It’s Mother’s Day in the United States, so (if you are able to safely have a relationship with your mother(s)) don’t forget to give her a call! And don’t forget that, thanks to our elected representatives’ regressive attitudes toward healthcare and workers’ rights, the United States still has no mandated parental leave and the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world.
As ProPublica and NPR report in a recent story on the issue, “the U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and 60 percent are preventable.” This is caused by a range of factors, but one of them is the medical world’s tendency to prioritize fetal and infant health over that of the pregnant parent.
New labor-related technologies, initiatives, and procedures are heavily weighted toward infants. NPR and PropPublica cited just a few examples of this leaning. States who takes advantage of the Title V block grants program, which is intended to bolster maternal and child health, spent about 6% of their 2016 grants on pregnant parents, and 78% on children and infants. The Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network has 24 research initiatives dedicated to infant outcomes, 4 dedicated to mothers’ outcomes, and 4 dedicated to both. Even Medicaid, in many states, only “covers moms for 60 days postpartum, their infants for a full year.”
This discrepancy also extends to the hospital floor. Maternal health advocates told the authors of the article that “in regular maternity wards, too, babies are monitored more closely than mothers during and after birth…Newborns in the slightest danger are whisked off to neonatal intensive care units…staffed by highly trained specialists ready for the worst, while their mothers are tended by nurses and doctors who expect things to be fine and are often unprepared when they aren’t.” When they leave the hospital, new mothers are given information about breastfeeding, signs of infant sickness, and others, but are “not necessarily” provided with any information about monitoring their own health.
Now, in many ways, it makes sense to monitor the babies more closely. Unlike the adults who are in labor, they are physically incapable of advocating for themselves. They cannot tell the nurse what’s wrong, or where the pain is coming from. However, it’s also clear that this focus on the infant, rather than the pregnant parent, eerily reflects the focus of the “pro-life” movement in the United States – which would rather let women die, or force them to carry dead fetuses, than allow them control over their own bodies.
In addition, the United States remains one of the few countries in the world that has no mandated, paid parental leave, making it one of the worst countries in the world for length and quality of leave. The AHCA, the House’s “abomination” of a bill, is also set to remove the few protections for pregnancy coverage in the insurance market.
Certainly, these statistics do not affect all mothers, or only mothers. Women are not the only ones who can get pregnant, and all women who become mothers do not do so via pregnancy. However, on a day when politicians will be posting hollow, obligatory tributes to their mothers and wives, it’s important to remember how little they are willing to do to help so many women in their lives with better medical standards, accessible health care, and paid leave.
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