Mama's Got a Plan:

Maternity Care, Health Insurance, and Reproductive Justice


Viral flight


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An Epidemic of Home Birth?

As if the U.S. maternity care system didn’t have enough challenges to deal with – a spot of obstetric violence here, a 4-fold racial disparity in maternal mortality there – now there’s that dang Coronavirus! It should come as no surprise that both hospitals and pregnant people might now find themselves with qualms about the practice of giving birth in hospitals.

One potential objection is that healthy people about to give birth might be wary of doing so in a place filled with sick people with a highly contagious disease. The other concern, from the hospital’s point of view, is that facilities and providers might well be strained to the maximum by the exigencies of caring for pandemic patients.

As a result, even parents-to-be who would not have chosen home birth before might find themselves considering it now. It’s not a bad idea! A majority of pregnant people are healthy and are good candidates for home birth. (For comparable safety data on place of birth, see our post here for starters. For more recent data, see the just-released Birth Settings in America report or this summary.) We won’t pretend that hospital-based experts recommend home birth, but others have weighed on the benefits of separating out healthy mothers and babies from COVID-19 sufferers. None of this is news: in past epidemics, some pregnant hospital patients have switched their planned place of birth.

In order to make out-of-hospital birth possible for many families, however, appropriate providers must be found to attend those births. The good news is that midwives, particularly Certified Professional Midwives, are currently practicing in almost every state. How those states facilitate access to that care is another matter. CPM practice is legally authorized in 35 states, but each state has different views on CPM scope of practice, Medicaid coverage, and many other issues. In the remaining states, CPM practice exists on a spectrum from unregulated to illegal status. 

If ever there were grounds for support of these maternity care providers who specialize in out-of-hospital care, the COVID-19 pandemic provides it. States must use the emergency police powers available to them to facilitate access to CPMs and hospital-based medical providers must turn to the important work that only they can do and stop opposing what pregnant people want: the option to give birth in the place of their choosing, attended by a provider of their choice.

Image credits 

All images are shared under a Creative Commons license, unless otherwise noted. Where required by license, changes to the image are noted.

  • Frame 1: The cityscape image is by Ricinator.
  • Frame 2: The car racing to the hospital is from a photo on  ph.
  • Frame 3: The ultrasound scene is by artistraman. The busy hospital exterior is a cropped version of a photo by PAspecialNHCL
  • Frame 4: The messy dining room is by Hans. The pregnant woman is by readingruffolos. The child with fingers in his nose is by ranjatm
  • Frame 5: The bedroom is from pxfuel. The doctor is by OpenClipart; the image is in the public domain. The hand reaching for the button is selected from an image from pxfuel. Helper midwife is cropped from a photo from AllGo. The red carrying cases at her feet are by Dids. The wall portrait is by pxfuel, as is the children’s drawing. At the head of the bed, the map of licensed states is from The Big Push for Midwives; a larger copy is included in the blog text above. The primary midwife is by Tosha Noakes.

We Can Work it Out

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Ah, America the Beautiful. Where good, honest hard work leads – by means of  bootstrings – to the bountiful life. That’s a value we can all get behind, yes? Maybe. There are just too many unanswered questions about the nature of work, what constitutes work, and who deserves the rewards of (someone’s) hard work. Give it some thought, and consider whether we don’t all deserve a reasonable measure of security, financial or otherwise, regardless of what occupies our time.

 

Image credits

All images are shared under a Creative Commons license, unless otherwise noted. Where required by license, changes to the image are noted.

