Every Mother Counts: listening to mothers to transform maternity care

Elsevier, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Volume 228, May 2023
Baumont M.S., Dekker C.S., Rabinovitch Blecker N., Turlington Burns C., Strauss N.E.

More than a decade ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution recognizing maternal health as a human right. Subsequently, global advocates mobilized to establish the right to respectful maternity care, which has since been formally recognized by the World Health Organization and endorsed by more than 90 international, civil society, and health professional organizations. Despite widespread acknowledgment of this right, traditional approaches to maternity care do not adequately address aspects of quality care that are highly valued by mothers and birthing people, such as respect, dignity, and shared decision-making, and high numbers of women and birthing people worldwide continue to experience disrespect and mistreatment during childbirth. Efforts to reduce maternal mortality have historically overemphasized clinical approaches while failing to listen to mothers and pregnant people, threatening patient autonomy, and contributing to persistent racial disparities and high levels of preventable maternal mortality. This article shares the birth story and evolution of Every Mother Counts, an organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe, respectful, and equitable for every mother, everywhere, and provides tangible examples of how storytelling and listening to women—in film, media, research, advocacy, education, and patient care—can serve as powerful vehicles to create awareness of maternal health issues and transform our maternity care system into one that centers mothers in labor and childbirth and elevates equity and birth justice. There are concrete steps that every participant in the maternity care system can take to help make respectful, equitable care a reality, including implementing patient-reported experience measures as part of standard clinical practice, using individualized care plans and shared decision-making tools in patient care, and developing a grievance process to address instances of disrespectful care and mistreatment. Most importantly, we can listen to mothers, women, and birthing people, hear their concerns, and act promptly to provide the care and support that they deserve.