Safety in Numbers

Working to bring awareness to our broken maternity care system can feel quite lonely.  When we produced the play “Birth” by Karen Brody back in 2007, we had a strong group of doulas helping, and a close-knit home birth community to fill the seats.  Ultimately, aside from the professionals who agreed to participate in the talk back panel discussion after the play, it felt a bit like preaching to the choir.  But we plugged along, undeterred because we so passionately believed that nothing would improve if we weren’t talking about it.  So, we held a screening of “Business of Being Born,” we hosted Jennifer Block to discuss her book Pushed, we hosted a screening of “Pregnant in America”and we created Women In Labor Daze, a week long celebration of motherhood which culminated in another weekend of the play “Birth.”  But all along, we wondered if our message was being received by the folks who most needed to hear it – the providers and the women who were afraid of birth.

When a large midwifery practice in our community was abruptly shut down we organized a daily protest at the hospital.  After we had been protesting outside the hospital for a couple of weeks, I arrived first one day and pulled my poster board sign out of the van and stood on the sidewalk waiting for others to show up.  A guy in a red pick-up truck drove by and shouted, “GET A JOB, BITCH!!!” out his window.  Wow.  At the time, I thought, “It’s true, I don’t have a job.  I just stay home with my kids.  I’m just a mom. . .but I want this to be my job!”  How was anything going to change unless women made it our job to change the current culture around childbirth?  So we decided that we would!  We recognized that after most women have their first baby, they are so overwhelmed with the transition to motherhood, they don’t necessarily have time to reflect on their birth experience much less set out to try to change the system.  But we knew there were others like us out there – there were communities all over the world producing the play, “Birth,” the film “Business of Being Born” was being screened everywhere.  What if we could somehow coordinate our efforts?  Form a national campaign to raise awareness?  Start networking with other activists and find out about where other folks have affected change in their communities so that we can replicate those things in our own communities.

And that’s where you come in, birth activist!  We need you.  We want to know what you have been up to.  If you are available June 22 – 24, join us at the Farm for our Birth Activist Retreat.  If you have already been accepted to the retreat, look for an invitation this week to join our private facebook group where we will begin brainstorming ways to actively engage the public about pregnancy and birth.  And if you cannot make it in June, but want to be a part of the discussion, sign up to be on our mailing list and we will invite you to join the discussion on facebook.

It may feel lonely being the one lady holding up a sign, talking about transforming maternity care.  But you are not alone – there’s safety in numbers.  Join us.

Bad Behavior, Part 2

Last year, I wrote a post called, “Time Out for Bad Behavior” which was supposed to be the first in a series.  And then it didn’t really pan out that way.  I’ll be honest here – I have a hard time writing about these issues.  I was raised in a household that used the dreaded phrase ‘be a good girl’  which has taken quite some time to get over.  If I got angry or upset, I was told, “quit yer cryin’.”  Also, it was made quite clear that no one wanted to see a woman get angry because then everyone would think you were (God forbid) a bitch.  But now I have daughters, and if I don’t talk about the problems I see with our maternity care system, they will have to get pregnant and give birth under the same messed up conditions that I did.  So, I have to talk about it!  I have met folks in the birth-y world who very strongly believe that we ought to just keep it positive and plug along, don’t talk about the problems, don’t be negative.  And that’s exactly why nothing is changing. That’s more of the same ‘be a good girl’ thinking that keeps us stuck.  How can anything improve if we don’t talk honestly about what is not working?  Being almost 40, I have been given the gift of time and wisdom, and I’ve come to realize that it really doesn’t matter what other people think of me, what matters is what I think of me.  And I have also realized that not talking about it makes me feel miserable, makes me feel like I am part of the problem.  So, let’s talk about providers in the hospital setting. . .

