This past Labor Day—September 2, 2013— thousands of women, their families, and those who care for them assembled all over the country. In more than 160 cities around the United States, and in Puerto Rico, Australia, Japan and Canada, women’s voices were heard at ImprovingBirth.org’s 2013 Rally to Improve Birth.
These people came together to raise awareness about maternity systems where high-tech, high-cost, institutional treatment replaces evidence-based, compassionate, individualized care. They came together to let the public know about this healthcare crisis, and to call for evidence-based care and humanity to become the standard of care in childbirth. Some of the gatherings were very small—just a handful of people standing on a sidewalk with homemade signs with slogans like, “Evidence-Based Birth,” “Safe, Respectful Care” and “Family-Centered Care.” Other turnouts numbered in the hundreds, with full-on maternity fairs.
For those who don’t know, ImprovingBirth.org is a nonprofit advocacy organization run by and for mothers. We do not advocate for any one type of birth, or for any location or type of provider—but that mothers are able to make their own healthcare choices based on full, accurate information, and are respected and supported in those choices. Our annual Rally to Improve Birth goes straight to the public to raise awareness about the crisis in maternal healthcare.
We have been so thrilled with the response this year. So many heartwarming stories were shared: of women finding out they had options they weren’t aware of, connecting with supportive care they didn’t know existed, and being re-energized about asserting themselves in their care. Women who had been traumatized in birth found others who have healed from it. Women who felt marginalized in their care found a path to something better.
The rallies also reached the masses at a magnitude we’ve never seen. We’re still waiting on numbers, but our traditional and social media reach is estimated to be in the millions. Well over 100 local media outlets reported on the rallies, many on the nightly television news. CNN and MTV China came out to the Los Angeles rally. Supermodel Christy Turlington, actress Melissa Joan Hart, the fan page for the singer Pink, and numerous others tweeted or posted about the rally. Elected officials in California, New York and Louisiana endorsed the cause or attended local rallies. No, we’re not out to charm celebrities or politicians—but the fact that they are helping us to raise awareness is amazing.
More amazing is that several hospitals reached out to talk and partner with local ImprovingBirth.org representatives about making their practices more mother-friendly and evidence-based. Nurses, obstetricians and midwives showed support and a desire to get a dialogue going about a new kind of care.
All of this is incredible because a platform is forming. That platform allows women and families to become informed decision-makers in healthcare. It challenges the status quo, it requires that we question some of our basic assumptions about our medical system, and it drives what we believe will be transformative change in maternity care.
For many reasons, it’s time to put families back in the center of our own care. In the U.S., where 9 out of 10 women receive maternity care that increases, rather than decreases, the risks of harm to them and their babies, and where one in three births ends in major abdominal surgery, it’s time for a realignment of how we’re cared for.
This day showed that finally, the public is embracing the call to action for moms and babies to have the happiest, healthiest starts possible.
If you would like to find out more about our work, support us, or join us, please connect with ImprovingBirth.org’s Facebook page or website. More pictures and stories from the rally can be found on the 2013 Rally to Improve Birth Facebook page.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #40.
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