Overcoming Health Disparities

“Are you aware that because you are African American, you have a higher risk for going into preterm labor or delivering a baby with a low birth weight? I can share some information with you about how you can take steps to help reduce your risks.”

This is how I start the conversation with African American moms when we discuss their Healthy Start Screen. On the risk assessment I conduct with pregnant mothers, maternal race is something that is assessed alongside other risks such as: smoking, drug use, feelings of helplessness, and history of premature births. If the maternal race is black, she is more likely to deal with increased stress during pregnancy, lack adequate health care, lack access to health care right before getting pregnant or right after she delivers, and is at a higher risk for maternal mortality. It’s because of these underlying issues that makes being a black mother a risk factor on the screen.

When I was first trained on assessing these risks, I was a bit worried. How do I even begin discussing all these risk factors to a first-time mom without scaring her? I reflected on the training I received on motivational interviewing and empathy — How would I want this information to be shared with me if I was in her shoes? These conversations can be difficult to have but are necessary so that moms are aware of the possible risks they may face and can take the proper precautions. By providing education about the importance of keeping up with prenatal appointments, taking prenatal vitamins, and knowing the signs of preterm labor, I am able to help a mom reduce her risk.  Of course, it is important for all pregnant women to adopt healthy lifestyles. However, it’s even more imperative for African American women to do so.

Something that I hoped to gain during my service term is to not only learn more about the issues that are affecting the populations that I serve, but to also know how to effectively address them. I have learned the importance of open communication and cultural competency. I have also educated myself on the health disparities that exist in maternal and child health. As an African American myself, I grew up hearing, learning, and experiencing disparities that exist in the health care system. To be able to personally address those disparities and work on getting rid of those barriers through education and outreach with the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition makes me proud to serve as an NHC FL AmeriCorps member.

This blog was authored by NHC Florida member Mockelaux Bonzongo.
Mockelaux serves at the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition as a Care Coordinator.