March for Moms co-founder Neel Shah, MD describes this year’s rally– held last month to kick off National Maternal Health Awareness Week— as “tremendously powerful.”

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee.

We put a giant stage on the National Mall right in front of the Capitol Building that could be seen from five blocks away–it could have easily fit a Guns N Roses reunion tour,” he writes in an email to Our Milky Way. “Only it wasn’t for a rock concert. It was set up by and for American families, to share their stories, their heartaches, their hopes to be able to start or grow their family with dignity. To share their vision to be able to access childbirth care that is safe, supportive, and empowering. And families in 50 other cities across the country joined us with sister rallies of their own…” [hyperlink added]

Shah calculates there is no higher value healthcare service to a society than childbirth.

“And yet we do not adequately invest in the wellbeing of mothers, or (more broadly) the wellbeing of families who are in this very vulnerable period that spans pregnancy through birth through caring for an infant,” he writes.  “I see an opportunity to better match the way we invest in these families with the way we value them.”

He continues: “In my travels observing how babies are born across our country and across the world I have learned that people will procreate whether or not they have access to a dignified way to do it. As a result, in every geographic corridor–from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to Tulsa, Oklahoma, the status quo is widely accepted as normal.

Right now the status quo is that one in three mothers gets major abdominal surgery to give birth and one in ten babies is sent to the ICU.  We can obviously do much better than that… but all of the avoidable suffering out there is invisible. The first step to fix this is to create a platform and a coalition to share what better looks like. The second is to lead with our values in order to find common ground in turning our vision into a reality.”

The March for Moms movement strives to unify diverse voices around the tragic maternal health outcomes in the U.S. and to mobilize individuals to advocate for legislation that will improve the health of families.

Healthy Children Project was honored and proud to be a sponsor of this year’s March for Moms.

“Collaborating with other individuals and organizations to draw attention to maternal mortality in the U.S., working to decrease the increasing risk of maternal mortality, and addressing the shocking disparities in mortality experienced by women of color is a very high priority for us at Healthy Children Project,” Cindy Turner-Maffei, MA, IBCLC, ALC begins.

“We were moved to tears by the profound testimony of Charles Johnson, husband of Kyra Johnson (see link below). Equally profound words were shared by many other speakers. We need to learn from their stories of loss and near-misses.”

Despite the U.S. suffering the highest rate of deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth in the developed world, Shah says he’s optimistic about our potential to change.

“For the first time in recent memory, all of the professions that act as stewards of maternal health in our country are putting their differences aside and standing together with common purpose to ensure we’re investing in the wellbeing of mothers,” he begins. “When we do this, we’re unstoppable.”

March for Moms speaker Jesanna Cooper, MD, CLC, an OBGYN working in Alabama, left the March with mixed feelings.  

Cooper’s speech focused on “successes to build on” in Alabama.

“I wanted to talk about what works!” she exclaims.

Overall, she says the event was wonderful. She says she couldn’t believe she had the opportunity to “have a voice like that.”

And surrounded by maternal child health advocates, Cooper says she felt renewed.

“It was refreshing to be in the same place with so many advocates because [this work] can sometimes feel isolating,” she explains. “Going to the March and seeing a movement renews your energy.”

Despite that, Cooper says she was disappointed by the relatively low turnout in D.C., estimating some 500 attendees including speakers, though she applauds the efforts of sister marches and social media attention which increased the reach.

Cooper points out that breastfeeding was missing from the conversation.

“[Breastfeeding] plays a role in maternal mortality and is a really good tool to address health equity and maternal mortality,” she explains.  “I would love to see Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE) and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) send representatives to the March in the future.”

She goes on, “Barriers to breastfeeding and a lack of support for nursing mothers needs to be part of the conversation, especially when addressing racial disparities in maternal health.”

Cooper also expresses deep concern over IBCLC licensure. [More here.]

“It’s painful to watch what’s happening in Georgia,” she begins. “It’s percolating into Alabama. It just kills me.”

Cooper says the CLC model is fantastic, that she strongly believes in its positive impact on bettering maternal health outcomes and opposes limiting access to lactation care providers.

Lastly, while more attention has been paid to postpartum mental health, she says the conversation needs to go further.

As an OBGYN, Cooper’s role is limited to providing basic services like completing the postpartum depression screening and prescribing medication. But she says mothers need other services available to them like outpatient counseling and inpatient care.

“I feel stuck. It’s a constant frustration,” Cooper begins.

She continues, “It’s a good move that ACOG is talking about the postpartum period, but if you don’t fix the rest of the system, [it] isn’t going to make a huge difference.”

Still, Cooper says the March left her more optimistic about the U.S.’s potential to change than usual thanks to inspiration from fellow speakers and attendees.

“You see what is possible,” she expounds.

Shah points out:  “We’re already starting to influence Congress and get a vote scheduled to address rising rates of maternal mortality. And we’re just getting started.”

Legislation is coming up for vote very soon and March for Moms is requesting your help to ensure the bills get passed. For a simple way to take action on maternal mortality, click here.


Propublica’s Lost Mothers coverage https://www.propublica.org/series/lost-mothers

“Paying Attention in the Postpartum Period” https://the1a.org/shows/2018-05-17/paying-attention-in-the-postpartum-period

“Take Mom’s Feet Out of the Ice Water” https://www.momsrising.org/blog/take-moms-feet-out-of-the-ice-water

“Dying to Deliver” https://abcnews.go.com/Health/dying-deliver-race-prevent-sudden-death-mothers/story?id=55015361

Charles Johnson’s heartbreaking story about the passing of his wife following childbirth https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWGxk9WX_ZM&feature=youtu.be

Check out #BeyondMothersDay

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