Much has been made of the #MeToo movement—and rightfully so—but an important discussion central to the movement has been sidelined. Again. This time, the safety of women has been subsumed in a strange debate about security at our country’s southern border. Amid unpaid furloughs, federal employees who are working without pay, and shuttered federal departments sits the expired Violence Against Women Act, also known as VAWA. VAWA funding supports a variety of initiatives in Connecticut, said Liza Andrews, Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence director of public policy and communications.
Bit by bit, regulation by regulation, the Trump administration – followed by a notable list of states — has been shrinking women’s access to birth control and abortion services. From packing the courts with anti-choice judges to repeated (failed) attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, the White House has done its best to push reproductive freedom off the table. So, when a Connecticut hospital and two neighborhood health centers announced plans to collaborate and become the New Haven Primary Care Consortium, the conversation quickly turned to women’s reproductive health—as it should. Yale New Haven Hospital and two local federally qualified health centers proposed to merge services recently, with the clinics that serve adults, women’s reproductive needs and children moving to 150 Sargent Drive (Long Wharf). This is a big deal for the state’s health care landscape.
Julia Montminy is waiting at one of those chain restaurants near The Shoppes at Buckland Hills. In the dim light, the server greets Montminy and another woman with “Welcome, ladies,” then does a double-take, and apologizes. “Welcome, sir and ma’am. My mistake.”
Montminy, a slight woman in leopard-print jeans, follows the server to her table and says nothing. If someone doesn’t know her preferred pronoun, she says, not everything requires a fight.
The Connecticut Childbirth & Women’s Center in Danbury is a 50-minute drive from Evelyn DeGraf’s home in Westchester. Pregnant with her second child, the 37-year-old didn’t hesitate to make the drive—she wanted her birth to be attended by a midwife, not a doctor. DeGraf believed midwifery care to be more personal and less rushed than that delivered by obstetrics/gynecologists (OB/GYNs). She also knew an OB/GYN would deem her relatively advanced maternal age and previous cesarean section history too high-risk to attempt a VBAC, or vaginal birth after cesarean section. But she had to drive roughly 35 miles to find a midwife because there aren’t many of them.
The United States’ maternal mortality rate is abysmal, and women of color are particularly vulnerable. No amount of fame or fortune can run interference when it comes to mothers dying or at-risk during pregnancy, childbirth, or early motherhood. And that holds especially true for African American women. At 26.4 per 100,000 live births, the U.S. has the worst rate of maternal death in the developed world—by several times over. Even more disquieting, the U.S. rate rose by 136 percent between 1990 and 2013.
In May 2017, Maura B. Gallagher entered Stamford Hospital for a Cesarean section for her unborn fraternal twins. According to a lawsuit filed by her family, Gallagher was 38 and an avid skier who was dedicated to her family, which included her fiancé, Max Di Dodo. There were signs that her pregnancy was challenging. At a little over 37 weeks, Gallagher, of New Canaan, showed signs of a low platelet count. The condition, known as thrombocytopenia, affects 7 to 12 percent of pregnant women.
Women (particularly Democrats) are running for political office in record numbers. After the recent primary elections (including one in Connecticut), voters will choose from an unprecedented number of female candidates—198 in the U.S. House, 19 in the U.S. Senate, and 13 gubernatorial candidates. So, if a change is gonna come, it will need to include some much-needed renovations in the halls of power. Last-minute meetings make it difficult for people responsible for child care to attend. Caucuses at 2 a.m. have the same effect.
New Haven resident Kimberly Streater was pregnant with her third of six children when she called her friend for a ride to the hospital after sustaining a hit to her stomach by her then-husband. When she reached the hospital, Streater, not yet 28 weeks pregnant, alerted personnel that her baby was coming—now. “They said, ‘No, no, he’s not coming,’ after I told them he was,” she recalled. Minutes later, Howie was born at 3 pounds and 1.5 ounces in the admitting area of the hospital, just as Streater had predicted. Statistically, the preterm birth of Streater’s baby does not come as a surprise.
Why do so many pregnant women and young mothers die? Your guess is as good as our government’s. We simply don’t know. Even the statistics we have aren’t current, though from all indications the U.S.’s mortality rate is rising, as it is in Afghanistan and Sudan. But in the U.S., the rate has risen by 136 percent between 1990 and 2013.
Among women, those who are low-income or minority are less likely to get treatment for depression, according to multiple studies. A report by the Connecticut Behavioral Health Partnership found that women were underrepresented in Medicaid-funded behavioral health services in the state even though research shows that women suffer from the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders more frequently than men. Racial and ethnic disparities, while still considerable, are decreasing in some physical illnesses. “But in mental health care, in the last 10 years, we see those disparities widening,” said Megan Smith, associate professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and in the Child Study Center in the Yale School of Medicine, who runs the Mental health Outreach for MotherS (MOMS) Partnership®, a program that offers mental health services to “overburdened and under-resourced mothers.”
In this podcast, sponsored by ConnectiCare, Colleen Shaddox discusses the hurdles to mental health care and the programs breaking barriers to care with Yale’s Megan Smith and UConn Health’s Dr. Sarah Nguyen. Lack of insurance coverage, the cost of treatment, a shortage of qualified clinicians, stigma and even fear of losing custody of their children can keep women from seeking help, Smith said.