Maternal Mortality increased 40% from 2020 to 2021, CDC.
“For us, the ideal world would be where moms are more prepared going to their postpartum experience and knowing that there are resources available to them. We want to create a community of well prepared individuals who can support moms as they recover,” LaTasha Harper, Co-founder of Postpartum Peace of Mind Inc.
Existence takes on a different meaning when the most important encounter of a mother’s life takes place. When the tiny hand of your newborn holds on to your finger with infinite trust and hope, you prepare to walk along the side of this miracle through the path of life. But how immensely sad would it be for a child to reach out for a mother’s touch only to find nothing but empty space? Unfortunately, even nowadays, thousands of newborns find themselves with an empty hand when they reach for their mother who has departed this world due to the high mortality rates that prevail in the United States, especially when it comes to black and brown women. A tragedy that LaTasha Harper is determined to advocate for after her own frightening experience.
LaTasha is a dedicated and intelligent 30 year old African American woman, mother of two little girls, with a bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology from Palm Beach Atlantic University and a master’s degree in Physiology from Florida Atlantic University. She is currently working towards a master’s degree in Public Health as well as a Doctorate in Community Care and Counseling from Liberty University in Florida.
LaTasha works as a traumatic stress researcher and two years ago she became a mother for the first time. It has been an experience that has opened her eyes about the disadvantages that black and brown women face during the process of giving birth and in the postpartum period.
“I was very aware of what the process of birth was,” recalls LaTasha. “I had my own expectations of what postpartum would be like. In fact, my husband and I carefully chose a hospital system that had the best maternal outcomes for black and brown women and they also had an established postpartum organization that supported them on site. Unfortunately, when we arrived for the birth of my daughter, we immediately experienced racial discrimination. I went into labor in the middle of the night, as most women do, and they forced my husband to wait downstairs while they gave me a battery about whether or not I was being trafficked. So I asked the nurse if this was a general practice for all patients that came in at a certain time and she was honest with me, she told me it usually isn’t.”
LaTasha’s experience with the birth of her second daughter was not a pleasant one either. She had experienced a postpartum hemorrhage on both occasions, and the nurse who attended her during her second childbirth wanted to alter the numbers on her chart to avoid doing the extra work of printing the information that could save her life.
“The nurse asked my midwife if she could change the numbers from my hemorrhage so that she wouldn’t have to do the extra work. She tried to use very medical, specific and inaccessible language, but due to my background I was able to understand what she was saying. I looked at her and I said: ‘I know what PPH is and I know what that toolkit is. it’s your legal responsibility to print that off if my values exceed a certain level’,” remembers LaTasha.
Maternal Mortality Statistics in the USA
Even though the United States is a first world country, the maternal mortality rates have not decreased with the passing of the years. On the contrary, from 2020 to 2021 the maternal mortality rates increased by 40%, according to CDC. The report notes that in 2021, 1,205 women died of maternal causes while only a year before, in 2020, the number of maternal deaths was 861, and 754 the previous year, 2019. The average rate for maternal mortality was 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021, a considerable increase from the 23.8 in 2020 and 20.1 from 2019. Yet, when it comes to black women, the maternal mortality rate is much higher, reaching 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021, which is 2.6 times the rate of white women.
Additionally, the National Institutes of Health conducted a new study that reexamined the death certificates from 2016 and 2017 and found out that black women had a maternal mortality rate 3.5 times higher than white women, and the main causes of death were postpartum cardiomyopathy, preeclampsia and eclampsia at a rate of 5 times higher for black women than white women; while hemorrhage and embolisms that cause death were 3 times higher for black women than white women.
A Best Friends’ Journey
Rachel Brown is LaTasha’s best friend. Fate brought them together. They not only had the same job in college, they met during the orientation when the trainer asked their favorite color.
“We both said yellow, because that is our favorite color, and they put us in the same group. So after that, that was it,” recalls LaTasha.
“We met on the first day and we have been friends ever since,” says Rachel. “We didn’t know we would end up in the same dorm, in the same hall. We built this friendship immediately and it has flourished ever since. We never lost touch, we live in the same area, I see her at least twice a week. I love her children like they are mine. Our friendship has been one of the most stable relationships and the most stabilizing relations in my life. We have been through a lot.”
Rachell graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Biology at Palm Beach Atlantic University and she is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership focused on Healthcare Administration in the same institution.
“Tasha is very integrated in my family, my parents see her as another daughter and her family see me like that as well,” explains Rachel. So when she knew about what her best friend went through, she didn’t hesitate to embark on this journey to help women of color through the postpartum process. Together, they created Postpartum Peace of Mind Inc.
“The stories that we have heard from other women are just heartbreaking,” says Rachel. “And these stories are of prominent and well educated women. It’s not just low income women. Black and brown women are experiencing the same issue with passing away due to postpartum complications or while giving childbirth when it doesn’t have to happen.”
Helping Vulnerable Moms During Postpartum
The objective of Postpartum Peace of Mind Inc. is to provide evidence-based, equitable, community-focused postpartum care, resources and education for women of color at no cost to them or their families; to remove the barriers that are keeping women of color from thriving – or even surviving – their postpartum journeys.
“Not having the resources someone needs, not even being able to afford sanitary napkins or even knowing what their body’s gonna experience after birth is terrible,” says LaTasha. “We really wanted to change that narrative and we wanted to center black and brown women.”
There are two different pathways to help women of color during their postpartum process. The cohort pathway, where the mother-to-be engages with the organization during her third trimester and the commitment lasts up to 12 months after she gives birth. The mother is provided with information and referred to a team of healthcare professionals like pelvic therapists, psychologists, dietitians and more. While the service pathway allows the mother-to-be to choose what services she wants, for example, she might be interested in receiving a postpartum package or to be a part of a group therapy at no cost.
The mighty group of two, as LaTasha and Rachel call themselves, are planning an educational event for mothers-to-be in November at the Downtown West Palm Beach Library where they will give away over 20 Peace Packs that include: post natal vitamins, mesh underwear, 3 sizes of sanitary napkins, a sleep mask, a water cup, aloe vera gel, 2 perineal ice packs, body soap, scented candles, lavender soap, waste bags, blood pressure cuffs and educational material, among other things. And by this Fall they will be sending over 200 Peace Packs around the country.
“There is a big need for what we want to accomplish for these moms,” says Rachel. “At this moment, we are working together with over 10 different organizations that have our same objective: help vulnerable moms during their postpartum process”.
“We underestimated how quickly this project was going to grow,” explains LaTasha. “We thought it was going to be local but now we are making connections in Philadelphia, presenting at a conference in Oregon. We have expanded faster than we had expected but I think people see value in the work we do.”
In order to be able to accomplish this work, LaTasha researched funding options online and found The Pollination Project.
“I learned about your organization from a video on a Youtube channel,” says LaTasha. “I filled out the application, and when we got the news about the fund I sent Rachel a screenshot of the email. It was very exciting because all of this work has been made with our personal resources. So this seed grant solidified our efforts. We are very grateful. I had a chance to review the different changemakers and organizations you work with, and to be included among those grantees is huge for us. It’s truly an honor, we are so excited.”
If you are inspired by this work and have an idea for a project that addresses an issue that you are passionate about, we’d like to invite you to submit an application and together we will build a better, more compassionate future!
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