So once again I have been felled by the little germ monsters that are little children. But I'm supposed to be blogging the NAPW summit, so I've been a very irresponsible public healther and ventured out into the masses. To anyone I may have infected, I'm sorry! And now I sit, curled up in bed, with the sweats and the chills, and attempt to piece together my notes from the past two days. Apologies if they're less than coherent.
The first day of the summit was an optional "Pre-Summit Coalition Training" led by Be Present, Inc. I could only stay for the first half (I wasn't yet fully sick, but the MLK Community Service Awards beckoned) but from what I saw, what a way to kick off a conference! Lynn Paltrow (NAPW founder) believed that the way to contextualize everyone's work and presentations at this conference was to start by telling our own personal stories. So we went around the room and did introductions and told deeply personal, often upsetting stories. There were many tears and much applause and hugging and encouraging each other to pause, take a few deep breaths, and start again. Many women (and a few men) were here because they've spent decades in the trenches of reproductive health work, some were doulas and midwives, others were OBs in shiny hospitals, and others were new moms who had just experienced a traumatic birth and opened their eyes to personal activism.
Yesterday I indulged in 12 hours of drug-induced sleep, so I didn't hit the conference until partway through the lunch time plenary. There I heard Leslie Reagan lay down the history of midwives and OBs and abortions and power. You see, by the mid-19th C midwives were deliverying 50% of all babies. But midwives were immigrants and other minorities, and they were creeping in on the domain of white, educated doctors. So even though doctors and midwives (at this time) were performing approximately the same number of abortions, doctors used mixed feelings regarding abortion to start to limit and control midwife activities. By 1896 Chicago passed the first law controlling midwives and subordinating them to OBs. By the mid-1900s midwife's records had no medical confidentiality and they could be asked to turn their records over to the board of health for any reason, or no reason. Reagan finished with this important message, and I'm paraphrasing here: When abortion is decontextualized from why women need abortion we are not serving women's reproductive rights and healthcare needs.
Erica Lyon (whose new book, The Big Book of Birth will be available next month; original title, If you're pregnant, you've been fucked! rejected by publishers) started her story with her mother's story, "You came out mooning the world!" (Lyon was a breech birth). She said that conventional wisdom says pregnant women don't need birthing education classes. This made me pause, and wonder, where are all the other mothers? Not just your mother, because certainly mother/daughter relationships can be all kinds of screwed up, but are that many pregnant women and mothers really not communicating with each other? Because pretty much from the time I knew about sex, my mom told me that if I had kids, even if I planned to be fully medicated, I must take a birthing class. Because she saw lots of other women in the delivery ward with her who were either sent home (because they came to the hospital at the 'wrong' time in their labor) or who were really frightened because they didn't understand what was happening and what their body was going through. Both my parents have always emphasized the importance of birthing classes, if for no other reason than to decrease the anxiety around the feeling of, holy crap what's happening to my body!? Is there really that little communication these days among parents and soon-to-be parents?
Lyon also focused on informed consent, and that from the very beginning of pregnancy women's self-confidence is undermined - she is taught not to trust her own body and instead to hand power over to an external authority (typically, a doctor). The phrase "the goal is to have a healthy baby" is used over and over again to shut women down and disregard her requests. Given that we have system that currently is not serving women, we need to change the to "the goal is healthy mothers." Pregnant women are making decisions thinking about the long term health of their child ("a woman has an abortion because she is thinking abou the long term health of that child") and to imply otherwise is insulting.
Lastly, apparently, women in NY have been told that because they are having twins they are required to have an epidural.
Two more panel sessions from yesterday - How Might you Be Prosecuted and Pregnancy, Birth, and the Distortion of Risk (during which I get to meet one of my new favorite people, Maggie Little!). But I need a break.
For other perspectives on the summit go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, or here.