by Cindy Pearson
We’ve lost another foremother. She isn’t as well-known as Maya Angelou, but Doris Haire touched the lives of as many women as did the justly famous author.
Doris Haire died on June 7 at age 88. Doris was a champion of women’s right to give birth safely, humanely, and without being exposed to unnecessary procedures that might risk their baby’s wellbeing. She was also a long-time member of the board of directors of the National Women’s Health Network.
Doris was elected to the very first board of directors of the Network, in 1976. At that time, she had more than a decade of successful activism under her belt. She took up the cause of reforming childbirth practices as a young woman, and she never let go. In 1972, she authored an earth-shaking critique of U.S. childbirth practices, “The Cultural Warping of Childbirth.”
Doris was a leader in mobilizing pressure on hospitals to change practices — she called for an end to the routine practice of separating women from familial support during labor and birth, and separating women from their babies after birth. She championed the role of professional midwives at a time when they were nearly absent in U.S. maternity care. By the time Doris took her seat on the Network board, she was a force to be reckoned with.
Doris brought her talents and her passion to the Network, where over a period of nearly 15 years, she led the Network’s work on pregnancy and childbirth. After securing many of the changes she fought for in the 1960s and 1970s, Doris turned her focus to the safety of drugs used during labor and delivery.
Her research led Doris to author another influential critique of the system, “How the F.D.A. Determines the ‘Safety’ of Drugs — Just How Safe Is ‘Safe’?” This Network publication led to Congressional hearings, at which Doris was a key witness, and, eventually, changes in FDA regulation and clinical practices. Obstetricians curtailed their use of sedatives and other risky drugs being used for pain relief and millions of childbearing women and their babies have been spared from unnecessary exposure to these risks.
While Doris’ work produced significant and lasting changes in childbearing practices, she never rested on her laurels. With the support of John, her partner of nearly 70 years, Doris continued traveling, writing, organizing and speaking out, well into her 80s.
I last saw Doris in the fall of 2010, when we presented the Seaman Award to another former Network board member, Anne Kasper. Doris made some impromptu remarks to the audience that night, and had us all captivated with her eloquence, charm and, yes, her passion. I’m so glad I got to work with Doris.
Cindy Pearson is the executive director of the National Women’s Health Network.