The conversation on women's reproductive rights often goes no further than access to birth control and abortion. Rarely do we think of birth under the banner of reproductive freedom. But it is. Sadly, women's choices in the setting of birth, are not given the same rigorous attention as choices that prevent conception.
Birth is an experience that differs greatly along class and race lines. For the poorest — a largely minority population of birthing mothers — health care choices and the ability to control their experiences and their bodies within the health care system, are far more limited than for their middle-class counterparts. The conditions under which women give birth say much about how they are valued.
Minority, immigrant and refugee women, especially, face greater challenges, including barriers of language, culture and custom, and they more often fall within poverty risk factors and poor health outcomes. A significant majority of these women are Asian/Pacific Islander.
Often, there is a service gap that pregnant women fall into. Resources are available during the prenatal and postpartum periods, but there is no individual support for a woman in labor.
When considering emotional and physical health, lowering the medical costs of birth and increasing the value placed on women, their babies, their experience and their choices, one of the most effective solutions available to all women is to have doula care.
A birth doula is a trained, experienced non-medical paraprofessional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after childbirth.
Doulas not only provide for unmet needs, but they also help fill a gap in experience that often accompanies the gap in service. The benefits of having a trained doula range from shorter labors, fewer complications, reduced Cesarean rates and reduced need for medication and epidurals.
By not supporting poor and minority women during their birth experiences, we send a message that they are not worthy of support, that their babies are not as important. Strong women grow healthy children. That's what every community needs.
Lisa Chin is the executive director of Open Arms, an organization that provides doula care for low-income women throughout Washington.