A rural hospital closed its obstetrics unit, hitting most vulnerable the hardest
By Jean Lee | November 21, 2021
"Shantell Jones gave birth in an ambulance parked on the side of a Connecticut highway. Even though she lived six blocks away from a hospital, the emergency vehicle had to drive to another one about 30 minutes away.
The closer medical center, Windham Hospital, discontinued labor and delivery services last year and is working to permanently cease childbirth services after “years of declining births and recruitment challenges,” its operator, Hartford HealthCare, has said.
But medical and public health experts say the step could potentially put pregnant women at risk if they don't have immediate access to medical attention. Losing obstetrics services, they said, could be associated with increased preterm births, emergency room births and out-of-hospital births without resources nearby, like Jones' childbirth experience.
The dilemma Jones faced is one that thousands of other pregnant women living in rural communities without obstetrics units nearby are encountering as hospitals cut back or close services to reduce costs. Nationwide, 53 rural counties lost obstetrics care from 2014 through 2018, according to a 2020 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which also found that out of 1,976 rural counties in the country, 1,045 never had hospitals with obstetrics services to begin with.
The problem is particularly acute in communities of color, like Windham in northeastern Connecticut, where the population is 41 percent Latino, while the statewide Latino population is only 16.9 percent, according to the U.S Census Bureau. The community is 6.2 percent Black. Local activists say they fear low-income residents will bear the brunt of the hospital’s decision because Windham has a 24.6 percent poverty rate compared to 10 percent statewide, according to the census.
The night Jones delivered her son, her mother, Michelle Jones, had called 911 because Jones was going into labor a few weeks early, and after her water broke they knew the baby was coming soon. Both expected the ambulance to drive the short distance to Windham Hospital, where Jones received her prenatal care.
But the ambulance attendant was told Windham wasn't taking labor and delivery patients and was referring people to Backus Hospital in Norwich, Jones said.
In the ambulance, she was without her mother, who was asked to follow in her car.
“I was anxious and scared and traumatized,” Jones said."
by Alexandra Samuel-Sturgess| February 5, 2021
"The best way to feel empowered during your pregnancy and birthing experience is through education on the process and exercising your right to choose. This starts with making your first prenatal appointment. Making that appointment is imperative, but can feel scary if you do not know what to expect.
Here are eight steps to help you feel empowered during pregnancy and as you enter into parenthood.
Contact your Insurance Provider
If you do not have insurance at the time of pregnancy, you have options. Please reach out to your local social service agency for assistance with State Assisted Medicaid in order for you to have access to prenatal care.
If you already have health insurance, it is time to do some research. Contact your insurance provider to understand your benefits during pregnancy, which may cover the cost of a birthing center or doula support. Also, speak with your insurance company to discuss preferences for your doctor such as sex of the doctor, ethnic preference, language preference, location preference, etc. You have a right to request what you would like; do not be afraid to ask!
Prepare to Meet Your Provider
Now that your insurance has provided you with options and you have your first appointment scheduled, it’s time for a visit. When getting ready for your first appointment prepare some questions for your provider to help you determine if it’s going to be a good fit. The best way to do this is by having them prewritten on good old fashioned paper or on your phone.
You might be wondering what to ask. Here are a few questions to start:
You made it to your first visit, and the receptionist gives you a clipboard to complete information and documents to sign. Be sure to read the informed consent and pay close attention to your rights as a patient. Learn what to do if you ever need to file a grievance, feel pressured by the doctor, midwife, or staff to participate in testing, or if someone refuses to explain procedures. You have a right to file a complaint with your insurance company and with your state’s medical board if the violation you experienced is egregious.
Ask for Clear Explanations of all Procedures
Now that you have read your informed consent and have your prepared questions for your provider, they will call you back to your appointment. Once you go behind that closed door, ask your provider to explain what will be done during this appointment. It is important for medical professionals to explain what procedures will be done during the visit.
If at any time you feel uncomfortable, please speak up! If you plan to bring a support person such as a partner, friend, or family member to this first visit, it might be helpful to think of a code word beforehand, so your support person can speak up for you if you become overwhelmed.
Don’t forget to ask the questions that you prepared. Feel free to take notes as they answer your questions. Notice how they respond to questions. Do you feel heard or is the provider rushing you? After the visit, take time to reflect on whether or not you felt comfortable with the provider during your appointment. This is a huge deal because if you are not comfortable, it is going to be hard to ask questions or feel as though you are receiving quality care. If you did not feel comfortable, it is okay to search for a different provider. You will be in the care of this individual for 9 months, so it is important to have the right team of people supporting you. You want to feel empowered during your pregnancy.
Bottom line: Tune in to how you feel. As a birthing person, you have choices and rights no matter what birthing environment you choose. If you don’t feel comfortable at any point during your pregnancy, it’s not too late to find a new environment or provider.
Take Advantage of Opportunities for Education
What creates an empowered pregnancy? Education, education, education! Education allows you to make the best decisions for yourself and your family. Search online for different birth techniques and methodologies, and then find a class at your hospital, with a local organization, or even online!
Take time early in pregnancy to think about how you want your labor and delivery to go. Do research on classes that are in alignment with what you desire during the birthing process. There is something out there for whatever you want your birth to look like. Attending various classes can help you learn about different decisions you will have to make once the baby is born. Classes can help you think through decisions like knowing when you want to cut the cord, what newborn procedures you want your baby to have, when to do baby’s first bath, and infant feeding. Education allows space to have conversations and ask for help where needed so you can have an empowered pregnancy.
