Maternal healthcare is in crisis in the United States.  According to the World Health Organization, since 1995, the maternal mortality rate in the United States has increased 160%. African American women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than Caucasian women.   The United States' maternal mortality rate is ranked at the top of developed countries.  In 2013, eight countries reported an increase in maternal mortality rates.  This list included countries such as war-torn Afghanistan, and the United States, which was the only developed country on the list.  The United States spends three times more money on childbirth than Great Britain, yet our maternal mortality rate is over three times higher.

Along with local midwives, doulas, and volunteers, we sewed 1,200 hospital gowns, one for every mother who died in childbirth in America in 2013.  The fabric was silk-screened to look like hospital gown fabric, composed of tiny drawings created of the plant derivatives of the drugs that have been used on laboring women for the past 150 years. 


PERFORMANCE

For the performance, several pairs of women stood facing each other folding the gowns into triangles; similar to the way the American flag is folded at the funeral of a solider.  The traditional flag folding ceremony includes twelve symbolic folds, with the ninth fold symbolizing womanhood.  These hospital gowns have been cut to a length that allows the fabric to stop on the ninth fold.  The folded gowns represent not only the 1,200 women who died during childbirth in the United States in 2013, but also the women who have suffered abuse at the hands of obstetricians and nurses, and for the increasing number of women who are being diagnosed with postpartum PTSD after giving birth.

The 2015 focus for the project will be at community venues, with 2016 activating more art and culture locations for installations and performances.

The first performance took place in 2015 on Labor Day at the Daley Plaza in Chicago in conjunction with Improving Birth's Labor Day Rally. An encore performance occurred on Saturday, February 20th at Defibrillator Gallery in Chicago.



Photos by David Hartney

MOTHER’S RIGHT is about honoring those who have sacrificed their lives. Below is more information on the performance and why I specifically chose to mirror the sacred, beautiful, and moving American military flag-folding ceremony. As background, The American Legion's traditional flag-folding ceremony includes twelve symbolic folds, with the ninth fold symbolizing womanhood. As they describe "The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.” You can read more here.

The installation and performance piece MOTHER’S RIGHT is about paying homage to those who have sacrificed their lives—specifically American women.
 
MOTHER’S RIGHT is about protecting the American women who give their lives every day in hospitals while bringing life into this world, and into our country. This project is about coming together as a country to save and protect these women, and our futures.

I feel that good art can be very provocative and is often layered with meaning. While planning this project I knew that some people in the military might find it offensive because the flag folding ceremony is bathed in emotion, tied to the loss of loved ones, and there is no getting around high emotions when using this ritual.  I am appropriating the flag folding ceremony as a model of respect and grief. Women are coming out of childbirth with the same psychological symptoms as soldiers who are fighting wars.  PTSD is a serious issue, and a very personal issue for me.  Few people know that it is estimated that one in three women suffers from some elements of PTSD after giving birth, and PTSD is diagnosed in 3-7% of laboring women.  It is my mission to change that, and to bring awareness to this issue.  

MOTHER’S RIGHT is not about placing blame nor judgment on women in any way. It is not about options of cesarean sections vs. epidurals vs. natural childbirth vs. home births. It is about human rights, informed consent, and respectful care.

 

Why are so many women in America dying?

Save the Children's "State of the World's Mothers" 2014 report states:

In the United States, many suspect increases are due to more high-risk pregnancies caused by the rising prevalence of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, more older women having children, advancements infertility treatments that result in multiple births, and the high rate of cesarean sections – all of which increase the risk a mother faces during pregnancy and childbirth. Recent studies in the U.S. also suggest that poor quality care and better counting of maternal deaths may play a role. These trends are also likely to be contributing factors to rising risks in other developed contexts. (p.70)
 

REFERENCES

Maternal Mortality in the United States: A Human Rights Failure

Refusals Cut Options After C-Sections

Save the Children's "State of the World's Mothers" 2014 report

World Health Organization: Maternal Mortality

Post-traumatic (childbirth) stress disorder

American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World

Birth By The Numbers

Maternal Death in the United States: A Problem Solved or a Problem Ignored?

Improving Birth

Health Study Raises Concerns That Pitocin May Harm Babies

'I was not allowed': the words that steal our birth power

KICKSTARTER

The MOTHER’S RIGHT Kickstarter Campaign ran for the entire month of May in 2015 and successfully raised over $5,000 for the cost of fabric and screen printing.

 

STUDIO SHOTS OF GOWN PRODUCTION:

SPECIAL THANKS

MOTHER’S RIGHT and Michelle Hartney are supported by AKArt—an art advisory agency + curatorial platform, providing creative arts strategy, programming, events, partnerships, marketing, PR + sales.  AKArt is a resource for the global creative community.  AKArt.com

Special thanks to:

Ola Kapusto and Robert Saywitz for their work on creating the MOTHER’S RIGHT logo.

Erin Chlaghmo, Andrew Reyes, Orr Gidon, and PRINTED CHICAGO for hand screen printing over 1,500 yards of fabric.

Joe Philips for helping with construction of the installation platforms.

Seoyoung "Sue" Kim, Jillian Santora, Emily Mensching, Sarah Bowling, Karen Bachman Kells, Christine Sheets, Kristi Nuelle, and Becky Coolidge for helping with cutting and sewing the gowns

Video footage by Nadia Oussenko

 

MOTHER'S RIGHT KICKSTARTER SUPPORTERS

Thank you so much for your support!

+ ADRIENNE ABDULHAWA

+ RUSSELL ABRAMSON

+ KATHERINE ADAMS

+ SEELEY AND PETER CARDONE

+ BERYL CLARK

+ MEL CALIWLIW JOHNSON

+ JENNIFER AND JAIME CLEMMONS

+ RACHEL FALLON

+ MICKEY GILLMOR

+ JERRY GOLDNER

+ JOSHUA GOREN

+ CHRIS HARTNEY

+ DAVE HARTNEY

+ MARK AND TINA HARTNEY

+ MEG HARTNEY

+ MICHAEL AND CHRISSA HARTNEY

+ PATRICIA HARTNEY

+ LINDA HESSEL

+ JENNIFER HENSLEY

+ BRUNI HIRSCH

+ JULIE HOBERT

+ AMANDA HOLDER

+ KAY MARIE JACOBSON

+ CAROLINA AND VIVEK JAYARAM

+ LIZZIE JONES

+ OLA KAPUSTO

+ JOEL KAY

+ ANTHONY AND ANGELA KENDRICK

+ KATHY AND KEN KENDRICK

+ NIC KENNEDY

+ CONNIE AND JULIUS KUSTRA

+ ROYA KHADJAVI HEIDARI

+ AMY KISCH

+ MEG LEARY

+ FRANK LIU

+ TANYA MCHALE

+ ELIZA MCKENDREE

+ LAURA MIRANDA-BROWNE

+ JOSH MURPHY

+ ZOE NAVARRE

+ KRISTI AND DAVE NUELLE

+ PRINTED CHICAGO

+ MICHAEL AND KATHERINE QUINN

+ READart

+ SAM RECKWEG

+ CHRIS RINI

+ ASHLEIGH ROSE

+ DEBORAH ROYCE

+ ROBERT SAYWITZ

+ TALI SEDGWICK

+ JULIE SCHMITT

+ LAUREL SCHREMENTI

+ YOKO SHIMADA

+ DEBRA SILVER

+ CHRISTINE TREADWAY

+ MARLIES VERHOEVEN

+ ALEXANDRA WAGLE

+ SUZANNE WERTMAN