Healthcare for pregnant, postpartum women

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:






Kathryn Emerick, MD







Kathryn Emerick, MD


Each May brings a celebration of Mothers’ Day, and it is also Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. While motherhood certainly brings joy, the perinatal period — the time from conception to a year after birth — can also be an exceedingly difficult time due to hormonal changes, lifestyle adjustments, and the immense amount of work that goes into caring for an infant and maintaining the household. There hasn’t been enough awareness or support for those who are struggling with these changes, and lives are being lost as a result.

In Arizona, the maternal mortality data from 2018-2019 paints a concerning picture: an average of 71 pregnant or birthing individuals died within 365 days of pregnancy each year, with a staggering 87% of these deaths being preventable. What’s particularly alarming is that pregnancy-associated deaths disproportionately affected individuals covered by Medicaid.

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Among these tragic cases, mental health emerged as the leading underlying cause of death among pregnancy-related cases. Distressingly, American Indian/Alaska Native women faced the highest pregnancy-associated mortality ratio, highlighting significant disparities in maternal health outcomes.

As Directors of the Arizona Perinatal Psychiatry Access Line (APAL), we must underscore the urgency of addressing this crisis. Arizona needs to increase access to high-quality mental health services and resources that are affordable, trauma-informed, and supportive of the family unit. These services should be prioritized for those who are pregnant or postpartum and facing additional challenges like lack of transportation, unstable housing, and substance use disorders.

Moreover, it is crucial for healthcare professionals to be well-equipped to identify and address maternal mental health issues effectively. APAL has completed over 50 trainings for provider groups across Arizona on topics related to mental illness and substance use disorder management in the perinatal period since its launch last June.

A comprehensive approach is needed to tackle maternal mental illness in Arizona. By increasing access to mental health services, prioritizing vulnerable populations, and improving provider education, strides can be made towards preventing unnecessary maternal deaths and ensuring the well-being of mothers and families across the state.

APAL is working to bridge the gaps in education and support. An important aspect of maternal support is highlighting the division of household labor. To that end, we are hosting a free screening of the documentary “Fair Play” on May 19. This film illuminates the significant domestic and career challenges mothers face. The goal is to inspire conversations during the post-film panel discussion around creating more domestic equality.

We are also covering childcare by offering free tickets to the Tucson Children’s Museum during the event, which runs from 1–3:30 p.m. RSVP for tickets at APAL.arizona.edu/fair-play.

Follow these steps to easily submit a letter to the editor or guest opinion to the Arizona Daily Star.



Saira Kalia, MD, is a perinatal psychiatrist, an associate professor of psychiatry at UArizona College of Medicine — Tucson, and the Director of the Arizona Perinatal Psychiatry Access Line.

Kathryn Emerick, MD, is a perinatal psychiatrist, an assistant professor of psychiatry at UArizona College of Medicine — Tucson, and the Co-Director of the Arizona Perinatal Psychiatry Access Line.

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