LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – A recently released report finds that more than a third of Tennessee is considered a maternity care desert, which means mothers and pregnant women have no access to maternal care in the county where they live.
According to March of Dimes‘ 2022 report, about 34 counties in Tennessee are considered maternity care deserts.
“A maternity care desert is where there is no access to an OB provider, a birthing center — there is just nothing there,” said Kebera Leach with March of Dimes’ Tennessee.
One of the maternal care deserts in Tennessee is Lauderdale County where new mom Mallory Worlds drove more than an hour each way for her obstetrician appointments pre and post-pregnancy.
“It was stressful,” she said. “If you just had something small and you wanted to check on it, it wasn’t really available to do that unless you wanted to go that far.”
Worlds said as she got closer and closer to her due date, the appointments became weekly and she was taking full days off her job as a nurse and other responsibilities for check-ups.
“It wouldn’t just be me. My husband always wanted to go to appointments with me. I didn’t want to go alone and sometimes he couldn’t be off work like that and I would have to get someone else to go with me if I didn’t want to drive back and forth by myself,” she said.
She was concerned that she might go into labor unexpectedly and not be able to get to the hospital in time, but even though doctors induced her labor the same day as a prior appointment, the distance was still an inconvenience.
“I had to drive there. I went to my appointment and I just asked a friend [who] lives in Memphis like, ‘hey, I have to go back to the hospital tonight to be induced,'” she said. “You definitely have to plan a lot with your doctor so far away.”
And since giving birth, she says she has made the trip to Memphis 10 or 20 times for appointments to treat her and her newborn.
“That’s also hard as a postpartum mom when you are trying to recover. I had to have a C-section, I was very sore, having to get into the car and drive for an hour and on top of it, they are eating every two-three hours. It was very difficult,” she said.
However, groups like March of Dimes and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Nursing are actively working to bring more resources to these communities.
UTHSC College of Nursing has received $3.9 million in grants to allow the college to help provide health care to Lake and Lauderdale counties with a mobile health unit. The college also hopes to add rural health education to its undergraduate curriculum, according to a spokesperson for the college.
Worlds says she is lucky to have a supportive partner and access to a car to make all of her appointments but knows not everyone in her county is in the same situation.
“Most people don’t know we don’t have the resources we need around here. Some of us are able to make the drive, [but] just because we are able to doesn’t mean we should have to just to get good care,” she said.