Maternal mortality addressed in summit, rally

Improving maternal health care was on the agenda this weekend in D.C. Photo: J. Haney

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 11, 2011) – Advocates for maternal health from around the country and local to the D.C. Metro area came together this weekend to discuss the nation’s poor maternal mortality rate and work toward solutions.

Saturday’s event was the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Birth Summit sponsored by the Northern Virginia chapter of Birth Matters Virginia. The sold-out crowd spent the morning listening to speakers and engaged in panel discussions. On hand was Amnesty International researcher Nan Strauss to detail the findings of her organization’s 2010 report, Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis.

As noted in a previous article in this column, the United States lags behind most other industrialized – and some developing – countries in maternal mortality, currently ranking 50th out of 171 countries.

In the afternoon, well-known midwife and author Ina May Gaskin elaborated on the problem and discussed the findings she has gathered over the last 12 years. Her Safe Motherhood Quilt project aims to raise awareness of maternal death, which the Centers of Disease Control acknowledges is vastly underreported.

Midwife Jennie Joseph discusses her birth center, The Birth Place, near Orlando, Florida. Paintings at right courtesy of Jessica Clements

Panelists and participants discussed the problem and possible solutions after midwife Jennie Joseph described the success behind The Birth Place, the non-profit birth center in Florida she runs. This presentation and the discussion throughout the day sought to address the racial disparity in maternal death rates: black women are four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than white women.

Small groups met in the afternoon to define the problem of maternal mortality in the U.S. and to come up with “concrete recommendations” to address it. A targeted work group met late into the evening to hammer out plans for future steps.

“There will be lots of exciting stuff” coming out of this “incredible” meeting, said conference organizer Sheryl Rivett. Initiatives will reflect a multidisciplinary approach. The conference had targeted national organizations as well as local schools of nursing; the participant field was a diverse array of people in healing and medical professions, concerned citizens and women’s health advocates.

Northern Virginia midwife Kim Pekin said it was refreshing to see people from different backgrounds setting aside ideology to work toward a solution. A grassroots approach, she said, will be key in raising public awareness and in making progress to lower maternal mortality rates. Two documentary films – No Woman No Cry and Birth and Death – speak to the issue.

Pekin also introduced Gaskin at Sunday’s rally on the Capitol where Gaskin showcased a portion of her Safe Motherhood Quilt project. The passionate crowd of mothers, fathers, babies, children, practitioners and advocates also included mothers who had lost their daughters in pregnancy and childbirth, one from complications due to an induction.

Gaskin called on the public not to fear childbirth, which our bodies are capable of experiencing as well as any other mammal, but to be educated about the way a lack of good health care or the introduction of interventions in childbirth can put women at risk.

The Safe Motherhood Quilt at the rally on the Capitol

H.R. 894, The Maternal Health Accountability Act of 2011, is, Gaskin said, an important bill that women’s health advocates should ask their representatives to support and for which Senate sponsorship needs to be found.

Jessica Claire Haney is a freelance writer, editor and tutor. Her writing has appeared in parenting publications and poetry journals. A former high school English teacher, Jessica is mother to a five-year-old son and a baby girl. She is passionate about holistic health and well-being and is a leader of a chapter of Holistic Moms Network.

Jessica’s blog is Crunchy-Chewy Mama,, and her writer’s site is

“Like” Crunchy-Chewy Mama on Facebook, and follow Jessica on Twitter @crunchychewy

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Jessica Claire Haney


This holistic mom dreams of a day when all kids -- and adults -- eat foods with only recognizable ingredients. Paying attention is not an option for me; it's a necessity.

A few years ago, my body started breaking down and let me know I wasn’t like all those other Jessicas who were still in their twenties. I began making the rounds of alternative health practitioners and nutritionists to deal with stomach problems, thyroid problems, chronic grumpiness, and infertility, issues that my doctors weren't addressing with any success. With a lot of help and a bunch of lifestyle changes, I managed to work my way back to healthy and happy. And pregnant!

Now a full-on convert to natural family living and a mom to a three-year-old, I’m on a mission to share my insights -- and my persistent questions -- about nutrition and holistic health with other moms and with anyone else looking for something that will work and feel good when other stuff doesn’t. As a leader of a local chapter of Holistic Moms Network, I've tried to build a community that supports other parents in making healthy decisions for their families.

My writing has appeared in parenting publications and poetry journals. I blog about life on the alternative/mainstream divide at Crunchy-Chewy Mama, and I'm a contributor for DC Metro Moms.

Contact Jessica Claire Haney


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