Sunday, November 8, 2009

FFOM Hosts Maternal Health Weekend in Sarasota

Last weekend, Florida Friends of Midwives sponsored and co-sponsored several events aimed at improving maternal health care locally and throughout the country. Headlining the weekend was Sunday afternoon's panel discussion Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond. Present for this and all other events was the world's leading midwife, Ina May Gaskin.

Ms. Gaskin began her visit to Sarasota with a Clinical Conference for the medical staff of Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) on Friday, October 30. Her presentation was entitled "Combining the Best of Modern Obstetrics with Respect for Nature and Traditional Midwifery Approaches." Her objectives were threefold: to explore the knowledge base and skills common to traditional midwifery; to understand the need for both modern obstetrics and (authentic) midwifery; and to build positive relationships between the two professions (especially with regard to home birth midwives). Present at the conference were SMH Director of Maternal-Fetal Medicine Dr. Washington Hill; Sarasota County Health Department OB/GYN Dr. John Abu; Licensed Midwives Christina Holmes and Alina Vogelhut; and several members of the hospital staff and the community, including childbirth educators, nurses and retired physicians. The presentation will be available via podcast on the SMH Continuing Education website.

Friday afternoon found Ina May Gaskin touring both of Sarasota's freestanding birth centers (Birthways Family Birth Center and Rosemary Birthing Home), and having lunch with Sonia Pressman Fuentes, the co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Two of the most influential women in recent American history, the pair discussed the shift in birth culture in the last half century, the difference between American governmental structure and that of most European countries with better maternal outcomes, and the role of the feminist movement in changing the American perception of birth.

Saturday morning, October 31, Ina May Gaskin presented the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project at the Selby Public Library. Ms. Gaskin spoke to Sarasota's SNN News Channel 6 before the presentation, saying "In 2007, the World Health Organization reported that there are forty other countries that do better at preventing maternal death than the United States." Three panels of the quilt were shown in the library's Geldbart Auditorium, after having been hung from the atrium balcony during the week prior. These three panels contained 58 squares, each representing a woman who has died of pregnancy or childbirth related causes in America since 1982. Ms. Gaskin argues that simple measures such as a unified federal death certificate and an increase in percentage of hospital autopsies would dramatically improve U.S. maternal outcomes. The presentation was followed by a booksigning benefiting the project, as well as Florida Friends of Midwives (FFOM), a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to promoting and preserving access to midwifery care in Florida. Ms. Gaskin signed copies of her classic Spiritual Midwifery, the gold standard prenatal education book Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, and her newest release, Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding, said by Dr. Christiane Northrup to be "the best thing ever written on the subject."

Sunday afternoon at 3:00 pm, Ina May Gaskin met in the Hyatt Regency Sarasota Ballroom with Dr. Washington Hill once more, as well as Sarasota Healthy Start Coalition executive director Jennifer Highland and Representative Keith Fitzgerald, for a panel discussion called Maternal Health Care in the 21st Century: Sarasota and Beyond. The discussion was moderated by Sarasota Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner, who shared his perspective as a City Commissioner that improved maternal health is a formula of community growth.
The panel was a free program which included refreshments and a 28 page Maternal Health Resource Guide, all made possible by the hard work of the sponsoring organizations and the generosity of several business partners. Approximately 250-275 people attended the discussion, including several guests of expertise in the field of maternal health and associated disciplines.
Dr. Washington Hill was the first to speak, pointing to a collaborative model of care as the standard for positive outcomes, and encouraging open communication between the many components of maternal health care and its providers.
Ina May Gaskin followed, discussing maternal death, its possible prevention and ways to move toward accurate recordkeeping, and the importance of prenatal health. She illustrated strategies in other countries with much better outcomes than ours, such as the Netherlands, which provides its new pregnant women with paid postpartum care.
Jennifer Highland, executive director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County, then presented a staggering display of statistics illustrating Sarasota's place in Florida and the rest of the country in categories such as infant death, fetal death, smoking during pregnancy, breastfeeding rates and more. Jennifer suggested that Sarasota County's high cesarean section percentage be closely examined and reversed to improve preterm birth rates and NICU admissions, and that prenatal health be a priority of all parties involved.
Finally, Florida House of Representatives Health and Family Services Policy Council member Rep. Keith Fitzgerald gave the audience a history of health insurance, an overview of health care reform issues, and a call to action. When talking about the frequency of special interest groups' appointments with him and his colleagues, Fitzgerald asked: "Where are you?"

Questions were then taken from audience members, who asked about tort reform, individual OB/GYN's c-section rates, and women's intuition--among many other things.

After the panel discsussion, Florida Friends of Midwives (FFOM) hosted the tribute An Evening with Ina May Gaskin in the Boathouse of the Hyatt Regency Sarasota. Guests received keepsake tickets, signed a book of gratitude for Ms. Gaskin, and viewed a tribute DVD of her work and its manifestation through the midwives and midwife-assisted births here in Sarasota. Special thanks to Radio-Free Carmela and the Transmitters and Tanya Radtke for providing music for the evening. Net proceeds of approximately $2500 will help FFOM in their strategy to protect Florida's midwives and their laws, and to improve public awareness of the Midwives Model of Care.