Tagged activism

Misogyny is at the Heart of Our High Maternal Death Rate

A recent story by ProPublica and NPR outlines the tragic and preventable death of NICU nurse Lauren Bloomstein only 20 hours after giving birth to her first child. Despite warning signs and her physician husband voicing alarm and questioning her plan of care, Lauren died of hemorrhagic strokes resulting from untreated HELLP syndrome. HELLP syndrome is an obstetrical emergency related to very high blood pressure that accounts for nearly 8% of pregnancy and postpartum related deaths. The most ominous sign is a rapidly rising blood pressure accompanied by, epigastric pain, intense headache, and anxiety.

I have a lot of feelings when I think about this story. First I recall my experiences with preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome as a doula. In what I retrospectively call the Year of Preeclampsia, I saw first-hand how swiftly preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome can develop and progress. It was a terrible coincidence that I attended several labors in succession that were one case study after another about hypertension, preeclampsia, and actual eclampsia. Eclampsia results when untreated preeclampsia results in blood pressures so high that the woman experiences seizures. Mercifully all the mothers and babies survived, and I left these experiences with a healthy respect for clinical expertise and vigilance while also holding space for the everyday normalcy of childbirth.

A 2013 meta-analysis of data on professional labor support by the Cochrane Review concludes that all women should have access to continuous labor support because of the significant benefits to maternal health. A doula is a professional labor support person who provides, physical, emotional, and educational support to women and their families during birth. This is a non-clinical role that has grown in popularity since the release of The Business of Being Born in 2008.

As a new nurse, I read the story of the needless death of a mother with my heart in my throat. Her blood pressure was unchecked for many hours despite very high readings relative to her baseline blood pressures. As a nurse on any hospital floor, I stand between patients and peril with my blood pressure cuff; I assess and document, I reassess and document. When I get a blood pressure that seems too high or too low, I look at the patient to see if they are symptomatic; I check my equipment; I reassess how I am taking the reading; and I look at the patient’s chart to see what the trend is for this specific patient. This is standard nursing practice on every hospital floor the whole world over. It is hard to understand how such a standard assessment fell off the schedule when this woman had every alarming marker of HELLP syndrome. Yet hospitals are systems for which a tragic death cannot be blamed on one nurse or MD. Tired staff, burned-out staff, high patient to nurse ratios, experience levels, and days worked in a row are boring problems that add up to senseless errors and tragedy when good protocols and ratios are either not in place or not being followed.

As a woman, I read this story and I see a broad systemic failure that is so much bigger than a hospital, labor and delivery unit, physicians, and nurses. My mind races as I think of all the horrifying attitudes and actions by our lawmakers and leaders that openly degrade women. I think of the multitude of ways the government is stripping away health care choices for women and mothers. We are presently between Thailand and Chad in the race to have the highest increase in maternal deaths. Not only are mothers dying in our modern health care system, more of them are dying each year.

Iran, Mexico, Congo, Chad all have between 12-14 weeks of paid maternity leave in contrast to the ZERO weeks provided by the United States. We are asking women to give birth without giving them adequate postpartum support for their health or their new motherhood. The vast majority of women in the US return to work within 6 weeks of giving birth despite evidence that this is not good for women, babies, or society as a whole.

The most depressing element of this is our cultural lip service we pay to mothers, which directly influences the laws we make that can help or harm women. We elevate motherhood as the highest achievement that a woman can attain. American culture is steeped in its own variation of the Virgin/Whore dichotomy as Mother/Nothing. If you are a mother, we will give you a holiday, we will market to you, we will speak of your importance to society while we do to little to protect your life and health care as a mother, while also openly judging your post-baby body. If you have the audacity to be an adult woman and not a mother, then we will treat you as a strange other who is probably selfish, likely defective and sad given your lack of motherhood, a man-hating feminist, or too stupid to understand the beauty of motherhood.

