In an effort to keep Black moms healthy, Delaware groups are starting with stress relief and support

Marina Affo
Delaware News Journal

Ebony Jones knows all too well the stress of having a baby.

From routine experiences like nausea to attending too many doctor's appointments to count, she remembers how much of a toll it can take on the mind, as well as the body.

The Wilmington mom of six also had to contend with being a Black mother, something that research has shown adds others stressors – like going to the doctor and having to fight for equal treatment because they don't listen or are dismissive of pain. 

"And at some point, some of the treatment kind of made you feel as if you were kind of crazy – and you're not because the numbers say otherwise – but I think it just made me pay attention more to how I have to take care of myself and speak up for myself and be an advocate for myself," Jones said. 

That's why when she heard about Rose Hill Community Center's new stress relief program, she was quick to jump in. 

Ebony Jones is a participant in the Stress Relief Program at the Rose Hill Community Center.

Rose Hill is one of four organizations that recently got mini-grants from the Delaware Division of Public Health and the Delaware Healthy Mother and Infant Consortium to try to help reduce maternal mortality rates in Delaware's Black population.

The intent is to address the health disparities that impact not only motherhood, but all aspects of a mother's life – often referred to as social determinants of health, said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the state Division of Public Health.

“We are hopeful that our place-based and community-driven approach will help close this pervasive disparity gap for women and babies," she said.

More than $145,500 was dispersed to the Rose Hill Community Center, the Parent Information Center, the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League and the Breastfeeding Coalition of Delaware. All four organizations will work on improving the poor health outcomes for Black women, testing out new strategies to combat the issue and increase public awareness of the issue. 

SAME DOCTORS, DIFFERENT HEALTH CARE: Black women tell of health care disparities in Delaware

In Delaware, Black women made up 1 of every 4 women giving birth between 2011 and 2018, but made up 50 percent of the mothers who died, according to Delaware’s Child Death Review Committee and DPH. 

“It's time to give Black and Brown women and expectant mothers of Delaware a voice in deciding what is best for them by working alongside the health care community,” said Tiffany Chalk, DHMIC’s Well Woman/Black Maternal Health Group Leader. "This is a movement whose time has come."

Rose Hill's program not only brings Black and brown women together to talk, but there are also fitness classes like yoga to help address stress.

Every month, the women also receive community resource packets which include life hacks for everyday living, scales for weight management and journals for reflection, among other items. Every six months, participants get massages to manage and reduce stress and hopefully lead to healthier maternal and overall health outcomes.

"If my mind's not healthy and I'm stressed and I don't want to do anything, I'm definitely not going to do the things I need to do to take care of myself," Jones said. 

Jones recalled a recent session where participants came together on a Zoom call with a a psychotherapist present and spoke about what was causing them stress during this COVID-19 pandemic. 

She recalled that a fellow mom was stressed about how much to let her kids out of the house during the pandemic. That stress was affecting her home, as well as her relationship with her children. The women then used that session to brainstorm ideas about how to reduce that woman's stress. 

"It was just cool for us to talk and have those discussions and bounce ideas off of each other and just give suggestions," Jones said. "By the end of it, I think it was actually a very good Zoom call." 

IN THEIR SHOES: Hear from Black women about what they've experienced while seeking health care

The Parent Information Center is hoping to tackle Delaware's Black maternal mortality problem in a different way. Also a recipient of a mini grant, the program – which has been providing information to parents throughout the state for over 35 years – will be developing a doula program in the Seaford community.

Doulas specialize in a number of areas – fertility, labor, trauma, postpartum care – but their overall goal is to be a voice and advocate for families so that women can have healthy pregnancies and babies in the manner that is comfortable for them. Working with mothers throughout their pregnancy, doulas develop birth plans with future moms and advocate for those women. 

"It is an area where there is a lot of teen pregnancy," said Christina Andrews, project coordinator for the new program. "There are a lot of families of color and families that are dealing with challenges in terms of poverty, in terms of access to resources, transportation, all kinds of things."

Christina Andrews is the project coordinator for the Parent Information Center's new doula program starting in the the Seaford community in southern Delaware.

This is especially important in communities of color, as Delaware’s Black infant mortality rate in 2018 was 12.5 infant deaths per 1,000 births, compared to a mortality rate of 5.1 infant deaths per 1,000 births for white babies, according to Delaware’s Child Death Review Committee and DPH. 

Over the years the Parent Information Center, along with the state, has seen the disparities in health for communities of color and are hoping to use this grant to improve those statistics. 

FINDING A DOCTOR THAT LOOKS LIKE YOU: Delaware health care providers take aim at disparities

The center plans to bring information to the nearby community about what a doula is, why they're beneficial, and why pregnancy care and postpartum care is important. This will tackle issues of trauma and how to prepare for a healthy pregnancy, as well as a healthy postpartum life. 

The program is in its infancy so they are looking for those in the Seaford area interested in being doulas and improving the maternal health of women in the area. 

Andrews said this will be done through connecting with women in the community and training them to be doulas for their community. 

"I think a lot of women don't feel like they have any power or any knowledge or appropriate knowledge," Andrews said. 

She hopes a program like this, rooted in Seaford, will create a grassroots movement. 

"There should be women from the community, nurtured by the community, that are actually supporting other women and families," Andrews said. 

Contact Marina Affo at 302-353-0375 or maffo@delawareonline.com. Follow her on Twitter at @marina_affo