Laura Gilkey: One Woman’s Uphill Battle For Birth Rights

I have been lucky enough to cross paths with Laura and am inspired by her will, determination and all around HARD work to educate and empower women about their rights. This article will shed some light on a very important subjects: the oxymoron of a woman dying while giving life and the critical role midwives play in birth.
 
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 Laura Gilkey (featured above right with Ina May Gaskin AKA “”the mother of authentic midwifery”) is a mother, maternity care reform advocate, community organizer and creative marketing consultant. She is one of 4  producers, writers, and hostesses of Maternally Yours, a weekly program on Sarasota’s Community Radio Station, WSLR 96.5 LPFM. To date, her guests have included Dr. Maya Angelou, 2011 CNN Hero of the Year Robin Lim, and 2011 Right Livelihood Laureate Ina May Gaskin. Laura has been active with several committees dedicated to improving maternity care. She currently serves on the Executive Board of Directors for the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County, and is the marketing manager for Michael A. Gilkey Inc. She is a quilter and marketing coordinator for The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project, intended to raise awareness about maternal mortality in the United States.
Laura, why are you so passionate about birth?
I guess it stems from the disparity between my own birth experience and that of most of my peers. I realized that the empowerment and strength I was able to feel while birthing my children allowed me to begin mothering on the right foot. So many others begin with fear, doubt, or regret. The power held within that moment of birth is greatly underestimated in our culture. With the proper reverence, it holds the key to a healthy, sustainable society.
What myths would you like to clear up regarding birth?
There are so many. First, licensed midwives are rigorously educated, trained professionals who are experts in normal birth. Study after study shows that midwifery care outside of a hospital setting is as safe or safer for low risk pregnant women as hospital birth, but without unnecessary intervention and policies designed for the high risk patient. Second, the midwifery model of care can and should happen in a hospital setting. If a woman feels safer in a hospital she should birth in a hospital, and not feel as though she has to fight to have her birth plan executed. Third, and this may surprise some of you–the obstetricians aren’t to blame. They are victims of the same failing system as we are. What other profession has to juggle true emergency (often resulting in surgery) with a high volume of routine office appointments AND the unpredictable event of birth? Making birth more predictable through the use of intervention and medical management is often how OB’s insert some control over the uncontrollable. The answer, of course, is more midwives. If midwives attended a majority of low risk, normal births, as they do in every other country in the world with better outcomes than we have, the OB’s would be left to focus on what they are best trained to do–surgery. Finally, the biggest myth I’d like to clear up is that women don’t have rights when it comes to birth choices–because we do, and we should exercise them. We have the right to receive ALL information about the risks and benefits of any intervention or procedure offered to us, and the right to consent or refuse it. We have the right to choose where and with whom we give birth. And we have the right to have that moment treated with the utmost respect and compassion, whether it happens at home in the water or in the hospital on the operating table.
What has been your biggest “win” regarding birth education?
Nationally, the out of hospital birth rate hovers around 1%. Over the last decade in Sarasota this number has risen upwards of 5%. This trend is evidence not only of our supply of licensed midwives and freestanding birth centers, but of our demand as mothers for compassionate, evidence-based care. This is a huge win for me as a vocal advocate for the midwifery model.
What do you believe is your greatest obstacle?
Political will. We know how to alleviate our problems–our high maternal and infant mortality rates, our racial disparity and our high intervention rates, and to some extent, even our preterm birth rates–we just need the will to make it happen. For example, the US Standard Death Certificate was issued in 2003, and includes a series of check-boxes classifying a woman’s pregnancy status during the year preceding her death. Ten years later and still not all states have adopted this certificate; so not only are we not adequately examining the causes of maternal deaths, we aren’t even counting them all. Such an easy place to start.
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Scary Facts:
  • America has the highest maternal mortality rate of any industrialized country
  • It’s more dangerous to give birth in the United States than in 49 other countries
  • The United States spends $98 billion annually on hospitalization for pregnancy and childbirth, but the US maternal mortality rate has doubled in the past 25 years
  • 650 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications

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What would you say to any expectant mothers out there?
Know your rights. Trust your voice. Use it. Speak up and speak out. Just as you feed your children nutritious food and make sure they get a good education, you can also ensure they come into this world in the most compassionate and appropriate way possible. It’s not only about a healthy baby; it’s also about a healthy, happy mother.

To tune into Laura’s radio program: Maternally Yours click HERE

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If you would like any more information about pregnancy, birth or labor please connect with our resident Midwife, Harmony Miller by clicking HERE

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