In America, a good woman is a mother, and a mother will sacrifice even her life for her baby. The shameful thing is that this isn’t hyperbole and yet somehow it is still is a shocking surprise to us all.

Sarah Thayer lives in Simsbury, CT with her two kids, aged 11 and 13, husband Joshua, and rescue pitbull. She is a licensed massage therapist and retired birth doula. She has a degree in sociology from Central Connecticut State University and is a new graduate nurse from Capital Community College in Hartford, CT. She teaches Comfort Measures for Labor to expectant families for Hartford Hospital and plans to pursue a degree in nurse midwifery.  In her free time, she enjoys knitting, hiking with her dog, playing piano, and spending time with her friends and family. Her twitter handle @LMTDoulaSarah.

 

 

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The Blame and the Shame of Miscarriages

I had my first miscarriage when I was 37. When I found out I was pregnant, I felt so intensely special. I was proud of myself for getting pregnant  so easily after 35. Less than two months into the pregnancy, I started spotting, and when I went to get my HCG levels tested for a second time, I learned that I was miscarrying.

That weekend, I was supposed to travel a few hours east to my hometown to celebrate my mom’s birthday. My mom, who developed a degenerative brain disease at 60, was turning 64.  I felt too fragile to go. I couldn’t imagine hiding my sadness and it didn’t occur to me that I could tell people. I had internalized the commandments of womanhood: you shall not divulge that you are pregnant before you and your fetus have made it through the first three months. I’ve never been good at hiding my emotions, so I made up an excuse and skipped my mom’s birthday party.

In a recent interview on this site, a 57-year-old woman describes her miscarriage to her daughter. When her daughter, a millennial, curious about her mother’s reproductive history, asks her what she thinks caused the miscarriage, she responds, “It was not my fault.” When we were ready to publish the interview, this mom of two successful daughters asked that we use a pseudonym.

Why did this mom feel the need, twenty years later, to say that her miscarriage wasn’t her fault? Why did she insist we use a pseudonym? Why did I feel like I couldn’t just call my family and say, “I had a miscarriage. I’m sad. I’m coming to mom’s party.”

Here are some synonyms of the word miscarriage: failure, foundering, ruin, ruination, collapse, breakdown, thwarting.

She miscarried; she carried it wrong. She lost the baby. How reckless.

I guess it’s pretty easy to see why she felt she needed to explain, twenty years later, that it wasn’t her fault. I guess it’s pretty clear why I hid out after my miscarriage. Paula Knight, a graphic illustrator and writer, captures all the shame and blame associated with miscarriage in her powerful comics and drawings, which explore miscarriage and childlessness:

“Failed” by Paula Knight, 2012

What if men had miscarriages? Would they be called miscarriages? My guess is that the word for miscarriage would imply less blame. The fetus died? Spontaneous abortion?

We are taught from a young age to whisper and hide: we whisper about our first periods; we hide our tampons, shoving them in a pocket as we walk to the bathroom. I remember a salesperson at CVS being appalled when I didn’t want a bag to carry my tampon box out of the store. I was a twenty-something-year-old woman. Yes, I menstruated. Why should I hide it?

Maybe it shouldn’t be the woman who is pregnant and then not pregnant who is so responsible for everything, for the secrecy, for the carrying the burden of a loss, etc. Maybe others can learn how to respond to the loss of a fetus. Maybe people could just agree not to grill pregnant women or women who are in their childbearing years, not  to ask so many questions, and if someone has a miscarriage they can tell you or not tell you, and you can respond by saying, “I’m sorry. How are you feeling?”

It wasn’t until I had a miscarriage that the miscarriage narratives came pouring in. Hearing about others’ miscarriages made me feel less doomed, less broken, less of a failure. This is why it’s so important that 57-year-old mom shared her experiences with her daughter, even if she was not comfortable associating herself publicly with miscarriage. By sharing her miscarriage narrative, she normalized miscarriage for her daughter. Hearing others’ stories and knowing that miscarriage is fairly common (as many as 50% of all pregnancies) does not eliminate the pain that accompanies miscarriages, especially for women who’ve undergone multiple, but it does  go a long way in helping women feel less isolated, less ashamed, and less guilty.