  • Panel 1: The hayfield is by jplenio. The candidate at the lectern is by Ricinator. The journalists are by al-grishin. The purple mountains are from Needpix.com. The flag bunting is from PinClipart.com. The spacious sky photo is by MemoryCatcher. The “not lovin’ poverty wages” protestors are from a photo by Fibonacci Blue. The “on strike” sign was inserted from a photo by Martin Lopez. The little girl with arms folded is by ivanovaassol. The reaching hand with pink slip is from Piqsels. The elderly people knitting are from a photo from pxfuel.
  • Panel 2: The up-close-and-personal view of the cornfield is from peakpx.com. The bicycling child and her caregiver are by Ben_Kerckx. The mother serving salad is by skeeze. The photo of the crossing guard is by Airman Ashley J. Woolridge; it is in the public domain. The inmate firefighter (in orange) and another firefighter in yellow were isolated from a photo by the California National Guard. The photo of the leased convict with a shovel is from Our Common Ground. The chain gang overseer is in reality 1912 Chicago White Sox umpire William Dineen. The woman in labor is in reality a photo by popo.uw23 of a contestant in a jalapeno eating contest.
  • Panel 3: The underlying photo of the shining sea is from Pikrepo. The son shown inheriting the castle is actually the painting Washington on his Deathbed, by Junius Brutus Stearns (1810-1885); the reproduction is in the public domain.
    The two executives celebrating their good fortune are from a photo from pxfuel. They have been placed in a boardroom photographed by Phil Manker. The television image in that photo was added, built on a public domain image by Shealah Craighead.
    The “ukrainair” plane was created from a photo from ph. Hunter Biden’s image was isolated from a photo by Ben Stanfield
  • Panel 4: The lilies of the field are from ph.

This gallery contains 4 photos


Weed whacking

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The last few years have seen an increase in states working to decriminalize recreational marijuana use by adults. Apparently, the U.S. Surgeon General believes that only illegal status was preventing pregnant people from puffing their nine months away, because this year he issued a strong warning against marijuana use during pregnancy.

This cartoon addresses criminalization of marijuana use rather than a generalized warning, but the fact is that laws that criminalize drug use during pregnancy and issue special penalties for it already exist and women are being charged under them. Furthermore, even in decriminalized states, mothers still face consequences for marijuana by way of the child welfare system; sanctions can include one that many mothers would rate even worse than the loss of their liberty: the loss of their child. These repercussions seem vastly disproportionate to the drug-using behavior, considering the following facts:

  • The effects of marijuana use during pregnancy are often overstated in the absence of concrete data.
  • The effects of marijuana use during pregnancy are often confounded with other substance use – including alcohol and tobacco, which are far more dangerous to the baby than any illicit drug.
  • The effects of marijuana use during pregnancy are often confounded with socio-economic status and with disparate effects by race, including uneven enforcement, uneven consequences, and uneven expectation of privacy. Indeed, the effects of intervention itself in the form of child welfare agencies cannot be classified as benign; certainly, separating babies from their mothers in the first hours of life isn’t good for either party.

Sanctions, whether threatened or real, scare pregnant people away from prenatal care. When so many things in our lives are bad for babies (job loss, environmental pollution, violence against women), this fixation with a substance whose harm hasn’t even been fully established looks like just another way to criminalize pregnancy. In addition, when marijuana use is legal, punishing users might serve as the bridge to criminalizing tobacco and alcohol use. Or consumption of runny cheese! Or hot tub use. … Or living in a neighborhood where the water has been turned off, homes have been foreclosed upon, and the factory next door belches a queasy-making smoke that the municipality assures residents is Perfectly Safe. 

If we want pregnancy to result in healthy babies and healthy mothers, perhaps we might concentrate on known dangers and support parents in ways that don’t involve a) a jail cell, or b) the threat of separation on the single most important day in a brand-new person’s life.

Suggested reading

Image credits 

All images are shared under a Creative Commons license, unless otherwise noted. Where required by license, changes to the image are noted.