I recently had a conversation with a physician (we’ll call him Dr. X) who had quit obstetrics and opened a birth center.  Yay!  He also said that while he was practicing obstetrics, his c-section rate was only 5% – again, Yay!  But, he then shared the fact that he had colleagues who had c-section rates close to 50% – boo.  And Dr. X claimed he understood why – huh?  Dr. X said he was recently named in a lawsuit from a birth that happened years ago because the child was diagnosed with ADHD and the family was claiming birth trauma was to blame.  He said that if it wasn’t for such a ‘litigious society,’ physicians would not feel so much pressure to perform cesareans.  WHA?!  I get it – doctors who get sued have to deal with really high insurance rates, and might even get sued personally.  That really sucks.  But the key word here is MIGHT.  They might NOT get sued.  And if it is perfectly acceptable for a physician to perform defensive medicine in order to protect his own livelihood, why don’t we talk about the countless women whose livelihoods MIGHT be impacted by an unnecessary cesarean?  Why is this physician’s livelihood/lifestyle more important than the women he serves?  What of all of the women who end up with physical issues stemming from surgery that last a lifetime?  Is a physician’s life more important because we value doctors more than we value women?

And another thing – why aren’t the providers taking some responsibility for the ‘litigious society’ that they helped create?  If you are going to claim that the hospital is the safest place to have a baby, to claim that you have all of these fancy machines designed to prevent anything from going wrong, then you better have a good explanation when things inevitably do go wrong.  Essentially, women are being told, “Trust me.  Just lie back and let us take care of everything for you.”  If you ask a woman to give up her power to you, she is participating in your version of birth where the woman is just a vessel and your only goal is to take a live baby out of her.  But somewhere along the line, she is going to realize that what happens to her in birth is going to stay with her forever.  And you lied to her – you told her to trust you and that everything would be okay if she does exactly what she is told.  If she is a ‘good girl.’  So of course she is going to be upset when she does what she is told and something horrible happens.  In her mind, you were doing everything TO her, so it is your responsibility, not hers.  Of course you’re going to get sued!  You promised she wouldn’t have to participate in her own birth, that you would do all the work.

But there are no guarantees in birth.  No matter how many fancy machines you have, injury and death are always a possible outcome.  And no matter how much you might want to control birth to prevent a bad outcome, it is never really the care provider’s work to have control over.  It’s that woman’s labor, and the work needs to be HER work.  It took us a long time to forget this important fact, and it’s going to take a lot of work to help women and the people who care for them to remember and act accordingly.  So, let’s start talking about it.

Is this thing on???

Hello, birth workers.  I’m talking to you – midwives, doulas, activists, advocates, physicians, nurses, bloggers, hospital administrators – anyone and everyone who can see what a mess our maternity care system is in.  I want to congratulate all of you for working to make birth better for mommies and babies, and to ask if you are ready to ‘kick it up a notch’?  For over a year now, I have been using the word ‘revolution,’ and calling on all of us to unite and begin actively engaging those who hold positions of power to effect change where it is needed (Let’s get it started in here, Time out for Bad Behavior, and Who Ya Gonna Call?).

Over the Christmas break, I read a post over at the Unnecessarean about ‘pit to distress.’  I had heard of this practice, but did not realize how pervasive it is.  As the post points out, pit to distress (giving a mother high amounts of pitocin in order to send a baby into distress) was occurring in our country at such high rates, the act found its way into nursing text books.  I was so angry after reading this post, I couldn’t sleep for weeks.  I wanted to blog about it, but every time I sat down to write, I became afraid of my anger.  How could this be happening in our country?  How could people who had taken an oath to ‘do no harm’ be putting women and babies in danger for their own convenience?  And what of the people who were carrying out the orders, knowing what the implications were for their patients?  The post was written three years ago – is this practice still going on?  And when will it stop?  As a wise physician once said to me, “We [the physicians] are comfortable with the way things are. Nothing is going to change until the women ask for something different.”

We at WMM? have been emboldened by our successes. Twice now, when mommies and midwives have stood together and demanded change, the folks who have the power to affect change have listened. We believe the time for action is now. Let’s stop talking about how bad things are and do something. Let’s come together, gather our allies, learn from the people who have improved maternity care in their communities and lay the groundwork for a full-scale birth revolution! Join the national grassroots movement to change maternity care.

