Monday, June 20, 2011

Mothering in America: An Uphill Climb

BITL Founder, expecting her third
child this month (June 2011).
This week's guest post is penned by NAMC's Advocacy Coordinator, Valerie Young. Valerie writes the popular blog for mother's rights, Your (Wo)Man in Washington.

Being a mother in the United States is an uphill climb.  Alone among industrialized nations, we have no guaranteed paid leave policy for childbirth, adoption, illness, or even the occasional sick day.  Our federal pension system only accounts for paid work, leaving women with the short straw after time out bearing and raising children, tending to ill parents, spouses, or other family members.   We do most of the unpaid work in the home, and when we are employed outside the home, our income trails men’s by as much as 40%.  We lack anything near equitable political representation, we don’t occupy our fair share of board room seats, CEO suites, or participate proportionately in the distribution of financial assets around the world.  When you’ve studied gender inequality for awhile, you don’t shock easily.  But today I’m shocked.  In fact, all women in the US have a whole new reason to be outraged.  If we are to become the fit and fearless mothers Ginger encourages us to be, there is an issue screaming for our attention -  maternal mortality, in other words, women dying from childbirth or due to a pregnancy-related complication. 

Around the world, every minute of every day, a woman dies from childbirth.  This may not be surprising, as access to medical care, good hygiene, and clean water are not equally accessible.  What is astounding is that the US ranks a lowly 50th on the World Health Organization’s measure of global maternal mortality.  In other words, 49 other countries have figured out how to better care for women throughout pregnancy and birth so that more of them survive the process.  It’s true that the US spends more dollars on health care than any other country, but we don’t have the positive outcomes you’d expect in correlation.  Many pregnant women never get prenatal care, or only get it well into their pregnancies.  The latest data show that 17 out of 100,000 American women die from pregnancy-related conditions.  With 50 million uninsured, health care is beyond the reach of millions of expectant mothers.  In fact, the US rate of maternal mortality has been going up since 1987, when we hit a low of 6.6 deaths per 100,000 deliveries, and continues to climb. It has more than doubled in the past 24 years.  The good news is that maternal deaths are preventable in most cases.  Experts say that with appropriate care, the US rate could be reduced to 3 out of 100,000.

The first step in making this happen is requiring states to report data pertaining to maternal death.  Such information has not been gathered, nor is there any national record of what conditions or complications are the cause.  Legislation pending in the US House of Representatives would change that.  The Maternal Health and Accountability Act, if passed, would enable the states to count pregnancy-related deaths and create an advisory panel of medical experts to interpret the findings and make recommendations to prevent maternal death.  The theory behind the bill is expressed here by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals:
The first step we need to take is to honor the lives of the women who have died by investing the necessary resources to identify why they died and learn from their deaths in order to prevent other women from dying. There are no acceptable excuses when we consider the fact that we lag behind most developed countries and when numerous developing countries, such as Vietnam and Albania, with much fewer resources than the United States, are making strides towards meeting their goals of reducing preventable maternal deaths, while the United States is backsliding.
Every Mother Counts and MomsRising, two organizations promoting mothers’ well-being, have a one click link that gets  you right to the inbox of your members of Congress, telling them you support the bill and urging them to pass it. They’ve drafted a brief message, and all you have to do is fill out your name and address to identify your US Representative.  It’s easy and effective.

Motherhood is transformational, powerful, miraculous and sometimes terrifying. It doesn’t need to be deadly, especially in the wealthiest country the world has ever seen.  Passing this bill is a step in the right direction.  Please take action, click through, and encourage your legislator to step up.

If you would like to know more, here’s where to look:

Your (Wo)Man in Washington, Valerie Young
Valerie is Advocacy Coordinator for the National Association of Mothers' Centers and its netroots initiative, Mothers Ought To Have Equal Rights.  She contributes analysis of policies affecting the economic security of mothers, educates members on the political process, and promotes a society that values the work of caring for children and other family members.  She brings the lens of motherhood to her coalition work on feminism, work/life issues, older women's income security, and maternal health and well-being.
Valerie earned her law degree at Tulane University and practiced maritime insurance law in New Orleans for 11 years.  Before joining NAMC, Valerie worked for the National Association of Women Judges, and was a founder, along with Ann Crittenden and others, of the Mothers Ought To Have Equal Rights effort arising from publication of Ann's book, "The Price of Motherhood".  She also worked for the National Partnership of Women & Families fighting efforts to privatize Social Security, and promoting paid leave and other work/life issues.  She authored the National Partnership's State Round Up of family friendly legislation in 2006.  She lives in suburban Washington DC with her family.

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