In the final days of Cristen Pascucci's pregnancy, something happened that radically changed her view of how pregnant and birthing women are treated in the U.S. In Cristen's own words:
My midwife called to say that I needed to come in that evening for an artificial induction of labor. I was getting too close to 42 weeks for her comfort, and even though I technically should have had another day, the hospital’s only opening was that night ... I knew a medical induction in a first-time mom doubles her chances of a c-section, with all the associated risks of harm to her and her baby, and I didn’t feel like we’d tried hard enough to exhaust the alternatives yet ... I felt rushed and pressured, even though there was no emergency.
Cristen's son Henry was born without incident or intervention (with another midwife at another hospital), but the experience inspired her to research how and why health providers establish their birthing policies. Her conclusion -- one that is backed up with empirical evidence and hard data -- was that many policies in this country are designed to first serve providers, lawyers, and insurance companies, before mothers and babies.
In 2012, Cristen became Vice President of the board for ImprovingBirth.org, a mother-run 501(c)(3), and she joined the advisory board of Human Rights in Childbirth, under which she has co-founded a U.S. Legal Advocacy Network. Through rallies and advocacy, these organizations want women to have access to the facts when choosing how to give birth to their children, including potential harms, benefits, and alternatives to procedures; and the right to decide from a full set of options.
This coming Labor Day, ImprovingBirth.org will host the “2013 Rally to Improve Birth,” which will take place on a single day in more than 160 cities across the U.S., Japan, Australia, and Canada. Families and healthcare providers are encouraged to participate if they too want to advocate for better education and improved maternity care systems.
For a more in-depth look at Cristen’s life-changing experience in our maternity care system, check out her article, “Selfish Women and Their Silly Birth Experiences.” Thank you Cristen for sharing your experiences with us and taking the time to do this interview with Talking Good.
1. IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE? It’s to spread the message that women are the decision-makers about their own bodies and babies, and we have the right to claim that.
2. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING? I think we are all here to give, and when you don’t give, you suffer.
3. HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR PHILANTHROPY WITH ALL OF LIFE’S OTHER STUFF? I don’t. Balance is not a word I know. But I am working on that, and my little son helps to make it very clear, sometimes in the trade-off that is life, some things are worth more than others.
4. WHO WOULD PLAY YOU, IN A MOVIE ABOUT YOUR LIFE? WHY? People have said I look like Keira Knightley. And I like her. She seems interesting and funny and like she’s her own person.
5. WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE? Born Agitator. People who call attention to entrenched, systemic injustices are often accused of being “uppity” : “What do you mean, you want the right to own property? Everything is just fine the way it is now. Don’t you come in here making waves!” And, sometimes people who are affected by those injustices do not care: “What do I want with the right to vote? I’m just trying to survive here.” It takes a small number of “agitators” to shake people up to their own value sometimes -- and give them a kick in the pants to stand up for themselves.
6. WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE? I hope this doesn’t sound trite, but Hilary Clinton. She’s as smart as they get, tough as nails, and she survives with grace. She’s taken her hits and just keeps moving. She was before her time and sort of stumbled into blazing a trail that I don’t think she had any desire to blaze: a First Lady who didn’t quite fit the mold. I feel like I grew up with her, because I’ve watched her evolve from the time I was in middle school campaigning for The Other Guy. My feelings for her have changed over the years from complete aversion to a deep, well-earned respect. I’d ask her,“How can we show those who fight for women’s and reproductive rights that our rights in childbirth are fundamental things? How can we bridge that disconnect, that feminism is not the antithesis of motherhood, but the embodiment and the redefinition of it?"
7. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS? Just do it already. If you want to do it, you should be doing it. It was really difficult and disturbing for me to realize that this needed to be my priority rather than a normal career path; it’s a scary thing to step outside the box! But have you ever heard anyone say, “Man, I wish I’d refused to follow my passion and sat at that desk more!”?
8. WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY? How do you make the leap from bootstrap grassroots group to fundraising for a sustainable organization? We have struggled with this problem lately: growing so quickly we can’t keep up, and hitting a wall when it comes to resources. I know it’s something most nonprofits go through—making that transition—and I feel like we are ready to do it, but don’t know how.
9. TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC? I have a book hoarding problem. It’s like an addiction. My house looks very normal unless you poke your head upstairs and see the stacks of books piled against the walls like a crazy person lives there.
10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER? QUESTION: “What’s the big deal about birth? ANSWER: Birth is one of the last places in America where a modern woman is expected to lie back, shut her mouth, and take what’s done to her. In many ways, our medical and legal systems support the total disempowerment of women in a major life event they’ll always remember, and that can have lasting health consequences. And this is all happening in a system that delivers dismal outcomes for moms and babies, and costs more than anywhere else on the planet. The big deal is that when women take back the life event that defines their biology, we will see safer and healthier births, happier moms and babies, and a new value on women themselves—by women themselves.