women in the U.S.
By Sibylla Chipaziwa
If you happened to drive near Harbor Island Park this past Labor Day, you may have noticed a small group holding up signs like “Honk if you have a mother” or “Evidence-based care.”
This had nothing to do with abortion, as some passersby may have thought. Instead, this was one of many rallies held across the United States to call attention to the current state of maternity care. In its fourth year, the Rally to Improve Birth strives to raise awareness about the limited birth options and care available in the country, and advocates for evidence-based care and humanity during childbirth.
According to FacetheFactsUSA.org, a project of the George Washington University that provides information via research, there are 49 countries ahead of the U.S. in women surviving childbirth, with the maternal mortality rate in America doubling in the past 25 years. Twenty-eight women died per 100,000 live births in 2013, according to World Health Organization—a statistic that has only increased. America’s rising maternity mortality rate is largely due to a lack of access to proper healthcare and education about pre-natal care.
With one in every three childbirths being performed via Cesarean section—a risky and often unnecessary procedure—and nine out of 10 women getting care that increases the risk of harm to them and their babies, Improving Birth, the nonprofit organization behind the rallies, hopes that raising awareness helps brings research and change to the maternity healthcare system in the United States.
“There’s something wrong, and it needs to be studied and it needs to be fixed,” said Christina Carino-Forrest, one of the coordinators of Mamaroneck’s rally.
Carino-Forrest, a mother of two from New Rochelle, added that women today are twice as likely to die during childbirth as their mothers were, despite advances in technology.
“African-American women are three times as likely to die [during childbirth] in this country, regardless of class,” she added.
Participants at the Harbor Island Park entrance during Mamaroneck’s Rally to Improve Birth, which took place on Labor Day. The annual rally runs simultaneously in cities across America. Photo/Bobby Begun
Carino-Forrest’s passion for women’s health comes from her experiences as a birth doula, a physical and emotional source of comfort for women, especially new parents, during birth.
“[The current healthcare system is] not supporting women; we’re not doing what’s best for mother and baby. We’re not doing what the evidence said we should be doing,” she added. “We’re harboring old practices that make money for insurance companies.”
Co-coordinator of the Mamaroneck birth care rally, Faith McFall-Smith, a mother of two from Yonkers, is African-American and feels that raising awareness about the disparities between Caucasian women and women of color would also help improve birth options.
“It’s unfortunate, and a lot of it is lack of education and lack of opportunity,” McFall-Smith said. “It goes back to a broader conversation around race in this country. A lot of it for me is very personal.”
Having had a C-section with her firstborn, which she later found out was unnecessary, McFall-Smith took control of her second child’s birth by having a home delivery after educating herself on the available birthing options.
Her husband Gary Smith said he was initially scared of opting to have a home birth, but after doing his own research, supported his wife’s decision.
“I wanted my wife to be as comfortable as possible, especially with what we went through with our first birth,” he said. He added that he found out that C-sections can reduce a woman’s fertility.
Joyce Havinga-Droop, a birth doula from Larchmont, is the president of the Hudson Valley Birth Network, an organization that provides listings of birth workers and resources for childbirth assistance.
Havinga-Droop suggested that Westchester County’s high C-section rate of 39.2 percent, according to 2012 data from the New York State Department of Health, may have to do with distrust in natural birth.
“We should trust that birth can do what it needs to do,” she said, adding that pregnant women should trust their bodies and the natural birthing process.
Originally from the Netherlands—which ranks No. 6 to America’s No. 33 in the 2015 State of the World’s Mothers report, which compares motherhood worldwide, from the charity Save the Children—Havinga-Droop said she was able to choose her birthing method, which was natural, in the Netherlands, and she hopes her three daughters will be given the right to choose their birthing methods here in the United States.
“Had I not been educated and given some opportunities, I probably would have been cut twice for no reason,” McFall-Smith said. “I was able to help myself, [and] made the choice to have a home birth—one of the best days of my life, easy.”