Visualizing US Maternal Mortality Count


  1. Data

    Initially, I wanted to use a dataset showing problems in the entertainment industry, especially in the context of the presentation of women and their roles in epic stories, however my mind kept returning to something I'd read in NPR and the slew of things it made me think about (more on that below). I had also considered doing an analysis of words spoken by women in the 2000 adaptation of The Odyssey, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, only to realize that there's only one speaking female character :(

    When trying to sort through exactly what the data would look like, I felt compelled to find data that would be simple enough to visualize given a certain degree of uncertainty in terms of how much room I'd have to work with and what the meaning would be. As I looked at the data on maternal mortality, I was intrigued to consider the way that NPR had presented the data, in a chart highlighting that with 26.4 deaths per 100,000 live births, the US had at least three times as many deaths as any other "developed" country (more thoughts on this later as well). I did the math to see if it might be an interesting percentage to visualize, and realized that visualizing .0264% would make the data seem insignificant.

    Although I understood that the way NPR presented the data (which, I should mention, fell alongside a very human story about the impact of the numbers), the reduction implied that there wasn't value to the fact that approximately 1,063 women died of complications from childbirth in 2015. Although those numbers aren't nearly as staggering as some, thinking about the stories behind the data was evocative.

  2. Weaving

    I chose to use each yellow stitch to represent one death, and though I considered aggregating these in a color-block fashion, this could be a little confusing as the gray yarn doesn't represent anything at all. Instead, I created a pattern of sorts: random highs and lows that might resemble a heart rate.

  3. Result

    a woven visualization of the number of women who died during childbirth in the US in a year


  1. "Developed"

    One of the biggest questions raised by the NPR piece was the notion of a nation being "developed", the natural opposite of "developing". I find this idea to be questionable in so many ways, and while I understand it isn't meant to imply that the US has no room or ability to grow, innovate, and improve as a society, it's impossible to escape the connotation of the word & its finality.

  2. Who is most affected?

    According to the CDC (per this Vox piece following the death of Erica Garner), the chance of a black woman dying during or within a year of her pregnancy is 3-4x as high as that of a white woman, something that the piece also mentions persists across income brackets.

  3. Heroism

    I've been thinking a lot about what the hero's journey represents; should it be the same for everyone? In an interview with Joseph Campbell, a scholar on the monomyth, he discusses the ubiquity of the monomyth but fails at providing evidence on how it represents everyone. He discusses how giving birth is a great example of a heroic action, and then fails to provide lots of other examples in which women are the heroes. I believe wholly that mothers are amazing and I hope to be lucky enough to be one someday, but sometimes motherhood feels at odds with the desire to push back against patriarchal constructs. On more than one occasion during conversations about society & the world, men have brought the total fertility rate to my attention as though I have some important role to play in it. I think the TFR is really interesting, but also feel that my decision to have or not have children is completely independent of that. I exist for reasons other than procreation, as we all do. It's also interesting to look at this data and to ask about legislative priorities.

    This runs the risk of becoming long and rambly, but in weaving this visualization I was able to meditate on the balance between engaging in traditionally feminine things while also maintaining my independence and existence in a field like computer science. I thought about the way that women always get asked about work/life-balance in interviews. I thought about feminism and the idea that it's a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I thought about the fact that so many women have created other humans to ensure humanity persists and how freaking great that is, but especially about how heart-wrenching the stories behind these numbers are. I thought about the fact that there are so many devastating things happening all over the world. I thought about the fact that there are people who identify as women who will never be able or choose not to have children, and how they are still as much of a woman as anyone else.

-cb 👩‍💻