MERCED — Catalina Hernandez, UC Merced's first Human Rights Center fellow, is spending this summer exploring how women decide to seek help from a midwife for childbirth instead of an obstetrician.
A proponent of midwifery, Hernandez said allowing women to choose their maternity care is a human-rights issue that goes beyond race or class.
The pop-culture image of childbirth -- a screaming mother in a hospital -- distorts people's perspectives, she said.
"The birth culture in the United States is so complicated and so negative," said Hernandez, a home-birth mother of three.
This is the first year
UC Merced has a human rights fellow. Part of the mission of UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center is "to train students and advocates to document violations of human rights and to turn this information into effective action."
Of the 4 million children born in the United States in 2009, the National Vital Statistics Reports showed midwives delivered
The federal government also reported that Cesarean sections reached an all-time high of
32 percent of all births.
The rate has increased for 13 consecutive years.
Hernandez is interviewing between 50 and 75 women across the country about what led them to use midwives for childbirth instead of obstetricians. She plans to use the information from her study to educate women about their birth options.
"Women can't advocate for rights they don't even know they have," Hernandez said. "Childbirth is a pivotal moment in a woman's life, and there's so much that goes on psychologically."
Hernandez said there is a nationwide push to prohibit midwives from practicing, and several states have already enacted laws that make midwifery illegal.
This becomes a human rights issue because women's birth options are taken away, she said, leaving them with a model of maternity care that is increasingly hazardous to the health of both mother and baby.
A literature and cultures major, Hernandez plans to graduate with her bachelor's degree in 2014, and continue her research in maternity care by pursuing a graduate degree in sociocultural anthropology.
Her fellowship was funded by the dean of the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts.
UC Merced literature professor Nigel Hatton organized participation in the fellowship program because he wants to further develop its human rights focus.
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