Five years ago this morning, I was in labor when we lost track of my daughter's heartbeat. My OB wasn't on duty that Sunday before dawn when a doctor I had never met leaned over me and informed my husband and me coldly "we lost the heartbeat, you must have emergency C-section surgery." I refused; demanded a second opinion; learned that the umbilical cord was strangling our daughter; was put on oxygen; and, many hours later, gave birth to a healthy girl -- umbilical cord still around her neck but very much alive. Today my Bella, the light of my life, will be five.
We had an adventurous pregnancy. High risk because I was over 40; various tests and challenges -- none less appealing than the gestational diabetes test where they feed you orange flavored syrup, extract vials of blood and send you home with a migraine. Though my test results were healthy, I had the stressful experience of fighting my insurer for nearly a year before they finally agreed to cover the test.
Many women say the pain of pregnancy and childbirth is a blur but I often think back to that time with sharp clarity. If I didn't have the experience as an attorney and the confidence of an advocate, my path -- our daughter's path -- might well have been different. I wanted -- demanded -- and received -- quality medical care and a healthier birthing experience knowing that too many women though accident of their birth faced obstacles securing healthy births and happy birthdays for their children. My experience made me all the more committed to fighting the good fight for universal healthcare, of which the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a monumental cornerstone.
Today, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, women who are pregnant no longer face medical discrimination. And women don't have to fight for prenatal testing as I did. But what if I lived in a state where I needed -- but my governor refused -- prenatal care through Medicaid Expansion under the Affordable Care Act and I could not seek treatment for risk factors extant in prenatal and infant illness and mortality such as poor nutrition, pollution, smoking, and stress? Life has not changed for the better for poor women who need prenatal care and well baby visits.
What if I lived in Mississippi where, as Nita Martin reported for ProPublica, prosecutors using fetal harm laws are attempting to send the mother of a stillborn child to prison based on the faulty evidentiary allegation that her stillborn child, umbilical cord around her neck, may have instead been killed due to traces of crack cocaine? Although prosecutors have yet to prove that traces of cocaine caused the umbilical cord to encircle a stillborn child's neck, the case proceeds forward, and could set a dangerous precedent.
What if I were the mother in New Jersey who -- like me -- refused consent for a C-section -- and who never needed one during labor -- but who -- unlike me -- got reported by hospital staff to the Division of Youth and Family Services and suffered a court later erroneously using that fact as an element in its decision to deny her custody of her daughter? When a white privileged woman has the freedom to refuse consent for a C-section and a poor African American woman is penalized for doing same, we have a problem with race and justice in our maternal health policies in America that cries out to be fixed.
Sadly, access to quality affordable healthcare -- coverage treatments and decisions -- is still blocked by right wing ideologues who insist that all pregnant women give birth but then block access to prenatal care, inject themselves into maternal choices with harmful "fetal harm" laws, and deny vital support once the child is born.
This is not just a desire to drive people away from the lifesaving services they need but a desire to punish women rather than trust them with our own medical decisions. And if we believe that our daughters must truly have all the equality of opportunity than our sons, then what happens to a poor mother of color in New Jersey or Mississippi should matter a great deal to every person in America. We must work together to overcome the slings of misinformation and the arrows of malicious prosecutions.
So today we count the candles and count our blessings, recommitted to the cause of expending healthcare and defending freedom for all. Please join the effort urging all to get covered fighting fetal harm laws and advancing Medicaid Expansion. To assure more healthy births and happy birthdays, Americans must get covered and our policies must trust women. Let today's 5 year olds be tomorrow's leaders in a country where quality healthcare with the freedom to choose and the freedom from fear is a cornerstone of the American Dream.
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