The miserable feelings that accompanied my first miscarriage were compounded by my age at the time (37), by my childlessness, and by the fact that I didn’t know miscarriages were extremely common. What a relief it would’ve been for me to hear the miscarriage narratives before I miscarried. Maybe I would’ve been able to go to my mom’s birthday party.

Have a miscarriage narrative? A better term for miscarriage?  Share with us in the comments, write an essay, or be interviewed.

Read previous MotherShould? essays about miscarriage here.

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45 Makes Me Regret Not Having Kids

On January 21, I looked around me at the Hartford, CT Women’s March Rally, and I felt regret, deep like a splinter from an un-planed board. I was there with my friend Sarah and her 12-year-old daughter Ella. It occurred to me that by not having children, I deprived myself of the opportunity to raise humans who would be thoughtful, critical, committed citizens. Of course, the beliefs of parents do not always become the beliefs of their children, yet I was struck by the lost opportunity of passing on values that I believe are the very ones that make America great: tolerance, questioning authority, willingness to stand up for not only one’s own rights, but more importantly, the rights of the marginalized. Despite my regret, the number of children at the rally heartened me.

After the rally, Sarah and I exchanged emails about how and why she included Ella that day. Sarah wrote about bringing her daughter and son with her every time she votes, as well as family discussions about current events, politics and community. For her, it is vital that her kids understand the responsibility that goes along with their privilege.

While Sarah’s husband and son decided to forgo the rally, in part to avoid the overstimulation of the event, Ella decided, after much conversation, that she wanted to participate. Sarah did encourage her, sharing with me, “I told her that this would be a significant day for American women. I didn’t want her to miss out on the chance to be a part of such a special day. Ultimately, I hope that my daughter saw that there are things that we can not sit idle and accept.”

As we drove to Hartford, I got to see Sarah’s strategies for raising an active citizen. Ella, pussyhat proudly perched on her head, encouraged me as I knit as fast as I could to finish one for myself. Sarah made a point of reminding us that we should be prepared in case the media asked to interview us. She encouraged Ella to practice what she would say about why she was at the rally. I was impressed by her enthusiastic, smart answers about human rights and immigration issues. Clearly, making posters with her family, hanging out as her mom churned out pussyhats, and months of post-election conversations impacted Ella’s views. I could see that Ella had a sense of the rally being more than a new experience; she understood the protest she was about to voice.

About a month later, I asked Sarah what affect she felt the rally had on her daughter. She wrote, “It certainly normalized protest as a reasonable reaction to policy we find objectionable. She is also thoughtful about articulating the ideas that upset her and why. Ella got to see you, me, her grandparents, her ballet teacher, a friend and her mom among many other people in our community at the rally because there are ideologies that need protesting. Long term it remains to be seen if this creates an inner sense of civic responsibility, but I think it will.”

In the weeks since 45 has taken office–weeks that feel like decades–I’ve vacillated between relief that I don’t have children who will inherit this mess, and the same regret I felt at the rally. I feel encouraged, though, that there are legions of parents who are woke, and even more young people positioned to stay woke. And I see that my role in the lives of the young people I know is to be yet another adult who is unafraid to use her privilege and raise her voice in protest.

But what about my sisters who are on the fence about having kids? How is this administration shaping their decisions?

MotherShould? writer Ada Kenney weighed in, saying, “45 and the current Congress haven’t necessarily changed my plans about motherhood. Rather, they’ve heightened my ambivalence. I didn’t want to get an IUD before the inauguration as so many women did because I only have so many (if any) fertile years left, and seems like a waste to get it for just a year or so. But I also don’t want to raise a child alone with less of a social safety net than we currently have, and unless I meet The One really soon, that may be my only path toward motherhood.

