The National Women's Law Center released the 2010 Women's Health Care Report Card, which analyzes data from across the country to rank the quality of women's health and the services they access. The report shows that overall, women's health has gotten worse over the past few years, with rising obesity (one in four women), fewer screenings for cervical cancer, and an increase in binge drinking, to name just a few of the highlights. Massachusetts and Vermont received the top scores (of "unsatisfactory") while Louisiana and Mississippi ranked the lowest, receiving 'F's in almost all categories. Overall, the United States received an unsatisfactory grade. One of the most disturbing aspects of the report that I noticed and which wasn't mentioned in the NYTimes article summarizing the findings was the information on maternal mortality rates in the United States. The report reiterated that the risk maternal deaths in the U.S. is greater than in 40 other countries, and that black women's risk of pregnancy and birth related deaths is significantly higher than that of white women. Four states received satisfactory grades, including (ranked in order starting with best), Maine, Vermont, Indiana, and Alaska. On the other end, another four received 'F' grades, Oklahoma, Georgia, Michigan, and the worst, the District of Columbia. In DC, a fifth of childbearing women receive no first trimester pre-natal care (jumping to a fourth of all black women and a greater percentage of Hispanic women). Another depressing statistic, per 1,000 births, the infant mortality rate for white infants is 3.2 but for black infants, it is 18.5. That's almost two births per hundred. If our nation's capital has not just a bad ranking, but the very worst ranking in maternal mortality rates, what does that say about women and children's health, not to mention birth, in this country?
Every midwife knows
that not until a mother’s womb
softens from the pain of labour
will a way unfold
and the infant find that opening to be born.
There is treasure in your heart,
it is heavy with child.
All the awakened ones,
like trusted midwives are saying,
'welcome this pain.'
It opens the dark passage of Grace.
Jalal al-Din Rumi