Of birth and renewal: Of spring

It was 41 degrees Fahrenheit when we got up this morning here in Chicago, but this weekend, the Memorial Day weekend, marks the unofficial beginning of summer in the United States.

Officially, it's still spring, though. Here is a poem by e. e. cummings that relates both to the season and to our topic here on Birth Story:

O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have
the
doting

fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched
and
poked

thee
,has the naughty thumb
of science prodded
thy

beauty        how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
gods
(but
true
to the incomparable
couch of death thy
rhythmic
lover

thou answerest

them only with

spring)

Home-birth share small but rising

A study released this week on home birth in America shows a substantial increase in the still very small numbers of women who are choosing to have home births.

The study, released online in Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care, shows that of the 4.2 million births in the United States in 2008, 28,357 were home births. That is 2/3 of one percent of the total, but it represents a 20 percent increase, from 0.56 percent in 2004.

Non-Hispanic white women accounted for most of the growth, with an increase of 28 percent between 2004 and 2008. More than 1 percent of those women now have their births at home.

The study was based on United States birth-certificate data.

Birth news

Yipes! That was a long hiatus! So sorry. Hope not to do that again.

I am back on Birth Story with huge new respect for teachers, after serving winter quarter as an undergraduate lab instructor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. What teachers do in the classroom, I discovered, is the tip of the iceberg of the job.

I am back. Yes! So back to our topic, sort of. Well, a tangent, actually.

Nearly every time I Google "birth news" looking for, you know, something to blog about — my topic is birth — I come up with some permutation on the "birther" flap calling for President Obama to produce (on a daily basis, as far as I can tell) his birth certificate. Otherwise, critics will assume he was born in Kenya, his father's country of origin.

Barack Obama

Is he? Or isn't he?

Donald Trump and Whoopi Goldberg got into a dustup on "The View" last week about Obama's alleged reluctance to produce his birth certificate. (Just Google "birth news.")

The next day, "The View" ladies showed what they said was a copy of Obama's birth certificate.

Ben Smith at Politico wrote yesterday that the document Trump claimed was his own birth certificate, produced to needle the President, is not in fact Trump's official birth certificate. (But then Trump did come up with the right one.)

All of which just tells you that you can't go wrong, publicity-wise, getting a corner of this issue, or non-issue, as the case may be. Maybe I'll get a lot more hits today than I do ordinarily, writing about boring old childbirth.

The Arizona legislature is considering legislation that would require the state to sign off on proof of U.S. birth from presidential candidates. (They wouldn't let me teach at Medill until I produced proof of U.S. birth. Surely presidential candidates don't get a pass on that.)

The House version of the Arizona bill calls for evidence that that baby dropped onto U.S. soil, while the Senate version of the bill includes a definition of a "natural" U.S. birth as one to individuals who were U.S. citizens at the time.

I think both those elements have to be there, actually. That is, proof of either of those things ought to be enough, and I think maybe we need some laws to clarify that.

Even though some people go to great lengths to manipulate the law to convey U.S. citizenship to their infants like, allegedly, the Chinese women Jennifer Medina writes about in the New York Times today, it is important for anyone born in the United States to be an "automatic" citizen. Anything else is a total repudiation of what the United States has been, and stood for, for more than two centuries.

At the same time, we live in a small world. Pregnant U.S. citizens travel all the time for work and pleasure, and probably some other reasons, too, and they shouldn't be terrified about losing their children's full rights of citizenship if they happen to be abroad when their water breaks.

The Administration and numerous officials of the state of Hawaii, where Obama was by all accounts born on Aug. 4, 1961, have repeatedly confirmed the President's birth to a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. Two for two. (So that's settled, right?)

And whatever you think of Barack Obama, he is a stellar example of the promise the United States has made to its residents, going even beyond its citizens — that if you work hard, the sky is the limit on what you can achieve.

Well, that's my two cents for today. It's nice to be back, although like teaching, blogging is a whole lot more time-consuming than I thought it would be before I actually tried it.

Happy spring, dear reader!

Birth Story 2010

Following one topic, childbirth, for an entire year has given me an unusual perspective on what is happening on that front, both here in the United States and also globally.

If you ask me, the newly apparent muscle of the holistic birth community was the most important “birth story” of 2010. One sign of this was the passage of the so-called Midwifery Modernization Act in New York, which eliminated a requirement that midwives obtain a written practice agreement from a physician or hospital to practice in New York State.Pregnant Graffiti

Also, as we just discovered from a new report from the Centers for Disease Control, released last week, birth by Cesarean section reached a new high, 32.9 percent of births in 2009, up from 32.3 in 2008. The steadily rising rate — up every year since 1996, when the rate was 20.7 — has been a major story all year.

That CDC report also showed the birth rate for U.S. teen-agers hit its lowest level last year since records began to be kept seventy years ago — 39.1 births per 1,000 teens, down from 41.5 per 1,000 in 2008. The record low held true for all racial and ethnic groups.

A couple of other big birth stories of 2010, sadly, revolved around the fact that too many mothers are still dying in childbirth.

In March, Amnesty International called out the American childbirth establishment on a rising rate of maternal mortality in a report called “Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA.” The human-rights advocacy organization pointed out that while the United States spends more on health care than any other country in the world, “maternal mortality ratios have increased from 6.6 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2006.”

Many other groups joined in that call for changes to improve birth safety in this country.

Meanwhile, in the developing world, the United Nations’ Millennium Goal 5, which aims to bring down rates of maternal mortality by three-quarters in places like sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, is the subject of much scrutiny, with a major push in some places creating bright spots in what appears to be a generally gloomy picture with just five years to go.

Pregnant Graffiti by Petteri Sulonen / Wikimedia Commons

Women’s health fail

For every step forward the United States takes toward improving women's health, the country appears to be taking one back — or more.

The overall picture is so bad that the nation got a big, black "Unsatisfactory" grade on a report card issued recently by the National Women's Law Center, in conjunction with Oregon Health & Science University.Art deco woman

We are doing all right in some areas. Women are smoking less. The percentage of women getting regular mammograms, annual dental checkups and colorectal screenings has held steady since 2007. In only one area, cholesterol screenings, have we actually improved.

On the negative side, more women are binge drinking, and fewer are getting Pap screening tests for cervical cancer. More women are obese, diabetic and hypertensive, too. More are turning up with chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease.

Not a single state got a "Satisfactory" mark this year; in 2007, three states made the grade. Massachusetts and Vermont have the best scores, a limp S (for satisfactory) -minus.

Many of the goals have to do with things people can conceivably control themselves, like quitting smoking, and drinking only moderately.

However, nearly 20 percent of women ages 18 to 64 have no health insurance. The disparities are troubling: 38 percent of Hispanic women, 32 percent of Native American women, 23 percent of African-American women — but only 14 percent of Caucasian women — lack health coverage.

And only seven states now require comprehensive maternity care — prenatal care, childbirth and postpartum care — be included in all individual and group health plans.

Most of the goals the report card addresses come from the Healthy People 2010 campaign of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. On its website, Healthy People is already hoping for better results in 2020, its new goal year.

"The Favorite" by Leon-Francois Comerre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons