Last summer I embarked on my maiden voyage into the turbulent waters of the democratic process. I had been contacted by the Mama Campaign, a grassroots organization trying to make history. They were lobbying for a woman's right to birth either in a hospital, birth center, or at home; with a doctor, certified nurse midwife or a professional midwife. They were pushing to include equal payment for all of these options into the health care legislation. To accomplish their goal they had launched a national effort to have women contact their local representatives and speak to them about the importance of women having birth choices.
As a doula and childbirth educator I have been working one-on-one with women for many years supporting them in their birth choices. On a community level I had helped found the Birth & Baby Resource Network to help inform women about their choices locally. But I never considered any of this as being involved in politics. It was just my way of helping the women I knew have the births that they wanted. Here was a chance to do something locally and perhaps have an impact nationally.
Intrigued but uncertain I went to the women of the Birth & Baby Resource Network and said, "I'd like to do something about this. What do you think? Is this something we want to stand up for? Will I have your backing if I lead a delegation to speak to Lois Capps?" All the women immediately encouraged and supported me.
Buoyed by their enthusiasm I reached into our birth community for shipmates in my endeavor. Not surprisingly I was immediately joined by retired certified nurse midwife Linda Seeley; Edana Hall, licensed midwife; Laurie Stern a registered nurse certified in neonatal nursing; and Megan Bochum, former International Cesarean Awareness Network leader. These women have been working with and for birthing women and their families in our community for many years. They have a passion for women's birth rights.
We discussed and refined our goal, set a timeline and divided the work. Researching that day we suddenly realized that Representative Capps was on the congressional committee working on the health legislation. For the first time it occurred to us that we might actually be able to do something that mattered.
Along the way more women came on board. My intrepid crew of professionals and community leaders also included: Miday Belden-Johnson, CNM; Stephanie Wilson, SLO-Child Abuse Prevention Council specialist; Jessica Elliott, BBRN President; and Janet Murphy, Cal Poly Child Development Specialist. Each one did research that was added to our presentation packet covering issues on safety, the licensing process, the potential financial impact, the importance of bonding, cesarean prevention and postpartum depression prevention.
We reached out to mothers in our community. Many of these busy women took the time to stop and write a letter about how their birth with a midwife affected their lives. Reading their poignant letters reminded me of why I first began championing midwifery and out-of-hospital birth and gave me fresh incentive to keep forging ahead on the project.
San Luis native Sandy Rodriguez, CNM kindly allowed me to use her as an example of how just one midwife can make a difference. She has caught babies in our hospitals for 27 years now. I calculated how much money she had saved our community over the years and came up with a staggering $12.3 to $24.7 million dollars saved and 300 to 600 women spared from undergoing major abdominal surgery as part of their birth process.
In June it was time to join our small craft with the Democratic Party’s Armada so we sat down with Betsy Umhofer from Rep. Capps’ office to float our ideas for the health care bill. She listened with respect and interest as our panel somewhat nervously presented our information. It felt good to make our case and have someone really listen. Ms. Umhofer explained that Congresswoman Capps was interested in what we had to say and had a staff member in D.C. who was currently working on women’s health issues. She graciously accepted our packet and said she would pass it along to her counterpart in Washington.
So now we were tied to Lois Capps’ ship; to come sailing in with flying colors or sink into the murky depths never to be heard from again. I felt very heroic sailing out within that shining Armada to battle upon the high sea. As the summer wore on into the fall I became increasingly depressed watching our fleet going round and round caught in a whirlpool of bitter political rhetoric. In the winter I began to despair that the whole adventure would be for naught seeing the whole country stalled in the doldrums of ridiculous political posturing. In February I was feeling downright mutinous. Would we be forever adrift on this never ending sea of compromise? And then March 22 came and I received an e-mail from the Mama Campaign. We did it!
On the day President Obama signed the health care bill he made history for women across America; women who want to birth with midwives in freestanding birth centers; women who want to birth with people who believe in and respect the innate power of women to bring their babies into this world safely and peacefully. And I felt like Jason triumphantly sailing into port clutching the Golden Fleece.
True it isn’t the whole Fleece; midwives who help women give birth in the privacy of their own homes will still not be covered by Medicaid, but it is an historic start with the potential to lead birth in a whole new direction in this country. It is after all only a baby step but as mothers we understand just how far baby steps can lead.