I feel overwhelming gratitude for the many mothers in my life – the mother that raised me, the mother that raised my fabulous husband, the mother of my three children created thru egg donation and the Korean and Chinese mothers that gave birth to my daughters and then made the difficult decision to place them for adoption. I have always imagined what their life would have been if, instead of completing reams of paperwork and writing checks for large sums of money, we had worked to provide for their original families so that they would have been able to be raised in their country of origin. That venture is much more difficult and involves a more long-term world view than a short-term individualistic approach. But that is exactly what the founders of Second Mile Haiti are trying to achieve. We were fortunate to spend a few hours touring their expanding facility on our last day in Haiti.
The founders of Second Mile Haiti are Jenn Schenk and Amy Syres, two young women who had a vision to create a sustainable option for families who were previously relinquishing their malnourished children to care centers, where the children were either placed for international adoption or reunified back into their impoverished families after their malnutrition was corrected. It didn’t seem right that the only available way to help these families was to take their kids from them. We really had to ask ourselves if there wasn’t some sort of alternative” says Amy, regarding the experiences that led the co-founders to start Second Mile Haiti.
Michelle Hartney has been an artist and activist for maternal health and obstetrics since the birth of her daughter and son: Shine and Seamus. While she says both of her deliveries were empowering, they were also very troubling prompting Hartney to create awareness through art about the high maternal mortality rate in the United States as well as obstetric abuse that she says is all too common for women across the country.
“I was shocked to discover that the way American women give birth now is rooted in a past that is riddled with misogyny, racism, and abuse. As I was reading as much as I could about the history of obstetrics in America, I was filling up my sketchbook with ideas and was flooded with visuals and topics that I wanted to make work about.”
For Hartney’s second delivery with her son, her doctor did not deliver her daughter, but she was instead assisted by a resident who wasn’t going into the field of obstetrics. She ended up fighting with the resident and a nurse about wanting to deliver her baby on her side; an option previously agreed upon by she and her doctor. Instead, they forcefully told her to “lie on her back” to deliver. Since Hartney had a doula who advocated for her during childbirth she was able to deliver on her side in four pushes, but the experience was difficult for her to handle.
Maternal health remains one of the most elusive Millennium Development Goal to achieve. While maternal deaths worldwide have been nearly halved since 1990, there is still a long way to go to ensure that more women’s lives are saved during childbirth. Currently 800 women lose their lives during childbirth due to largely preventable reasons. According to the new report, Strategies Towards Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality, by 2030 the maternal mortality ratio should be no larger than 70 deaths/100,000 live births and no country should have a MMR of 140 deaths/100,000 live births.
How can this be achieved?
The new report calls for more wellness-focused healthcare as opposed to emergency-focused care for expectant mothers despite available resources. Most importantly, the post 2015 maternal health framework is rooted in human rights for women and girls. In order to save more women’s lives, there needs to be a cross-sectional system of integrated care. According to the report, more women, girls, and communities need to be empowered to recognize gender equality and empowerment. Mothers and newborns must have integrated care as opposed to caring for both independently.