Today is Mother’s Day. That is me in the above photo, moments after bringing my daughter up out of the water and into the world. And if you read the headline only and thought that this was just another post on one of those mom blog sites about skipping the flowers, tacky stuffed animals, and overpriced and torturous mother’s day brunches with your kids, think again. Although I do not need or want any of those things, my thoughts on this hallmark holiday are of a much more serious nature.
I am a photographer. This space is specifically dedicated to the birth stories of families that I have the honor of being witness too, but for those that know me you know my photography career has spanned many genres. I have the privilege of being invited into families lives to document milestones. It is a responsibility that I do not take lightly. And while I may photograph births, it is my hope that my work sheds light on other aspects related to these areas as well. While I was pregnant with my second daughter three years ago, and ever since her birth, I have immersed myself in topics of pregnancy, childbirth, and women’s healthcare in this country, and all the ways that we are doing it wrong. That is a huge pill to swallow and one that I can talk about for hours and at another time. For right now, I want to talk briefly about something very specific to those issues; maternal mortality.
If I asked you the question, “Of the developed countries in the world, which one has the largest rate of women dying during or after childbirth?”…what would you say? Would you be shocked to know that the answer is the United States of America? Yes. You didn’t read that incorrectly. The United States has more mothers dying each year than any other developed country in the world. As of 2013, the CDC reports that for every 100,000 births in this country the rate of death is 17.3. The trend line has been going up since they started collecting the data in the late 80s.
The state I live in now, Texas, has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the entire country. Poor access to healthcare, discrimination, lack of information about family planning options, and a shortage of healthcare providers are some of the reasons for these high numbers, and not just in Texas. These reasons can be applied all over the country. If the numbers don’t already scare you, know this: the statistics are even worse for ethnic minorities and women of color. Black women in the United States are 3 to 4 times more likely to die than white women, and that isn’t just poor black women. Black women with a high school and college education are still dying at rates higher than poor white women with no higher education.
Then there are all the other ways that we do not support women and mothers in this country. 15-20% of moms will be diagnosed with some form of perinatal depression either during or after pregnancy, and those are just the diagnosed cases. We have an alarmingly high cesarian section rate in the United States. The highest one of all? Surprise…Texas. And our maternity leave policy is downright abysmal. If we cannot take care of women and have policies in our country, in our jobs and in our healthcare plans that support half of the population, then women will continue to die at these high rates.
With the fate of healthcare in the balance in Congress, there is no better time but now to make some noise about these issues so that our elected representatives start taking the health of half the population more seriously. When it feels like just simply being a woman is a pre-existing condition these days, we must be loud and make our voices heard. Today is Mother’s Day. The organization March for Moms is meeting in DC today to gather peacefully and to speak to their elected delegations about these horrific numbers. And while I’m sure you’re not able to hop on a plane this instant and join this group, there are things you can do. The first to get to know your local and state reps and make sure that they are aware of these issues. You can download fact sheets and easily accessible information on the March for Moms website by going to www.marchformoms.org.
Women are dying in this country. They are dying and we are doing nothing about it. We must address these numbers and start saving the lives of mothers in the United States, and no amount of flowers and candy are going to help. On this Mother’s Day I implore you educate yourself and contact your elected officials. We need to sound the alarm that in the United States of America we will not stand for this.