families.
Preparing for a disaster:
- Talk to your medical care provider on how you can get care if there is a natural disaster
- Know where to shelter if you must leave your home
- Have 7–10 days of supplies of your prescription medications
- If you have a baby, plan ahead to help him or her sleep safely, if you have to leave your home
- If you can, stock healthy low-sodium snacks and bottled water to keep up with your nutrition needs and stay hydrated
- Take care of your emotional health and practice healthy stress management
During and after a natural disaster:
- If you go to a shelter or temporary housing after a disaster, tell the staff that you are pregnant so they can assist
- If you are having signs of labor, get medical assistance right away or if you are in a shelter immediately inform the staff
- After it is safe, make an appointment to see a medical provider for prenatal care
There are more helpful tips and advice for pregnant women, new moms, and postpartum women on the CDC’s website.
Pregnancy can be a joyful time, but realistically pregnancies are not easy for most. But when a disaster strikes, it can be devastating to everyone, especially expecting mothers.
And it can be especially stressful and challenging if individuals and their families are not prepared.
Founded and operated by a mother, Maternity and Disaster Emergencies (M.A.D.E) is a new organization where our initiative is to guide, and support expecting mothers and their families to plan and prepare for disasters so that they can survive and overcome these challenging times.
This is our first article of many, and we want to share more helpful tips with all our readers.
We are also looking to partner with healthcare providers, educators, parents and more to bring more valuable resources to communities around the world!