  • Frame 1: “Reefer Madness” poster (“drug-crazed abandon!”) is from Wikimedia Commons. The image is in the public domain.
  • Frame 2: Policymaker and scientist/doctor are by Mohamed Mahmoud. RJ Truthteller is borrowed from another cartoon that states the image source.
  • Frame 4: Pregnant woman is by Thiago Borges. Health Department is by Michael Rivera; the image was cropped.
  • Frame 5: The photo is by Patricia Deal, and is in the public domain. Because this photo portrays a real person, we wish to emphasize that the pregnant woman pictured did not speak the words we put in her mouth. In no way do we wish to suggest that the circumstances suggested by those words apply to her.


Unregulate me?

This post was conceived with the help of The Big Push for Midwives, which also helped out with its delivery.

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Private Membership Associations

Earlier this year, news articles reported on criminal actions against community (out-of-hospital) midwives in Indiana and Nebraska following infant deaths. More recently, the work of one midwife in Minnesota was highlighted; she was not under state investigation, nor were any bad birth outcomes mentioned. 

What do these three midwives have in common? They all have formed Private Membership Associations (PMAs), legal instruments that claim to exempt their members from state regulation. Clients of these midwives become members of PMAs, which supposedly allow them to essentially contract out of state governance of their midwives. 

However, in reality it doesn’t work that way. States with licensing regimes, like Indiana, allow their state midwifery boards to issue complaints against negligent midwives, whether the midwives have obtained licenses or not. Because the unlicensed practice of a profession is a criminal offense, these complaints are often conveyed to the state attorney general’s office, after which charges may be filed against the midwife. In states that do not offer licensing of community midwives, like Nebraska, the route to criminal charges is much more direct: reports of a bad outcome may land immediately on the county prosecutor’s desk.

The cartoon above is our take on why PMAs are a bad idea, and why midwife licensing is a good idea. Many people these days mistrust government – and who can blame them? But remember: the answer to bad law isn’t no law; the answer to bad law is good law.

An aside about PMAs, birth outcomes, and midwife arrests

When midwives are arrested after a newborn or maternal demise, as in the news articles linked above, some readers find it tempting to channel their lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key rage right at them. Allow us to take this opportunity to remark that physicians rarely face arrest when their patients die. Furthermore, this post is in no way a comment about the outcomes in any of the births in the news articles or on the level of skill and training possessed by the midwives who attended those births. Midwives are often blamed for bad birth outcomes no matter what their license status, training, skill, or education. The shamefully high infant and maternal mortality rates associated with conventional hospital-based care, on the other hand, is just starting to be questioned.

Image credits

All images are shared under a Creative Commons license, unless otherwise noted. Where required by license, changes to the image are noted.

Panel 1: 

Panel 2: 

  • The Fortress Midwifery building is really part of the
    Golubac Fortress in the Đerdap national park in Serbia.
    The image is from Max Pixel and is in the public domain.
  • The Viking longboat is by Midnightblueowl. We added the torch by Kiernax.
  • The bomber is by U.S. Air Force. The image is in the public domain.
  • The helicopter is by Capt. Richard Barker. The image is in the public domain.
  • The sailing ship is a photograph of Cannon Fired by Willem van de Velde the Younger, 1707. The photo is by the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and is in the public domain.
  • The Virginia-class attack submarine is by Owly K. The photo is in the public domain.
  • The cannon is from a photo of the Saint Kitts – Brimstone Hill Fortress, taken by Martin Falbisoner.

Panel 3

  • The background is a photo of the Ballroom at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, by Dennis Jarvis. We cropped the image, edited out some chairs along the back wall, and swapped the portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with one of Martha Ballard, midwife. 
  • The lectern is from “WikiData Presentation 2018,” by Michelle Nitto
  • The pink house in the poster is of Zemīte Manor, by J. Sedols.
  • The projector screen is from Max Pixel.
  • The midwife/breastfeeding mother is by Renoir. She is wearing an oxytocin necklace. Her bag is from Needpix.com. It is filled with a water bottle by wraithrune, a yoga mat by MikesPhotos, and a sweet little stuffed cow by OpenClipart-Vectors.
  • The Big Push for Midwives logo is from The Big Push for Midwives! You should check them out!
  • Finally, the speaker at the lectern is Cynthia Jackson, CPM, LM, of Michigan: midwife extraordinaire and unparalleled portrait subject. The photo is used with permission. Ms. Jackson runs Sacred Rose Birthing Service and is a founder of the Mosaic Midwifery Collective, both in Detroit. 


