It was an absolute joy to co-plan Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond with Sonia Pressman Fuentes, the co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Here is the letter she is sending to the editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune about the event.
On Sunday afternoon, Nov. 1, Sarasotans had a unique opportunity to learn about maternal health care issues and available resources in Sarasota County, Florida, and the U.S.—and about 250 of them took advantage of that opportunity.
Starting at 3:00 p.m. and for two hours afterwards, Laura Gilkey, vice-president, Florida Friends of Midwives, and I presented a top-notch panel of experts on Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond in the ballroom of the Sarasota Hyatt Regency. Our panelists were: Ina May Gaskin, the most renowned midwife in the United States; Dr. Washington Hill, Maternal-Fetal Medicine Director, Sarasota Memorial Hospital; Jennifer Highland, executive director, Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County; and Representative Keith Fitzgerald, who represents Sarasota in the Florida House of Representatives. The panel was moderated by Kelly Kirschner, vice-mayor of Sarasota.
After the formal presentations, there was a question-and-answer period followed by refreshments. Available to all attendees was a 28-page Program and Resource Guide containing a glossary of terms, a listing of resources available in Sarasota, a list of people with expertise available at the program, and a list of recommended readings. Our program was sponsored by the Sarasota-Manatee chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women), SCSW (Sarasota Commission on the Status of Women), and FFOM (Florida Friends of Midwives). All at no cost to the attendees. That was made possible by the generous donations in money and in-kind by Sarasota businesses, organizations, and individuals.
Laura and I made this educational program available because the U.S. ranks 35th in maternal mortality and 33rd in infant mortality in the world. The U.S. spends more money on mothers’ health than any other nation in the world, yet in America women are more likely to die during childbirth than they are in most other developed countries.
We learned a great deal from our panelists. We learned about the problems caused by women in poor health, and those who are smokers, alcoholics, and drug addicts, becoming pregnant. We learned about the problems caused by induced labor and the performance of unnecessary Cesarean sections. We learned that statistics and other information on the incidence of induced labor, the rate of Cesareans, and maternal deaths in our community by obstetrician and hospital are not readily available. We learned about the success of special interest groups in preventing the passage of needed legislation in the Florida Legislature and the U.S. Congress. We learned about the system of postnatal care in The Netherlands where every new mother in the first eight to ten days after the birth of her baby is entitled to the services of an assistant, who will aid in the recovery of the mother and provide her with advice and assistance to care for her newborn. We learned that the maternal death rate in the US has not gone down since 1982 and the rate for African-American women has been three to four times higher than for whites since 1940.
As if to point up the timeliness of our program, two days later, on November 3, The New York Times published an article entitled “Premature Births Worsen US Infant Death Rate.” The article referred to the fact that about 1 in 8 U.S. births are premature and that early births are much less common in most of Europe. Among the reasons given for the high rate of prematurity in the U.S. were some of the very reasons discussed by our panelists, including the induction of labor and the overuse of C-sections.
Because of what we’ve learned, Laura and I now plan to build on this panel discussion and form an advocacy group to address these issues for Sarasota County, Florida, and the U.S. We welcome participation by anyone interested in working with us to achieve the goal of a healthy mother and a healthy baby in the case of every pregnancy.