Last word: birth

By Michelle Oyen

• Winter 2023 issue
Michelle L. Oyen
Michelle Oyen is the director of the Center for Women’s Health Engineering and an associate professor of biomedical engineering.

Birth (noun) is the emergence of a new individual from the body of its parent (Merriam-Webster). It is a process that is more challenging and suffers many more failures than people generally realize.

One in every 10 births — both in the U.S. and globally — takes place before full-term gestation. The costs associated with prematurity can be extremely high, increasing for each week of earliness.

Stillbirth late in pregnancy can be devastating for expectant parents. Many stillbirths are classified as “preventable,” which is no consolation to a family experiencing grief.

Although decreasing worldwide, maternal mortality is increasing in the U.S., where racial disparities are much of what drives that increase. Black and Native American women are three times more likely than white women to die due to pregnancy.

Poor outcomes for mothers and babies are expensive for the medical system and carry other societal costs, including enduring mental health challenges.

In fall 2022, we launched our new Center for Women’s Health Engineering with maternal and fetal health research as part of its core. Historically, the intersection of engineering and medicine has been stronger in some clinical specialties than in others. We aim to build strong ties with fields underrepresented in engineering collaboration, such as obstetrics and gynecology.

Engineering brings novel tools and techniques to intractable problems in society. In biomedical engineering, those tend to be challenging clinical issues. Saving lives and improving the quality of life for mothers and babies are fundamental goals of this new Center.

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