Just say … what?

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Bibliography

  • Catharine A MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (Cambridge, Mass; London: Harvard University Press, 1994).
  • Elizabeth Kukura, “Birth Conflicts: Leveraging State Power to Coerce Health Care Decision-Making” 47 (2018 2017): 48.

Image credits

All images are shared under a Creative Commons license, unless otherwise noted. Where required by license, changes to the image are noted.


Drugs are bad

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Just one of those inconsistencies

Condemnation is a typical response to mothers who ingest opioids while pregnant. But these women are at risk of receiving much more than a scolding: they may lose their state benefits, their children, and their liberty. Mandatory reporting laws in many states turn health care providers into informants who connect the dots between health care, child welfare authorities, and law enforcement. Reporting of drug-using pregnant people is heavily racialized.

These same health care providers and institutions, however, are content to fix up their laboring patients with epidurals that contain opioids. Epidurals certainly make patients quieter, as the provider in Frame 2 suggests; they are also increasingly demanded by patients who are not permitted to move around during labor, whose contractions have been artificially strengthened with Pitocin, or who are experiencing long labors as a result of physiologic responses to the hospital environment.

Note: No one is suggesting that women in labor should not receive epidurals, only that patients should not be tricked or coerced into epidurals for providers’ benefit, and that patients should have true informed consent with explanations of both benefits AND risks.

Emerging evidence suggests that people exposed to opioids in utero are more likely to develop opioid addictions later in life. We hope that this recognition does not trigger greater retaliation against opioid users who face the sanctions shown in Frame 1, but instead explores all the factors that shape a system that leads to opioid use of any kind by any birthing person.

Further reading

  • Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, 2011.
  • Lynn M. Paltrow, “Roe v Wade and the New Jane Crow: Reproductive Rights in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” American Journal of Public Health 103, no. 1 (2013): 17–21.
  • Khiara M. Bridges, The Poverty of Privacy Rights, 1 edition (Stanford, California: Stanford Law Books, 2017).
  • Kajsa Brimdyr and Karin Cadwell, “A Plausible Causal Relationship between the Increased Use of Fentanyl as an Obstetric Analgesic and the Current Opioid Epidemic in the US,” Medical Hypotheses 119 (October 1, 2018): 54–57, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2018.07.027.

Image credits

All images are shared under a Creative Commons license, unless otherwise noted. Where required by license, changes to the image are noted.

  • Frame 1: The pregnant woman is by creativeitchalways. She was originally holding an orange drink; it was replaced by an orange water bottle created by alistairjtp. This image is in the public domain. The doctor’s office background is by annekarakash. The pointing hand is by Tumisu; the white sleeve was added later. The police officer’s hand is by Andrew Griffith; it is isolated from a much larger image of a police officer standing with his arms crossed. The handcuffs are from Needpix.com.
  • Frame 2: The laboring woman is from Max Pixel. The doctor’s office background is by Omar Bárcena; the image shown is a much smaller piece of the original photo. The downplaying hand is by truthseeker08; the white sleeve was added later. 


How bad can it be?

How bad can it be?

Very.

Some women1 are pregnant. Some women are fat.2 Some women are fat and pregnant. Almost all of these women need jobs, the same as anyone else. Employment discrimination in hiring is sadly not unknown to many would-be employees, but the fat-and/or-pregnant job-seeker encounters specific additional challenges.

Pregnant?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 forbids employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, considering it a form of sex discrimination. The strongest protections apply to the hiring process, but are difficult to access unless an employer documents their decision to discriminate. Employers are not allowed to ask applicants if they have children, plan to have children, or are currently pregnant. Of course, at a certain point a pregnancy becomes visible – unless it is mistaken for fatness.

