Monday, March 14, 2011

Letter to the Authors of Half the Sky

This morning, I was treated to a wonderful luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton benefiting the Women's Resource Center of Sarasota, at which the keynote speaker was Ms. Sheryl WuDunn, co-author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. I was grateful to have the chance to hear her speak, as Half the Sky has been on my to-read list since its publishing in 2009. After hearing her, as I have heard her husband and co-author Nicolas Kristof, speak about maternal mortality in developing countries, I used my scant thirty seconds to express my concern about maternal mortality right here at home. The few words I spoke were just not enough, so the second I hit my computer I followed up with this response. Crossing my fingers.

Dear Mr. Kristof,

I was delighted to meet your wife at this afternoon's Renaissance Luncheon benefiting the Women's Resource Center in Sarasota, Florida. Ms. WuDunn signed my copy of Half the Sky and I am very excited to finally read it. I am a huge fan of your work and your thoughtfulness and would like to follow up with you and Ms. WuDunn on a subject I broached with her at today's signing: American maternal mortality.

In 2009, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, owned by the New York Times, who published your piece entitled "This Mom Didn't Have to Die." I was pleased to see you bringing attention to maternal mortality, and responded with the addendum that although the problem in developing countries is egregious and preventable, the US should lead by example--we are currently 41st in maternal mortality, and as our c-section and induction rates climb, so do our morbidity and morality rates.

One result of the letter I sent to the Herald was the 2009 Sarasota forum "Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond," at which I was thrilled to welcome America's foremost midwife and founder of the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project, Ms. Ina May Gaskin.

I encourage you and Ms. WuDunn to read "Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA. Why are the numbers here so much higher than they should be? My theory is that we are a nation of extremes. Women either receive zero prenatal care and education, or, at the other end of the spectrum, are given costly interventions whose risks far outweigh their benefits. Cesarean sections should be used only when the risk is there to justify it. Inductions and other medications should only be used when women are fully informed of their implications: Cytotec, for example, is an ulcer drug never approved by the FDA for labor induction--in fact it is contraindicated for that purpose--and yet it is still widely administered in maternity wards throughout the country, even in the face of evidence to its correlation with uterine hyperstimulation and amniotic fluid embolism, which, more often that not, results in death for the mother and/or baby.

Thank you for indulging me. I hope that your busy schedules will allow you to attend the Healthy Mothers Healthy Birth Summit at Shenandoah University in Washington DC April 9th, and stay for the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project demonstration on April 10th. The Healthy Mothers Healthy Birth Summit endeavors to raise awareness and examine the causes of the rising maternal mortality rate in America, to create recommendations to address this terrible phenomenon and finally to publish a statement of the Summit’s collective findings for public viewing.

Present will be renowned midwife, activist, and creator of the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project Ina May Gaskin, activist and midwife Jennie Joseph, speakers from Amnesty International, and a presentation of perinatal epidemiologist (and former WHO director of Women & Children’s Health) Dr. Marsden Wagner’s latest research. Following the Summit, on April 10th, attendees will have the chance to accompany Ina May as she walks the Safe Motherhood Quilt down the National Mall to the Capitol.

Thank you, both of you, for the INCREDIBLE work you are doing. I am in awe of your movement and hope that people are truly listening. I am available at your convenience to help in any way I can. Safe travels home from Cairo!

Laura Gilkey

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