WMM? invites you to spend a weekend at the Farm in Tennessee, collaborating and brainstorming, coming up with activities that can be carried out in any community at any time for little to no money. These activities will raise public awareness about our broken maternity care system, and draw attention to the methods that are producing better results for mothers and babies. We need to put public pressure on the people, organizations and businesses in positions of power and hold them accountable for improving outcomes.

If you are ready to take the next step, join us June 22nd through the 24th at our first annual Birth Activists Retreat. For more information, e-mail us at info@wheresmymidwife.org.

And remember, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Thoughts While Driving

Those of you who follow us on Facebook , know that Where’s My Midwife? has been busy giving birth and participating in other BOLD activities. There is much happening, and it is very cool and exciting, but I will let the lovely and talented Kirsti and Anna share those stories.

For now, I wanted to tell you about a very odd experience I had a couple of weeks ago. I went to see my midwife, and when I left, I was sad. I know, I know. You are thinking, “Honey, you ain’t the first person to be sad. Let me tell you about a SAD trip to see a health care professional!” And you’re right. You are totally right.

What seemed so unusual, at least to me, was the reason for my sadness. I was there for a routine checkup. Yes, every woman’s favorite – the annual exam. All was well, and as I was leaving everyone, from the lovely nurse who asked me about all my other kids at each visit during my last pregnancy to the ladies at the front desk who were simply kind enough to treat me as a person and not a number, said, “Bye! See you next year!” Really? I have to go a year without seeing this people? I’m going to miss them. And that doesn’t even include my midwife. Love her! She is amazing! That is all I can say.

But it struck me as I was driving home, who is their right mind is sad about not spending time with the people who poke and prod at their most sensitive parts? A woman seeing a midwife, that’s who.

BOLD is turning 5 and Where’s My Midwife? will be a guest of honor at the birthday party!

What is BOLD you ask? BOLD (“Birth” On Labor Day) is a global movement to make maternity care mother-friendly. Folks all over the world sign up to perform a play called “Birth” by Karen Brody over Labor Day weekend.  Ms. Brody conducted hundreds of interviews with women about their birth experiences, and condensed them into seven interwoven monologues that paint a vivid picture of birth in our country.  People all over the world are coming together to laugh and cry, to be entertained and educated, to discuss how to improve maternity care and to raise money for organizations doing the work.

The women in the play could be your best friend, sister, neighbor or coworker and their stories reflect the reality of giving birth today. There is ecstasy, pain, disappointment, rejoicing, and poop!

BOLD has been happening for 5 years and to celebrate they are honoring 5 people or organizations that have made creative contributions to improving childbirth choices for mothers in the last 5 years. Where’s My Midwife? was chosen alongside:

We are very excited and honored to be included in such an amazing group of creative activists! We hope that you will join us in New York City.   Before you list all the reasons why spending Labor Day in NYC is impractical visit: www.GetBoldAboutBirth.com.   The play and birthday celebration are being broadcast for free via the internet. All you have to do is sign up. You can even bake a cake and invite all your friends over to watch the play and celebrate with you!

Summer Madness and our Anniversary!

After a busy spring of blogging, we have been oddly silent for the past couple of months.  For that, we apologize.  We know you enjoy reading our rambling (some of you even admit it in emails – and muchas gracias for the love!), and we love sharing with you. 

Last spring we went through a bit of a restructuring, and I emerged as the primary blogger.  Little did the rest of the group know, that beneath my exterior of overachieving auditor and mommy of four, I am a slacker.  This summer I have totally failed to share the latest and greatest WMM? news with you.  But while I have been busy eating bonbons and drinking margaritas (oh how I wish!), the rest of the group has been busy.  Some of the things that have gone on since Memorial Day:

 

So now that we are updated, we are going to work on posting regularly so you can keep up with all our fun and madness – whether you like it or not!