Fat?

Discrimination faced by fat people is widespread. Fat people are seen not only as failures at controlling their body size, but also as generally untrustworthy, incompetent, and unhealthy. Most U.S. jurisdictions offer no legal protection against weight-based discrimination in employment or any other context. Even if legal protection were available, remedies might remain elusive should traditional code words for overlooking fat applicants be used: “unprofessional appearance” or “incompatible with company image.” Now for the double whammy …

Fat AND pregnant?

Yes, Virginia, fat people get pregnant and have babies! It is in these circumstances that employers fall prey to the particularly injurious prejudices about fat people, who are so often characterized as being “one cheeseburger away from a fatal heart attack.” Imagine if a fat person is also pregnant! It’s practically a death sentence! This rate of fatality would be highly inconvenient to employers – not to mention the fat person herself – if it were true.

There are higher risks of some complications of pregnancy associated with higher body weights, but that is true of other (visible) conditions as well: very low body weight, twin or multiple pregnancy, and pregnancy for African-American women, whose maternal mortality is tragically 3-4 times that of white women. The scientific evidence is finally beginning to concede that higher mortality for the African-American population is not the result of race, but of racism. The role of bias and stigma may also be behind the associations of certain types of risk with bad outcomes for fat pregnant women. Regardless of the science, the popular perception is as stated in Frame 4: hiring a pregnant fat woman will bankrupt your business through high health care costs3 when her pregnancy inevitably goes south.

Why do these beliefs persist?

The cultural understanding of women’s participation in the workplace remains far from settled, at least when women take valued positions previously held exclusively by men. Even women who are not pregnant or incapable of becoming pregnant can suffer from employer suspicion that members of the sex that “naturally” acts as family caretakers are likely to be called to do just that, to the detriment of their jobs. Applicants who are pregnant are felt to be freeloading: if other new employees are not permitted to take leave until they have put in the required amount of time, why can babymakers? They should have kept their legs closed!

As for fat pregnant women, well, should they really be permitted to reproduce? Not only will they almost certainly harm their babies and themselves in the process, draining company and public health dollars at an alarming rate, but they might produce more little fat people. A job would just encourage them! 

While these last paragraphs are increasingly sardonic, they illustrate the result of combining over a century of anti-fat bias, medical eagerness to believe that fat is the cause of all ills, pressure on businesses to reduce health care spending, an economic framework that blames the need of the human race to reproduce on the people doing the reproducing, and a general lack of understanding that we are all in this together. And this moral mess hasn’t even begun to address the additional and intersectional issues encountered by LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, or immigrants.

“I want to do the right thing – what is it?”

You don’t really need us to tell you, do you? Stop discriminating! 

Admittedly, it’s not that simple. However, like charity, abuse begins at home – and that’s a good place to stop abusing your fat friends and family members. Even if you’re doing it because you’re “concerned for their health.” Especially then.

Then take up the standard in your workplace. Make sure that both pregnant and fat people are accepted as full members of the workforce. If you are responsible for hiring, then you are especially positioned to make change. Finally, when the common beliefs about fat and/or pregnant people begin to budge, work with policymakers to forbid this kind of discrimination. 

1We usually use the phrase “pregnant people” or “birthing people.” However, because the topic of this cartoon is extremely gendered, we will refer to “women,” with the understanding that pregnant people who do not identify as women face additional problems beyond the scope of this post.
2The accepted medical term these days seems to be people who “have obesity.” We use “fat” as the term preferred by the fat acceptance movement.
3Obviously, the structure of the U.S. health care payor system is a key culprit in employers’ general fears about health care costs. This post is not trying to solve that problem. One thing at a time, okay?

Bibliography

 

Image credits

All images are shared under a Creative Commons license, unless otherwise noted. Where required by license, changes to the image are noted.