Photo by Sunny Nagpaul. Portraits of new mothers and their families at the Maternal Health Exposition at La Central YMCA.

Expecting mothers get advice, find resources, at maternal health expo

Several Bronx-based healthcare groups are teaming up to advocate for better maternal healthcare for low-income and pregnant women of color and to spread the word on resources available to help pregnant women navigate financial and emotional stresses.

Montefiore Medical Center and Empire BlueCross BlueShield sponsored a Maternal Health Exposition at the new La Central YMCA on February 25.  In April, Bronx Healthy Start Partnership will hold another maternal health exposition.  And Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson has declared the week of April 11-17 as Black Maternal Health Week in the Bronx.

The rate of maternal mortality in the Bronx, which records 377 deaths per 10,000 births, is higher than any other part of the city, according to the most recent report by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. City data cited by Gibson shows that Black women in the Bronx experience a maternal mortality and morbidity rate that is eight times higher than any other racial group. 

At last week’s exposition, first-time expecting mothers received an array of resources, like prenatal and postnatal care, nutrition, and access to doula services, while enjoying a free, locally-catered, brunch. The room was filled with service providers with informational fliers, and opportunities to ask a panel of doctors, doulas and OB-GYNs questions on the childbearing experience to come. 

Providers included VIP Community Services, located at 770 E. 176th St., which offers services for integrated medical and behavioral health and housing, Black Health, which aims to reduce health disparities in areas like breast cancer, prostate cancer and mental health, and breastfeeding support classes offered by Montefiore Medical Center. The providers encouraged expecting mothers and their families to connect for support.

Racial inequities in maternal healthcare have been garnering attention both nationally and citywide. Mayor Eric Adams passed a series of bills in September 2022 to fund training and doula services in all boroughs, and increase the amount of data recorded on maternal mortality in the city. 

Velvet Dabeck, a 32 year-old expecting mother who found out just the night before the exposition that she was pregnant, said that she is interning with Black Health because she is upset by how disparities in health care services disfavor people with low socioeconomic statuses. 

“Unfortunately in this country you have to have financial means to receive certain care, and I don’t agree with that,” said Dabeck, who is currently studying health care administrative services at Lehman College. She said she feels lucky for having a good job and insurance policy, and added, “some of my friends and family members that live in other parts of the country are not as well off, and they don’t have that same experience.” 

She and her husband, both immigrants from Guatemala and Poland, respectively, and first-time parents, feel blessed and happy about their family growing, but also have fears about the novel experience. 

“We call this our rainbow baby, we’ve had two previous miscarriages,” she said. “I’m mostly scared of giving birth and trying to keep this tiny baby alive. For us it’s a big deal, because we don’t have anything here other than ourselves.” 

Dabeck touched on a question that was on the minds of many others at exposition: how can gaps in the healthcare system, which disfavors families of low-income, and especially those of color, be closed? 

A panel of experts that included doctors, OB-GYNs, and doulas from Bronx Healthy Start Partnership and Ashe Birthing Services suggested that expecting mothers should attend recommended maternal health visits, especially the sixth week postpartum visit.  That’s the least attended visit, according to Dr. Nereida Correa from Montefiore Einstein, but it can be instrumental in providing better care for women who want to have a second or third child.

It is also a visit that can help a new mother address her mental and physical health at a time when she may be very focused on the new baby, Correa said.  

Emilie Rodriguez, a traditional birth and postpartum doula, emphasized that doula services, which aim to listen to women’s concerns and assist navigating the hospital system, are a way for women to advocate for their emotional and financial needs that they may feel reluctant to discuss with their main health care provider.

“We barter, we do payment plans, we’re partnered with BronxCare Health System to provide free services for Bronxites,” she said, and added, “you can absolutely find a doula, we’re just not covered by insurance.”

Resources for expecting families can be explored below: 

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