P.S. – It has officially been two years since we found out that our beloved midwives had been fired.  In case you missed it, or want to remember why we are still so fired up, here is our birth story:

“Where’s My Midwife?” from Kirsti Kreutzer on Vimeo.

 

 

Congratulations, Missi!

 

The lovely and talented Missi Willmarth was awarded the 2011 Kitty Ernst Award at the 56th Annual ACNM Meeting and Expo in San Antonio, TX last week!  We could not be happier for Missi, one of our biggest supporters.  She is the lovely midwife who ran a half marathon last October to raise money for WMM?  Ms. Willmarth is the coordinator for the University of Cincinnati’s nurse-midwifery and women’s health nurse practitioner’s program where she teaches and coordinates the fully on-line Master’s program!

Congratulations, Missi!  YOU ROCK!

They’d do it for us. . .

Our friends at Choices in Childbirth recently applied for a grant through The Foundation for the Advancement of Midwifery. As one of the 16 finalists for the grant, they are eligible to compete for an additional $5,000 Fan Favorite Award furnished by Floradix. Choices in Childbirth is a nonprofit that educates women about Mother-Friendly childbirth options like doulas, midwives, acupuncturists, and yoga instructors. They work to connect providers with women and families to make the most positive birthing, prenatal, and postnatal experiences possible. They are located in NYC and work as a national organization. Every vote will help them to win crucial dollars that support their educational resources for women: the online Mother-Friendly Provider Network and the printed Guide to a Healthy Birth.  This is where you come in!  Follow this link, and cast your vote.  It’s an exciting time to be working as a birth advocate!

WMM? Maternity Care Snapshot

A quick, anonymous survey.  We aim to have snapshots from all over the world.  Here’s how it works:  If you have given birth in the last five years, answer the questions and email your responses, numbered 1-10, to info@wheresmymidwife.org.  It’s that simple!  We will post surveys periodically so we all have the chance to get a brief glimpse of what birth is like in other communities.  We hope that this will help to get women asking questions.  Why are there so many options in ______, when I only have ______ to choose from in my community?  To get responses from a large, diverse community, we need your help.  Please click the share on Facebook and Twitter links on the left side of the page, and email the questions and instructions (or just send a link to this post) to women you know who have given birth in the last five years.  If you would like to include a photo, you can email it with your answers.  Just remember, a photo may take the anonymity out of your survey answers.

I completed the survey so you can see how it will look:

 

 

  1. Where are you?  (city, state, provence, country)  Wilmington, NC USA
  2. Within 25 miles of your home, how many Obstetricians?  Midwives?  73 OBs (according to my health insurance provider), 4 midwives (licensed by the state and currently catching babies
  3. Within 25 miles of your home, how many hospitals with labor and delivery?  Birth Centers?  1 hospital, no birth center
  4. How would you describe your community? (rural, suburban, urban)  suburban
  5. Describing your most recent birth experience, who was your attendant (if any)?  obstetrician or midwife?  midwife
  6. How many home birth practitioners are available?  OB or Midwife?  1 midwife
  7. Are there any doulas serving your community? How many?    yes, 11
  8. Are childbirth education classes available?  yes
  9. How happy are you with your maternity care options?  (Very Happy, Pleased, Disappointed)  Disappointed – not with my midwives, just the lack of options
  10. If you could change one thing about maternity care in your community, what would it be?  I would love to have a birth center in Wilmington

Faith Gibson Interview

In March, I had the great pleasure of hosting Faith Gibson, an extraordinary midwife and activist, at my mom’s house during the CIMS Conference (to read more about Faith, click here).  She agreed to do an interview for our History of Midwifery series of shorts.  I shot over an hour of footage because she has so many incredible stories to share – from her time as a Labor and Delivery nurse to her arrest as a midwife in California.  We will be releasing her story in 4 parts.

Part One is Faith’s recollection of working in the ‘white ward’ of a segregated hospital in the 1960s in Florida:

 

Stay tuned for Part Two: the Black Ward, and Faith’s own Birth Story.