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ROI: Region One Insights April 19th, 2024
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Black Maternal Health Week 2023 Reflections

Posted by on May 17th, 2023 Posted in: Uncategorized
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May 14-20 is National Women’s Health Week, one of the areas within women’s health is maternal health. Last month NNLM presented opportunities to learn more about Black Maternal Health, by hosting a series of events, created a toolkit and collaborated with the NNLM Reading Club in honor of Black Maternal Health Week. The goal of the NNLM aims to advance the progress of medicine and improve public health by providing individuals access to information to enable them to make informed decisions about their health. The goal for NNLM Black Maternal Health Week, was for attendees to come away with greater awareness of health issues and disparities that disproportionately impact Black women and their families as well as methods professionals are taking to combat them.

Please check out our Black Maternal Health Toolkit for more tools and resources for individuals and for research and advocacy.

This year we considered Black Maternal Health from the perspectives of the past, present, and future, with a focus on action we can take to continue to build awareness and support better health outcomes for Black birthing people.

Here are some of the highlights of the week:

History of Black Maternal Health Lecture, Simulcast & Live Discussion Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens, the Linda and Charles Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and Director of the Humanities in Medicine program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, discussed the history of American gynecology, centering the lives, roles, and experiences of enslaved women. She further demonstrates that “history matters” as racial bias continues to impact medicine today through the disparity of treatment of patients and health outcomes. You can also read the NLM’s Circulating Now blog post with Deirdre Cooper Owens and review Cooper Owen’s presentation What History Reveals: Slavery and the Development of U. S. Gynecology. 

Exploring the Maternal Experience Survey: Addressing Racism and Informing New Models of Maternal Care to Promote Health Equity with Dr. Lisa Gittens-Williams Director of Obstetrics at University Hospital, Newark, NJ. She is a Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at Rutgers NJ Medical School and a practicing Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist. . Dr. Gittens-Williams discussed her work with the Maternal Experiences Survey in New Jersey. The survey provides the opportunity for mothers to share their birthing experience including their emotions, complications, outcomes, and an honest assessment of the treatment they received from healthcare providers.  This first-person account of the birthing experience can inform the systemic changes we need to correct biases, ensure that maternal care is truly patient-centered, and provide equitable care for all. 

Panel Discussion: Current Issues in Black Maternal Health with Dr. Kyrah Brown, Director of the Maternity and Child Health Equity Lab at The University of Texas at Arlington, Charnell Covert, Doctoral Candidate, College of Arts and Sciences (Pan-African studies, focus Women, Gender, Sexuality) at the University of Louisville & Adjunct Faculty, College of Liberal Arts (Women and Gender Studies) at Towson State University, and Gabriella Nelson, City planner, MCH Policy Advocate, and Curator. Each panelist shared about the importance of disrupting oppressive structures which impact health equity. From built environments regarding city planning, to how gaps and limitations in language and search terms impact research, to how using inclusive language is active resistance. For example, when discussing maternal health, we can intentionally use the term birthing persons as opposed to pregnant women to be more inclusive of various gender expressions.

We also hosted a journal club to discuss the article Environmental Factors Involved in Maternal Morbidity and Mortality – PMC (nih.gov). This article draws attention to some of the risks related to environmental and chemical exposures during pregnancy for both mothers and infants. The group discussed the need for inclusive research and addressing mistrust about participating in research as well as ways that librarians can support awareness around health disparities.

In collaboration with the NNLM Reading Club, three new Black Maternal Health titles are featured, including promotional materials to support your own book discussion:

  • Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology by Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens
  • Pregnant While Black: Advancing Justice for Maternal Health in America by Dr. Monique Rainford
  • Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation by Linda Villarosa

The NNLM Book Discussion Group is featuring  High Risk: Stories of Pregnancy, Birth and the Unexpected by Chavi Eve Karkowsky MD as their next title, where you can join with colleagues from around the country for a book discussion. This opportunity will run  May 1, 2023 – July 31, 2023  and you can register here

P.S. We also created a Black Maternal Health Week Spotify playlist!

Image of the author ABOUT fsteele
Faith Steele, MLS, is the Outreach and Education Librarian for Region 1 for the Network of the National Library of Medicine at the University of Maryland Baltimore. She connects libraries to community health partners, provides training and funding to help communities access quality health information.

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