No Woman, No Cry

As Mother’s Day approaches, it’s critical to think about the ways in which birth experiences are still so varied, and often so dangerous, for women around the world. Christy Turlington Burns has just created a great primer on the issue, which has been screened at various locations through out the U.S., but will premier on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network on Saturday May 7th 2011, at 9:30 pm (ET/PT). Here’s the trailer:

I had the pleasure of seeing it on Monday night at the Paley Center for Media, along with a Q&A with Christy, the amazing Pat Mitchell, and a panel of experts in the field. The film was graceful and simple in its execution–an hour of stories from women in Tanzania, the U.S., Bangladesh, and Guatemala. It delved into women’s unique experiences of birth, but also pulled out important threads about the wider picture of public health for pregnant women worldwide (Turlington Burns is, herself, a student at Columbia’s School of Public Health and clearly has a deep commitment to the larger conversation going on regarding maternal mortality). A woman dies every 90 seconds from complications from pregnancy. Ninety percent of these deaths are preventable.

Behind these harrowing statistics, the film demonstrates, are complex economic and cultural realities. In Bangladesh, for example, 91% of births happen outside of the hospital. In part, this is because the hospitals are often inhospitable places for birthing moms–patriarchal, unsanitary, and unwelcoming. But in part, this is because there is a cultural stigma against needing medical help for a birth, much less having any trouble getting pregnant in the first place. In one village, there are 19 terms for a young woman who can’t get pregnant.

The U.S., often held up as a bastion of hope and new beginnings, is actually a terrifying place for many pregnant women, particularly the 1 in 5 women of reproductive age who don’t have health insurance. Further, our racial and class disparities play out big time when it comes to maternal health: Latina women are twice as likely to die in childbirth, and African American women  four times as likely, than white women in this country.

Watch the film. Educate yourself. Take action. It’s the best way to honor the mother’s of our own country and those all over the world.

Join the Conversation

  • queerhummingbird

    I think this post is well-timed (not that we shouldn’t think about maternal and infant health everyday) because May 5th is International Midwives’ Day.

    This honor was first celebrated May 5, 1991, and has since been observed in over 50 nations around the world. The idea came out of the 1987 International Confederation of Midwives conference.

  • JJ

    Thanks for drawing attention to this film. I will be seeing this film at the earliest opportunity. I’m a medical student who recently completed my ob/gyn rotation at a quote-unquote “nice suburban hospital”, and I’ve been struggling for weeks now to come to terms with the huge divide between the treatment of the women with private insurance and women with public aid, which was neatly divided along racial lines. It’s not just that there was a divide, though that’s plenty awful–it’s also that the toxic culture of racial profiling and mistreatment spilled over into every aspect of patient care and professional interaction and affected everyone there, from the nurses to the students to the attendings, residents, custodial staff, family members, even pregnant ladies who were just taking a tour of the facility or who showed up at the desk with proof of private insurance in hand and happened to be POC. As a POC myself, I felt very badly out of place in that environment. And I was just an observer/minimal participant! How much worse it must have been for women who were trying to give birth there.

  • Lesa

    You said, “In Bangladesh, for example, 91% of births happen outside of the hospital.” I would point out that 80% of European births happen at home or in a birthing center. Having your baby outside of a hospital is not a bad thing, not being near a hospital when you need one is. The US has ranked among the highest of developed countries for maternal mortality, and though a lot of that has to do with lack of access to health insurance, it also has a lot to do with the fact that hospitals can be a dangerous place for a pregnant woman. Doctors trend to treat women in labor as if they’re patients, when in fact they’re not at all – women have been giving birth for thousands of years. The drugs they administer are potentially dangerous for a woman and/or her child, and the position of lying on your back to give birth also increases your chances of tearing.

    I just thought I’d bring light to those issues. Women in developing countries are dying in childbirth because of lack of access to hospitals when they need them, but also a lot of the problems arise from not being with a certified birthing attendant as well.

  • Michelle Breen

    Jennie Joseph CPM, featured in No Woman No Cry, could be arrested in 23 states for practicing midwifery. Licensure laws are consistantly blocked by organized medicine. Please sign the petition asking ACOG to stop its WAR ON MIDWIVES. Women in all 50 states deserve access to this type of care.