Mom. Mama. Madre. Mother. These are all ways to describe the central unit of a family. Moms are the sweet jam in between two shortbread cookies, gently yet securely keeping the cookie intact, while also being the pivotal part that truly makes the cookie delicious. This is what I have come to learn over the first few months of my service year with National Health Corps. The health of the family is intrinsically tied to the health of mom.
One of my main roles at Shadyside Family Health Center is to provide one-on-one counseling to moms who have babies younger than 24 months when they bring their baby in for a well child visit. This approach is unique because although mom may not come in for her own appointments, she almost always will keep the health care of her child up to date. Many of the moms I counsel have a lot of responsibilities and many barriers to accessing care for their children, let alone themselves. Asking and counseling mom on tobacco use, depression, family planning and contraception, and multivitamin use during her child's visit shifts the attention back to her health and wellbeing at a time when the focus is all on the child.
The most influential thing I have learned this year is to meet people where they are at. The model of care that I’ve learned functions best is patient centered care. My wonderful mentors at Shadyside Family Health Center have emphasized that my counseling should be wholeheartedly led by our moms. They should be expressing their concerns, struggles, misconceptions, and worries and I am solely meant to listen, counsel and address those concerns. Language is a very powerful tool and can often become coercive in the healthcare field. Framing sensitive conversations around the moms needs and motivations is essential to respectfully and ethically providing health education to vulnerable and underserved populations.
Through my host site, I have had several opportunities for professional development. One of the most informative meetings I have been to thus far was the Maternal Child Health Leaders Symposium that occured in Pittsburgh this past October. This meeting addressed many concerns such as infant and maternal mortality as well as creating patient centered holistic maternity care. A statistic that continues to plague me that was shared at this meeting is that black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts, according to the CDC (1). This holds true regardless of education or income level. Therein lies the problem. Black women are constantly being dismissed, silenced and ignored by the healthcare system, especially when it comes to pain and complications during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
There is a huge need for healthcare providers to recognize this injustice and inequity and listen to the concerns of women while reducing racial bias. As I reflect on these numbers and the lived experiences I have heard through talking with moms thus far, I am called to continue in this field in hopes of changing these statistics and improving healthcare in black and brown communities, which are often the most disadvantaged across the globe. National Health Corps and my host site have truly been a perfect vessel to continue to foster my public health interests and push me to expand my knowledge and influence in order to be a mindful public health professional.
This post was written by NPHC member Dana Thomas.
Dana serves at Shadyside Family Health Center as a Care Coordinator.