It’s not hard to guess from his technology competition name—The Hex Pistols—that 20-year-old Shawn Frank is a fan of music. He's also a strong advocate of ensuring that women in developing nations have access to quality prenatal care. Six months ago, while walking to an internship, Frank came up with the idea for momEcare, a mobile device that helps provide medical assistance to pregnant women who can't get to a hospital. Now Frank, who just graduated from the computer science program at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, is headed to Microsoft's Imagine Cup, a technology competition for socially conscious high school and college students happening next week in New York City (we've covered the other young finalists here, here and here). I caught up with him to find out what first sparked his interest in technology and learn more about how momEcare works.
A new study shows that since 2004, the number of births taking place at home has jumped 20 percent. This doesn't mean that home births are common; they still constituted less than 1 percent of the more than 4 million births in the United States in 2008. But this is the first time since 1990 that the practice has increased, not decreased. And given that funding has been disappearing for birth centers and midwifery programs, a 20 percent increase is significant.
It's hard not to pin this trend at least partly on the cult success of The Business of Being Born, the 2008 documentary produced by Ricki Lake that was apparently viewed by every pregnant white lady in New York City. The film makes the case for pregnant women to "get the hell out of the hospital," detailing nightmarish scenarios of doctors bullying mothers on the delivery table, pathologizing pregnancies, and creating interventions that eventually lead to panicked Cesarean sections. By contrast, home birth is presented as safe and natural, giving women control over their own bodies and birthing processes. The film's climax makes it clear that home birth is not for everyone, but it makes a strong case that we need an alternative to our screwed-up system.