Black Maternal Health Week: How EveryStep Helps Ensure Healthy Moms and Babies

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Maternal mortality, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the death of a woman during pregnancy, at delivery, or soon after delivery. Maternal mortality is higher in the U.S. than any other developed nation and the maternal mortality rates for non-Hispanic Black women are 3 to 4 times higher than the rates for white women.

April 11 through 17 is Black Maternal Health Week.

Jazzmine Brooks, a second-year Ph.D student interested in Black maternal health and medicine, has been working in central Iowa as a doula for the past three years. “I found my passion for birth work through my work as a higher ed professional and my own birth story with my mom,” says Jazzmine, who is co-creator of the Iowa Black Doula Collective. “My passions have evolved beyond birth space and into the first six to 12 weeks of life as a postpartum doula and certified lactation specialist.”

As a doula, Jazzmine sees cultural representation or culturally conscious providers as critical to decreasing Black maternal mortality rates. “My clients always ask, ‘Do you know of a Black provider?’ or, ‘Do YOU trust them?’ It's often a hard question to answer. There is fear rooted in those questions. I talk with my clients about what to expect, how to navigate and what follow-up can look like. Often, I have to call my clients because they are not receiving the care and patience on the phone they are seeking.

“Providers and community services workers need to hear about Black women. Black women are dying and experiencing trauma in the birth space because they advocate and are ignored,” says Jazzmine. “[Providers need to be] having intentional conversations during prenatal appointments and home visits, addressing under-resourced agencies that help with housing, employment and childcare; understanding and addressing disproportionate health disparities that increase risk in the birth space; and moving beyond the resolution that Black women need to speak up more or need to know their resource options to reduce their risks.”

EveryStep’s maternal and child health programs help families and new mothers build a healthy start for themselves and their families. Stephanie Van Roekel is an EveryStep community home visitation nurse. She often works with clients who are living in poverty, uninsured or new to the U.S.

Stephanie often begins her visits with basic questions, asking clients if they have a place to stay or if they have people they can trust. “You can’t be healthy and you can’t make these things a priority, if your basic needs aren’t being met,” Stephanie says. “We’re kind of wrapping around the family and making sure they’re having all of this care and support and advocacy.”

EveryStep Care & Support Services provides free and confidential assistance to help ensure a healthy mom, healthy baby and healthy family. These services include:

  • Home visits and referral services.
  • Medical follow-up.
  • Prenatal and parenting classes.
  • Support groups.
  • Depression screening and referral.

EveryStep’s Healthy Start program, along with the Iowa Association of Women’s Health Obstetrical & Neonatal Nurses and the Community Action Network, is presenting a free online education offering focusing on Black maternal health Monday, April 18 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Healthcare professionals, pregnant individuals and anyone who provides care or support to pregnant individuals (including case managers, social workers, caregivers, educators and other professionals) are encouraged to attend. Attendees will discuss the scope and breadth of maternal morbidity and mortality, the significantly higher rates of death among Black individuals, and how the health care community can work to recognize bias and other factors that lead to racial disparities. To register, visit https://tinyurl.com/4j2tn5k5 or contact Lanette Nelson at 515-558-9971.

If you or someone you know needs care or support, complete the confidential "Find Care" form at www.everystep.org/find-care. The form sends a message to EveryStep staff who then follow up with a phone call. It's a great way to start a conversation and get answers with no cost or commitment. EveryStep can connect the individual to its own programs and services that may be helpful, as well as services offered by other organizations and providers in the community.