This evening I attended my first meeting as a member of the Sarasota Manatee Chapter of the National Organization for Women. Of course, I have known about this trailblazing group since my adolescence, but became more deeply interested when planning Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century with one of NOW's founders, Sonia Pressman Fuentes. I decided to join today because of their discussion topic: What do today's young mothers want?
After the chapter's business was addressed, the discussion began. Group facilitator Judy Helgager honored the month of Mother's Day by bringing the needs of young mothers to NOW's table, with the intent to discuss ideas to attract this demographic into NOW membership. To prepare, Judy visited several popular "Mommy Blogs" prior to the meeting and read up on what issues were important to young mothers today.
Judy concluded that today's young mothers want to be valued. They want to stay home with their children and earn an income at the same time. They want their voices to be heard.
One of the reasons I was so excited to co-plan last year's panel discussion on maternal health with one of NOW's founders is that I have long found interesting the dichotomy of reproductive rights efforts within the feminist arena. While feminist groups have made great strides in related issues (currently the chapter is very active against H.B. 983), the right of a woman to give birth where, how, and with whom she chooses has largely been a non-issue.
I would argue in the context of tonight's discussion that one way to attract young mothers to feminist groups is by conveying the message that the right to transparent information about childbirth in this country is important. That women should be able to give birth naturally in a hospital if they so choose, without fear of unwanted intervention. That women can give birth at home with a licensed midwife and be within their legal rights and insurance network. That risks and benefits of common interventions be clearly discussed in public forums. That women will be supported before, during and after the births of their children. That groups such as NOW will communicate with elected officials about the high number of America's c-sections (42% in Sarasota)--many of which, data shows, are unwanted--and our absolutely unacceptable maternal mortality rates (currently 41st in the world).
For mothers, birth transforms women like no other single event in their lives. This singular event has the ability to empower a woman or traumatize her. The right to a healthy, informed, supported and conscious birth is the ultimate woman's right. These are the Rights of Childbearing Women, as produced by Childbirth Connection:
1. Every woman has the right to health care before, during and after pregnancy and childbirth.
2. Every woman and infant has the right to receive care that is consistent with current scientific evidence about benefits and risks. Practices that have been found to be safe and beneficial should be used when indicated. Harmful, ineffective or unnecessary practices should be avoided. Unproven interventions should be used only in the context of research to evaluate their effects.
3. Every woman has the right to choose a midwife or a physician as her maternity care provider. Both caregivers skilled in normal childbearing and caregivers skilled in complications are needed to ensure quality care for all.
4. Every woman has the right to choose her birth setting from the full range of safe options available in her community, on the basis of complete, objective information about benefits, risks and costs of these options.
5. Every woman has the right to receive all or most of her maternity care from a single caregiver or a small group of caregivers, with whom she can establish a relationship. Every woman has the right to leave her maternity caregiver and select another if she becomes dissatisfied with her care. (Only second sentence is a legal right.)
6. Every woman has the right to information about the professional identity and qualifications of those involved with her care, and to know when those involved are trainees.
7. Every woman has the right to communicate with caregivers and receive all care in privacy, which may involve excluding nonessential personnel. She also has the right to have all personal information treated according to standards of confidentiality.
8. Every woman has the right to receive maternity care that identifies and addresses social and behavioral factors that affect her health and that of her baby. She should receive information to help her take the best care of herself and her baby and have access to social services and behavioral change programs that could contribute to their health.
9. Every woman has the right to full and clear information about benefits, risks and costs of the procedures, drugs, tests and treatments offered to her, and of all other reasonable options, including no intervention. She should receive this information about all interventions that are likely to be offered during labor and birth well before the onset of labor.
10. Every woman has the right to accept or refuse procedures, drugs, tests and treatments, and to have her choices honored. She has the right to change her mind. (Please note that this established legal right has been challenged in a number of recent cases.)
11. Every woman has the right to be informed if her caregivers wish to enroll her or her infant in a research study. She should receive full information about all known and possible benefits and risks of participation; and she has the right to decide whether to participate, free from coercion and without negative consequences.
12. Every woman has the right to unrestricted access to all available records about her pregnancy, labor, birth, postpartum care and infant; to obtain a full copy of these records; and to receive help in understanding them, if necessary.
13. Every woman has the right to receive maternity care that is appropriate to her cultural and religious background, and to receive information in a language in which she can communicate.*
14. Every woman has the right to have family members and friends of her choice present during all aspects of her maternity care.
15. Every woman has the right to receive continuous social, emotional and physical support during labor and birth from a caregiver who has been trained in labor support.
16. Every woman has the right to receive full advance information about risks and benefits of all reasonably available methods for relieving pain during labor and birth, including methods that do not require the use of drugs. She has the right to choose which methods will be used and to change her mind at any time.
17. Every woman has the right to freedom of movement during labor, unencumbered by tubes, wires or other apparatus. She also has the right to give birth in the position of her choice.
18. Every woman has the right to virtually uninterrupted contact with her newborn from the moment of birth, as long as she and her baby are healthy and do not need care that requires separation.
19. Every woman has the right to receive complete information about the benefits of breastfeeding well in advance of labor, to refuse supplemental bottles and other actions that interfere with breastfeeding, and to have access to skilled lactation support for as long as she chooses to breastfeed.
20. Every woman has the right to decide collaboratively with caregivers when she and her baby will leave the birth site for home, based on their conditions and circumstances.
So...what do today's young mothers want? We want to be supported, valued and empowered with the knowledge that we have the most evidence-based information by which to make autonomous decisions about the health of ourselves and our children. It takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to raise a mother. It's time our country acted as our village and gave our mothers a clear message: You are supported. You are valued.
I will continue to support our local chapter of the National Organization for Women with the optimism that the tremendous leaps they have made will now translate to efforts to empower birthing women. I urge all mothers in my community to voice their support to this historic and powerful organization, and let them know that the right to a healthy birth is important to you.