Response: March 2016 Issue

The Blessing of Support

Access to life saving and life giving health care is a right for all women, everywhere, and we are called as The United Methodist Church to ensure it exists.

The Blessing of Support
A grant from United Methodist Women helped start the Nyadire School of Midwifery in Zimbabwe in 2011.

"I'm so sorry, there's no heartbeat." These are the words no expectant parent wants to hear. My husband and I were crushed by these words in August 2011 during an ultrasound after I had experienced some unusual symptoms. Having had an early miscarriage before my second child was born, I had a sense that something wasn't quite right, but being close to the 12 week mark, I'd held out hope that all would be OK. My intuition was right, with fetal demise having occurred a couple of weeks earlier, though my body didn't seem to realize it yet.

The doctor came in and gently explained our options. I could go to the hospital for a dilation and curettage, often called a D&C, or she could prescribe a medication that would allow my body to complete the miscarriage in the privacy and comfort of my own home. I chose the latter option to avoid the more invasive procedure. I got the prescription filled and headed home with my husband, Scott, to mourn for the child that was not to be.

In addition to the physical trauma, I faced the difficult task of telling family, friends and two excited siblings who just weeks earlier had rejoiced with us at the news of an addition to the family. Like many women, I struggled with unexpected feelings of guilt and shame, as if this were a personal failure, even though rationally I knew that many pregnancies end this way when a fetus is just not viable. Scott, too, struggled with his own sense of helplessness and loss while doing his best to support me.

Our loved ones did everything they could to comfort and care for us in the following days. This included our church family and co-workers, all of whom surrounded us with love. I was most moved by the older women, many from my United Methodist Women circle, who shared their own stories of pregnancy loss, some decades earlier. I found comfort in the fact that even years later they still mourned the child that never was. It helped me give myself permission to live into that grief for a while. Some of them had never talked about their experiences. Some spoke with tears in their eyes before reminding me that such topics just weren't discussed "in those days." I was so thankful that after all those years, they were able to share their pain as I shared mine.

Even though time has passed and we have welcomed another child into our family, it will always remain one of my darkest days — a day I survived due to excellent medical care, adequate insurance coverage, readily available medication from a nearby pharmacy, my faith, my family, my friends and the sisterhood of grace that is United Methodist Women.

For too many women these essential services and supports are not present, and the consequences can be devastating. As an organization founded, in part, to provide health care for women, United Methodist Women has long championed policies that speak to the need for comprehensive reproductive health care for girls and women that includes access to family planning services. This is why the United Methodist resolution "Responsible Parenthood" has been such an important resolution over the years as we seek to advocate for our sisters here and around the world.

While this resolution has often been connected to the issue of abortion, in reality it is much broader, particularly the revised version being brought to the 2016 General Conference. It does continue to affirm The United Methodist Church policy on abortion: "Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child. We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers (The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2012, 161J). But the resolution also lifts up a number of issues women around the world face in accessing reproductive health care services, making this resolution far more global in its scope than previous versions, hopefully driving real discussion about how the church can address the public health needs of women rather than getting bogged down in typical U.S. political discord around women's health.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 39,000 girls under 18 are married each day. Pregnancy and childbirth related complications are a leading cause of death for girls age 15-19. They are among the 289,000 women who die each year from those complications, 99 percent of whom are from developing countries.

Even in the United States, access to contraception and the kind of care I received after my miscarriage has become increasingly more difficult to come by. Though the U.S. Supreme Court cases around an employer's right to refuse coverage of contraception may be better known (that is, the Hobby Lobby case), no less disturbing are the stories of women who have been refused prescriptions by pharmacists citing their religious beliefs in states where such practices are allowed. One such story really hit home. A woman my age from Georgia, just two states away from my home state of Mississippi, who also experienced a miscarriage, was denied the drug that allowed me the privacy and peace I so desperately needed in my time of grief because a pharmacist didn't trust that she truly needed the drug. The pharmacist didn't trust her. Responsible Parenthood calls us, the Church, to trust women and to listen to women — not just women like the one from Georgia with the sympathetic story, resources to go elsewhere, and a social media platform from which to speak out, but women all around the world who have been unheard for far too long.

When women are trusted with their own health care and given full access to quality care, entire communities are transformed. Our foremothers knew this, which is why we have been committed to health care for women for nearly 150 years. At General Conference, we will continue that legacy by calling on the whole church to act on behalf of women around the world.

Mollie Vickery is a deaconess and United Methodist Women executive for children, youth and family advocacy.

Posted or updated: 3/2/2016 11:00:00 PM

March 2016 cover of response

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