On Labor Day 2014, thousands of mothers and supporters gathered at over 115 locations for the third annual Rally to Improve Birth. To kick off the event, Improving Birth, the rally creator and advocacy group for less traumatic births, held a massive photo project event to highlight problems within the current American birth system. Improving Birth asked mothers (and fathers) everywhere to submit photos of themselves describing a specific instance in which they were bullied, coerced, abused, or physically forced during maternity care or a birth. Many parents were eager to share their stories and submitted telling photos about the current state of maternity care and the birth experience for families. Although the photo project has now ended, the stories remain and Improving Birth's work to retune the health care system is ongoing. Keep reading to see some of the photo project images and to learn more about Improving Birth.
About Improving Birth
Improving Birth is a national nonprofit 501(c)3 organization advocating for evidence-based, humane maternity care. The organization states that their movement is not about natural birth vs. medicated birth or hospital birth vs. home birth or birth center birth, but about respect for the maternity and birth process. Improving Birth notes that their program is, “about women being capable of making safer, more informed decisions about their care and that of their babies, when they are given full and accurate information about their care options, including the potential harms, benefits, and alternatives. It’s about respect for women and their decisions in childbirth, including how, where, and with whom they give birth; and the right to be treated with dignity and compassion.”
Is There a Birth Crisis?
Cesarean sections and other birth interventions have risen to alarming rates, and even Amnesty International has stated that there is indeed a maternal health care “crisis” in the U.S. which has resulted in a rash of consumers and health organizations urging hospitals and care providers to be more respectful and accountable towards women, babies and families. Improving Birth notes, “So many people are unaware of just how much room for improvement there is in our maternity care system: of how much of a gap there is between “routine” or typical care and care that is based on scientific evidence and known best practices. So many women are unaware that respect and compassion in childbirth aren’t just luxuries; they’re a human right.”
What is Birth Trauma
The photo project hosted by Improving Birth focused on birth trauma. According to the organizations, the “vast majority of Americans have had exposure to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. And although any woman can experience a traumatic birth, the likelihood goes up for those with a history of childhood sexual abuse, rape, or trauma. Childbirth is experienced as traumatic in up to 34% of all births, and about one-third of those women have symptoms of Postpartum Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” While Improving birth does recognize that sometimes, a medical emergency or injury is the cause of the traumatic experience, that’s not always the case. For many women what may seem like a “routine” birth may still leave a physically healthy mom feeling traumatized during or after the event. The organization states, “In fact, of the women who contact Improving Birth about feeling traumatized, almost all report that the trigger for the trauma was how they were treated during birth (a lack of respect for their bodies and their decisions), rather than the medical circumstances of the birth.” A birth event is more likely to be perceived as traumatic when:
- It is unexpected.
- You felt unable to prevent it.
- You were intensely emotional because of it.
- You may be unable to stop thinking about the event.
- You are unable to remember the event.
Have You Had a Traumatic Birth Event?
If you experienced trauma during your childbirth, you can visit the useful Improving Birth trauma tool kit that explains how to get help filing a complaint and also how to get emotional help should you need it.
About VBAC Bans
Improving Birth notes that vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) bans affect communities served by more than 40% of American hospitals and thus a large part of their work focuses on not only lowering c-section rates, which often lead to subsequent c-sections, but also helping to promote the idea of VBACs as a suitable and safe birth option. Read more about this hot issue on their VBAC Ban page.
How You Can Help
There are countless ways you can help spread the word about safe and respectful maternity care and births through Improving Birth. You can support laws that help improve maternity care, donate or even host a local rally. Learn more about getting involved at Improving Birth.