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Maternal Health Crisis in Arkansas



Hi. I’m Chelsea. If you’re on this page, you probably already know I am a doula. There is a reason

I am a doula. I have a passion for families. I have a passion for all things pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. This passion also led me to start up a Little Rock Air Force Base chapter of the Military Birth Resource Network (MBRN), a resource network to support military families in achieving healthy, safe, and satisfying pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experiences. But I couldn’t have done it without my friend Brittany Oaks (Wandering Oaks Motherhood and Birth).

When I first reached out to a Facebook group full of birth workers in central Arkansas about the possibility of starting the chapter of MBRN, she was the only person who responded. She was quick to get in touch with me and even set up a meeting with me to discuss it. I remember the day I met her. Her #birthnerd shirt gave her away when she walked into the room. Her passion for all things birth was clear. It was more than clear, it was FIERY. I was inspired. She was exactly what I needed to start the Little Rock Air Force Base chapter of MBRN. I needed a co-leader. And there she was! So that day I asked her if she wanted to jump in and do this with me. Luckily, she was totally on board with the idea.

That was almost a year ago. Since then I have learned a lot about the state of maternal and infant health in Arkansas. And, well, it’s not great. And it needs to change. According to the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, "Arkansas’ maternal death rate is the fifth highest in the nation with 44.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births annually. The national average is 29.6 deaths per 100,000 live births." In 2018 the March of Dimes gave Arkansas an “F” rating for maternal and children’s health. There are no birth centers- freestanding or within hospitals. Midwives are limited in the number of clients they can accommodate and are not an option to many birthing persons due to financial restraints or regulatory restrictions. And during this pandemic, this lack of options is leading families to consider unassisted homebirth out of fear, and decisions made out of fear are not good under any circumstance.

Recently, New York assembled a Maternity task force and I think this is an amazing step towards improved maternal health that should be considered for our own state.


"Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa today issued a report to Governor Cuomo outlining the COVID-19 Maternity Task Force's initial recommendations. Governor Cuomo has accepted these recommendations in full. The recommendations include measures to diversify birthing site options and support patient choice; extend the period of time a healthy support person can accompany a mother post-delivery; mandate testing of all pregnant New Yorkers; ensure equity in birthing options; create an educational campaign and review the impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy and newborns with special emphasis on reducing racial disparities in maternal mortality."

These are all things that we have been in contact with the governor’s office about. I’ve sent a few emails here and there, voiced my concern on social media, but Brittany has been in contact in every way possible, multiple times, and is largely ignored. And we certainly aren’t the first or only ones who are fighting for improved maternal health care. There have been others before us who have fought the same fight. But it’s exhausting. To be honest, in regards to most matters, I’m the type of person who, when told no, shuffles away, tail between my legs. I specifically do not make phone calls on such important matters for this reason. I forget my words. But watching Brittany fighting for this is inspiring.

We recently watched a Facebook live chat with Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin and local healthcare leaders from Arkansas hospitals where we brought up these issues with Maternal Healthcare (Brittany put it all together and you can watch it here.) This isn’t the first Facebook live event we have presented questions at. In past live events, we presented questions and they were either skirted around or we were told someone would be in contact. Surprise! No one contacted us. So let me lay out how this one went. Lt. Gov. Griffin started by bringing up Brittany’s question about when doulas will be allowed back into labor and delivery units. To start off, he acknowledged the fact that he had no idea what a doula was, but he did educate himself on this. So I guess that is progress, right? Except for the fact that this is something we have been contacting the Governor and Lt. Governor’s office about for weeks now. In fact, I have stated in my emails that I am a doula. So why is he just now educating himself on what a doula is?

Moving on. He presented the question to the team of healthcare leaders. Silence. He followed up with our question about the possibility of a Maternal Health task force. At least someone piped up to say, no, they have not heard of anything formally being done in regards to something like that. Fair enough. At least it was actually addressed.

Here’s the kicker. The question was rephrased to remove any reference to women’s/maternal health, asking what policies were being put in place to provide patient advocacy. And it was answered. Quite thoroughly, in fact. We were reassured that measures were being taken to help families be involved in care. So, why weren’t we reassured about any measures being taken to improve care in labor and delivery units after our initial questions?

I know I’ve gone on. This is a long rant. I admit. Many would argue that there are more important things to focus on right now. But I say, if New York, who has been hit exponentially harder by COVID-19 than Arkansas, can make the effort to improve maternal health care right now, why can’t we? Why are we being ignored and brushed off? Now, to be fair there have been a couple of people who have said they would forward our messages/concerns to the appropriate persons, but that is as far as the concerns have gone.

So our concerns remain stagnant, unaddressed, and we are left wondering...What do we need to do to bring attention to this? How can we make people care about women’s issues in Arkansas? We are going to be those annoying kids who don’t shut up (Sorry, not sorry) Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel. Recently Arkansas formed a Maternal Mortality review committee. They know this is an issue. But what specific actions are being taken to make change? We want to know. If you want to help us push for action and change, here is some useful information:

Email customer.service@governor.arkansas.gov

Use the contact form at https://governor.arkansas.gov/online-services/contact-us/

Call the Governor's office (501) 682-2345

Contact Arkansas Department of Health: https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/contact-us-form

Feel free to pull information from this blog or even include a link to it in any emails you send. This is an issue that affects many. Arkansas families deserve better! We need your help!

Sincerely,

Chelsea


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Providing informational, emotional, and physical support before, during, and after birth

Serving Central Arkansas including Little Rock, Conway, Searcy, Cabot and surrounding areas

chelsearaedoula@gmail.com

501-596-5334