The U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world and Mom Congress hopes to change that. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019, American women are more than twice as likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than they were in 1987. Though the U.S. still does not track maternal suicides, the U.K. reports suicide to be the number one cause of maternal mortality.
“This is unacceptable,” 2020 Mom founder, Joy Burkhard, told us, “and change must happen.”
Burkhard is the founder of 2020 Mom, a national maternal mental health advocacy organization formed in 2011. 2020 Mom is the host organization for Mom Congress, a coalition of non-profit organizations. Mom Congress traveled to Washington D.C. in May to hold its first ever “Hill days”, a three-day conference on Capitol Hill where moms advocated for change in policy addressing maternal mental health. Burkhard is hoping members of Congress as well as those running in the 2020 election, are taking notice.
“We knew of many other organizations addressing issues important to the health and well-being of young mothers who would want to be a part of change too,” Burkhard told us. “And with momentum building in the U.S. for the issues women face, with a record number of mothers in congress, and with the recent years of in-depth investigative journalism documenting how our mothers are dying surrounding pregnancy under the care of our current healthcare system, often preventable deaths, we knew it was time to build a coalition of organizations focused on improving motherhood and birth together, for the first Mom Congress.”
The event included training, networking and hearing from speakers such as New Jersey’s First Lady, Tammy Murphy, and model/campaigner, Christy Turlington Burns. On May 7th, 150 moms filled the halls on the Hill to share their stories and the bill package Mom Congress aptly named, the “Momnibus.” Through the Momnibus, members of congress and Mom Congress partnered to present legislation representing a total of six bills aimed at improving the quality of care for moms and babies.
“Abraham Lincoln said it best, ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people’. This is a founding principle of the U.S.” Burkhard told us. “Yet now we live in a time where corporations and associations (aka ‘special interests’) contribute significant sums of money to elect those running for office and place paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C. and in state capitols to attempt to actively influence lawmakers.”
The goal of Mom Congress is to convene and empower moms with the knowledge and tools to address the issues people care about the most, Burkhard explained. This year, the coalition is focusing on an issue that they say, should alarm us all -- the fact that the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal death surrounding childbirth of all the developed world and that the rate is rising.
“It’s a sign of the failed health care system and a sign of how the U.S. is failing moms and families,” Burkhard told us. “Individual voices have been undermined. We should feel empowered though, in a capitalist economy, knowing that women control over 70% of purchasing decisions in the U.S. Additionally, since 1980, women have been voting in greater numbers than men, making up the majority of the voting population.”
Burkhard points to uneven quality of care, disparities because of race, ethnicity, and income, lack of funding for prenatal and postpartum care, not listening to moms and families, and a shortage of healthcare providers as potential reasons why.
Yet, Burkhard explained to us, outside of choosing where and when to spend our household income and outside of heading to the school or library to vote, women have tended to remain outside of the lawmaking process.
“If women and mothers in particular want to see family friendly policies emerge, like paid family leave to care for a new baby our sick parent, like affordable child care, and like safe birth, who is going to stand up and urge their lawmakers to draft such legislation and vote for it?” Burkhard told us. “Congress wants to hear from us, we just haven’t been showing up. They want us to be their top special interest. It’s time for all of us to feel empowered, excited and to take back our government.”
So how can people advocate for mom-friendly laws?
“In its simplest form, we need to communicate our struggles and needs to our state legislators and our federal congress members,” Burkhard explained to us. “It can be as simple as calling the local or capitol offices and asking to speak to someone for ten minutes. Emails or written letters are also helpful but there is something different about hearing a voice. Moms don’t have to be an expert and look up legislation and reference bill numbers. They really don’t. They simply need to share their struggles and needs.”
Mom Congress is organizing a “Call your Elected Official” day in the Fall and the next Mom Congress convening is scheduled for May 3rd to the 5th, 2020 in Washington, D.C.
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com