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UC Merced fellow studies childbirth decision making

POSTED August 10, 2012 7:46 p.m.

The University of California, Merced’s first Human Rights Center fellow, Catalina Hernandez, spent the summer researching how women decide to seek help from a midwife for childbirth, rather than an obstetrician.

Hernandez is interviewing between 50 and 75 women across the country about their choice to use midwives rather than obstetricians. She hopes to use the information gathered to develop education initiatives to help women learn about birth options.

“Women can’t advocate for rights they don’t even know they have,” Hernandez said. “Childbirth is a pivotal moment in a women's life, and there's so much that goes on psychologically.”

Midwives delivered 8 percent of the 4 million children born in America in 2009, per government statistics. At the same time, the number of cesarean section births reached an all-time high – 32 percent of all births.

Hernandez herself is a proponent of midwifery, having birthed three children at home. She said that allowing women to choose their maternity care is a human rights issue, and that the United States’ increased use of medical interventions has led to high infant morbidity and mortality rates.

“The midwifery model of care has been repeatedly proven to be safer than the obstetric model of care, and it is what the rest of the world relies on,” Hernandez said. “This becomes a human rights issue because women’s birth options are taken away, leaving them with a model of maternity care that is increasingly hazardous to the health of both mother and baby.”

Hernandez is a literature and cultures major, who plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 2014, when she will continue her research into maternity care by pursuing a graduate degree in sociocultural anthropology. 

Hernandez's fellowship was funded by the dean of the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, and the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program.

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