Editor's Note: Today we welcome Danielle Toppin, writing from Jamaica. She has experience with gender and development, and will be covering reproductive health issues in the Caribbean and Latin America.
On November 4, 2004, I discovered that I was pregnant. In that moment, my life began to change. The ways in which I saw myself; and in which society perceived me shifted. It was as though I had finally fulfilled my role as a woman. I had proven my worthiness.
In the Caribbean context, ideas of motherhood are inextricably linked with ideas of womanhood. In Barbados, meanings are attached to fertile and infertile female bodies; with value being attached to those women who reproduce, and withheld from those women who, either by choice or by nature, do not. Mothering has become synonymous with "becoming a woman", achieving an almost mythical status as the natural path that women's lives should take.
It is in this perceived naturalness of women as mothers that our lives often become complicated. Women are all at once privileged in their roles as mothers, yet negated in their everyday lives within patriarchal societies. This treatment of women is particularly evident in the ways in which the state has traditionally dealt with women's bodies as it relates to maternal health care.
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Within the English-speaking Caribbean, state policy has typically conceptualised women in line with their roles as reproducers of the population. This oversight ignores the centrality of these reproductive activities to social and economic development. In this gap, women's experiences are often lost in data that focuses solely on quantifiable outcomes such as maternal and infant mortality rates.
What do we, as women, have to gain through state policy that places us at the centre? In order to answer this, let me take a step backwards to the journey that commenced on November 4, 2004 and ended in June of the next year: my passage to motherhood. As a pregnant woman, I wanted health care for myself and my child that was safe and efficient; but that also acknowledged that my pregnancy extended beyond the life within my uterus. I wanted access to a health care system that was responding not only to the physical, but to the spiritual and emotional aspects of my pregnancy. I wanted to be cared for, not solely as a patient, but as a person.
State maternal health care (MHC) policy that benefits women helps to build healthier and more confident parents. While the MHC targets highlighted within the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) are key steps towards safeguarding women's lives, there is still room for growth; to expand our vision of MHC into one that centralises women's experiences with their bodies.
This shift however becomes complicated given the economic, societal and resource limitations that countries face. Many countries have not yet met the MDG requirements and furthermore aren't able, or ready, to incorporate an experiential component to their policies. Change however comes with conceptual shifts.
The philosophical expansion of what we consider as "successful" pregnancies, to include the psychological, spiritual and emotional health of mother, father and child, can take us a far way towards creating what we claim we desire: balanced and healthy societies.