“I have considered fostering or adoption before, and I fear those systems will be weakened in the next few years, so maybe I will do that. It would be a better move than having a baby in the face of the threat of nuclear war.”

In a recent episode of The Longest Shortest Time, Hillary Frank hosts a roundtable during which, among other topics, two lesbian couples examine the question of how 45’s administration affects their thinking about having children. Even within one couple, the partners’ views cover a wide range: eager to raise radical children vs. afraid to bring a child into the world where the parents (Black, queer) feel hatred around them.

How about you? Has the new administration muddied or clarified the decision for you?

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Why We’re Striking on March 8

This Wednesday, March 8, is International Women’s Day. As a show of solidarity for women’s rights and the rights of all gender-oppressed people, MotherShould? is joining the general strike. The right to choose whether or not to have children and to get the appropriate care that supports that choice is all-too-often unavailable to women around the world. This is just one reason MotherShould? is going dark on Wednesday.

We editors won’t be idle, however. At the university where we both teach, we’ll be wearing red and discussing Asao Inoue’s Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies, leading a Write-In to encourage students to write postcards to their elected officials, participating in a suicide prevention workshop, and limiting our shopping to women and minority-owned businesses.

We recognize that we are privileged to be able to strike and to have the opportunity to learn and teach about topics that feed our passion for social justice. We will not lose our jobs because we are striking. We won’t put our families at risk. We hope that you will participate in any way that keeps you safe: wearing red, refusing to work, writing letters and making phone calls.

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A Time To Act

If, like we do, you feel deeply disturbed by the 2016 election results, we invite you to join us as we push back. We’re taking action, however small, to ensure that the threat to women, which is also a threat to the LGBTQ+ community, to people of color, to people with disabilities, to immigrants, to people who practice religions other than Christianity–to ensure that the threat to decent, kind behavior is minimized, if not erased.

It’s a big task, but it’s one that warrants taking on. We believe that the little actions add up when we all do them regularly. If you’re as concerned as we at MotherShould? are about, in particular, how a Trump presidency affects our choices, we urge you to take action and to ask your friends and family to take action, too. We’ve created a list of actions focused on the MotherShould? mission:

  1. Select the issues that matter most to you and write or call your elected officials. As former congressional staffer explains, phone calls make an even bigger impact. Consider writing out a script to ensure you make all of the points you intend.
  • Insist that they pressure the Senate Judiciary Committee to vet and vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court Justice nomination. Trump has promised that he would nominate with a view to overturning Roe v. Wade. It is imperative to women’s safety and health and for the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals that we have judges who are willing to separate church and state. You may have heard that Trump is a gay-friendlyish Republican but as Human Rights Watch indicates he opposes nationwide marriage equality (wants it decided by states) and he selected Pence, who is actively anti-gay rights, as his VP.
  • Urge your elected official not to pass any proposed tax plan that would increase the tax burden on single mothers (see this Forbes article). We celebrate women who decide to be Choice Moms, and we want them, as well as women who are single parents not by choice or because of challenging circumstances, to have every economic benefit possible.
  • Urge your elected official to protect Affordable Care Act with a special focus on free birth control.
  1. Donate money to organizations that support women’s right to choose. We take NARAL’s view that choice is not only about abortion; it is about access to birth control, to sex education, and to healthy pregnancies. It is about the right to choose to return to work after childbirth, to having ample maternity leave, to having adequate family leave. We also support Planned Parenthood, which provides excellent healthcare to women and advocates for us.  This article has good ideas for other places to donate.
  1. Share your story. We know this issue is even more complicated that we can articulate. We want to share your stories of how a Trump presidency could affect your choices: choosing not to have kids, choosing to have an abortion, choosing to use birth control. We want to listen and hear you as you tell your stories about being a person of color, an immigrant, a single mom, an LGBTQ+ individual, and/or an immigrant as you consider how a Trump presidency affects your thinking about having kids. Contact us; even if you’ve never thought of yourself as a writer, your story matters, and we’ll work with you to get it heard.

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