Find a Community of Support for an Empowered Pregnancy
Nothing says empowerment like community. Join a group in your local community or online for additional support. Find a group of expecting pregnant people so you can add to your support team. Every new parent needs support, so do not be afraid; get involved. There is so much power in feeling understood by someone who has been through what you’re experiencing.
Prioritize your Physical Health
Proper nutrition before, during, and after pregnancy can improve birth outcomes and has significant implications for maternal health. Focusing on whole foods especially fruits and vegetables, eating enough protein and limiting processed food can play a role in reducing the risk of pregnancy-related complications, such as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that disproportionately impacts Black pregnant people and can be a result of the long-term psychological toll of racism as well as current systemic barriers to proper treatment that delay the diagnosis or treatment of the condition. If this all sounds like a daunting task, you are encouraged to seek guidance from your doctor, midwife, doula, or support team.
Doulas can support your nutrition by offering suggestions for healthy meals and providing accountability and support. They can also make sure you’re being monitored for early warning signs of pregnancy-related complications.
Last but not least, physical exercise is another important aspect of prioritizing your physical health. Yes, it is safe to exercise while pregnant! Walking regularly, stretching, and yoga have been found to have significant benefits during pregnancy for both you and your baby. Being idle and sedentary during pregnancy presents its own risks, so do not be afraid to get your body moving. There are modified workouts that are readily available to pregnant persons. It is important for pregnant persons to speak with their provider about exercises that are safe for them.
If you need help finding easy, delicious recipes that focus on healthy fats, protein, and fruits/vegetables, check out our 5-ingredients or less recipe generator. Click to learn more about the benefits of doing a Whole30 while pregnant!
Prioritize your Mental Health
Focusing on your physical health during pregnancy is important; however, do not neglect your mental health. Venturing into parenthood is wonderful and stressful at the same time. If you are feeling overly anxious or depressed, ask for help.
Mental health professionals can equip you with tools for how to manage your stress, learn how to better communicate with your partner, heal emotional wounds, and help you replace toxic thoughts with more positive ones. Look for a trained perinatal mental health professional."
Black Moms are Suffering from Postpartum Depression in Silence and That Needs to Change
By Christine Michel Carter| August 16, 2019
"Moms of color have an increased risk of experiencing PPD and related disorders than women in other ethnic groups, but fear is keeping them from getting the treatment they need. Here’s why, and how Black families can get the right mental health support."
"During her first year as a mom, Karen Flores, then 31 years old, was afraid she was not emotionally stable enough to take care of her daughter. On the particularly hard days, Flores would take a walk with her daughter on the beach. “Out of nowhere, this bizarre thought came to my mind ‘push the stroller over the rocks and see what happens,’” she wrote on the site Maternal Mental Health Now. “I was paralyzed by the thought but forced myself to keep on walking while wondering where it had come from—'Oh, My God, am I crazy?' I wondered.”
Flores, now 50, was not crazy. She was suffering from postpartum depression, a condition that affects up to one in seven women, according to the American Psychological Association. Flores didn’t immediately seek out help. “I was extremely anxious and ashamed thinking that I was losing my mind and that my baby would be taken from me,” she says. “I tried praying and did a lot of cardio.” Before her daughter’s second birthday, she began working with a therapist to manage the symptoms of her depression.
Black women like Flores are less likely to get help for postpartum mental health issues compared to both white women and Latinas, according to a study published in the journal Psychiatric Services. Part of this hesitation is caused by fear—these women fear they will be considered unfit and have their children taken away from them by Child Protective Services. These fears are not unwarranted since one in nine Black children will spend time in foster care by the time they're 18, according to data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. This is the second-highest risk racial/ethnic group to end up in the foster care system behind Native American children.
“There’s a lack of trust of medical practitioners within the Black mom community nationwide,” explains Shivonne Odom, LCPC, LPC, founder of Akoma Counseling Concepts, LLC, in Silver Spring, Maryland, who specializes in maternal mental health counseling for mothers with perinatal disorders. “Many medical practitioners are not trained to refer or treat perinatal mood disorders so when they hear patients report typical symptoms of postpartum depression, practitioners mistake the severity of the symptoms for abuse.” Odom, who is Black herself, adds that many practitioners do not recognize a difference in how perinatal mood disorders present among ethnic groups. “This leads to improper treatment or poor rapport between practitioner and client,” she says.
Postpartum depression, anxiety, and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can affect any mother and can manifest up to one year after delivery. However, there are cultural nuances during pregnancy, labor, and delivery that can increase the risks of experiencing PPD for Black mothers. Statistics show that Black women are three to four times more likely to die during or after delivery than white women. From 2011 to 2015, there were 42.8 deaths per 100,000 live births for Black non-Hispanic women—a higher ratio than any other ethnic group. “These statistics along with birth trauma and untreated mental health issues prior to and during pregnancy may lead to postpartum depression,” Odom says.
Suffering in silence
Odom says she often sees the same themes preventing Black mothers from seeking mental health therapy. First, there’s the fear of losing control, independence, respect from others, or mental sanity. “Sometimes holding in this fear leads to a manifestation of irrational thoughts—'I’m not a good mom,’ ‘I feel empty,’ ‘I’m not emotionally connecting to my baby,’” she says. “The belief that something is wrong, which must mean I’m doing something wrong and I’m a bad mom is an extension of these irrational thoughts.”
Then she often hears that these women would prefer to seek help from their friends, family, and church rather than a mental health professional. “There’s definitely a cultural stigma discouraging mental health counseling in the Black community,” Odom explains. “Some believe that if you go to therapy you have to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital or will be required to take addictive prescription medications. Some people’s religious beliefs also shape their views on mental health and can impact their help-seeking behaviors.” There’s also concern passed down from generation to generation that mental health practitioners are suspicious of Black mothers."