I have often focused on maternal health and mortality around the globe especially where the deaths rates are the largest, but there is much-needed sustained discussion about maternal mortality in the United States. I have detailed the problem in several previous posts here including:
Periodically I will share news and updates about what is happening in the maternal health space in the United States including the successes and failures to save more women’s lives as well as the key players who are making a difference.
The word is getting out that maternal and newborn mortality are an ever-increasing problem in the United States. As I have written before, the United States has the highest ratio of maternal mortality of any developed country in the world and yet we spend the most on health care globally.
While many (including scientists and health professionals) don’t know concretely why maternal mortality is continuing to rise in the US, the fact remains that the problem is not getting better. In fact, it is incrementally getting worse. In fact, according to recent findings from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation the United States has a maternal mortality rate of 18.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in the U.S., up from 12.4 deaths per 100,000 births in 1990.
Companies such as Merck that launched Merck for Mothers and Texts4Baby, for example, are working on innovative ways to reach and inform mothers about how they can be as healthy as possible during and after childbirth. Additionally, grassroots organizations and birthing centers like Florida’s CommonSense Childbirth and Arizona’s The Birthing Project are working in communities to help mothers and their newborns stay alive.
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.
Long ago in Internet years (about seven years ago) I was a staunch breastfeeding advocate and researcher (still am!). Back then I wanted to get to the bottom of why nursing in public was such a big issue in the United States. So, I started digging in the photo archives of the Library of Congress for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours and discovered through black and white, historic photos that breastfeeding in public hasn’t always been a problem in the United States.
Last week I was reminded about all of my research when during the #EveryNewborn Twitter chat Kenyan Social Good Moms correspondent Maryanne Waweru Wanyama mentioned that Kenyans do not have a problem with public nursing. It’s true. The many, many times I have been to Africa I have never witnessed a problem with women breastfeeding in public; no disgusted glares or reprimands. And yet, here in the United States public breastfeeding always draws controversy.
Thankfully, many African communities have no qualms about nursing moms breastfeeding in public. It's NOT considered indecent #EveryNewborn
For World Breastfeeding Week I wanted to revisit the historic photos I found years ago in the Library of Congress archives that show nursing in public hasn’t always been an issue like it is today. When public perception about breastfeeding changed in the United States, I still don’t know. It’s definitely an issue worth pursuing.
This post will be updated from time to time. There are more photos I have found from the archives and I will share them here.