Virtua Health Lifts Up Black Maternal Health Week April 11 - 17

Local mom advocates for her health – and her child’s wellbeing – after medical scare while pregnant

April 11, 2023 - The United States has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality among high-income countries. Black Maternal Health Week, from April 11 through April 17, 2023, brings attention to the rate of maternal mortality for Black women in this country which is, alarmingly, two to three times the rate of women of other races and ethnic groups.

Virtua Health, South Jersey’s largest not-for-profit health system, is committed to advancing health equity for all patients across 350 care locations. From opening a midwifery center in Camden City to being among the first health systems in the state to introduce the TeamBirth NJ care model, Virtua is especially focused on creating safe and welcoming spaces for parents and babies. In 2021 and 2022, Virtua welcomed more than 9,000 babies per year across three hospitals and the freestanding Midwifery Birth & Wellness Center in Voorhees.

A Mother’s Story
As a Black woman, Amber Jeffries, of Delanco, NJ, has felt both seen and ignored when accessing health care services. She always tries to choose medical providers based on their capacity to listen to their patients.

She is also aware of the high rates of maternal mortality for Black women in this country. So, in the second trimester of her first pregnancy, when she felt “off,” she immediately notified her OB/GYN. While the pain she was experiencing eventually led to an emergency surgery for appendicitis, her physician initially diagnosed a bladder infection and prescribed antibiotics.

“I felt like I was blown off after I explained my symptoms,” she said. “Since I had never been pregnant before, I was unsure of what was normal and what wasn’t normal. After I had emergency surgery, I realized that my doctor did not listen to me.”

After the surgery, Amber made the decision to switch her prenatal care to a different physician whom she felt more comfortable with. This ultimately resulted in the first of two positive birth experiences at Virtua Mount Holly Hospital.

“I had the most phenomenal nurse on Earth assisting me while I was in labor,” she said. “She made sure I was laboring correctly, but also gave me the freedom to do what felt most comfortable to me. I was able to walk throughout my labor because, after receiving anesthesia during my appendicitis, I decided to give birth naturally. She was very supportive of letting me trust my body. I felt in control and her attentiveness made me feel extremely comfortable.”

A healthy baby, named Easton, was born via C-section in 2016. (Amber’s care team deemed the procedure medically necessary when Easton’s heart rate decreased after Amber spent 24 hours in labor.) Amber gave birth to her second son, Ezra, at Virtua Mount Holly Hospital in August 2022. She credits all the Virtua professionals who truly listened and heard her for her “profound” birth experiences.

Amber encourages all women to advocate for themselves. “It’s important to feel that all of the medical professionals responsible for your care see you, hear you, and support you,” she said. “If they don’t, then it’s time to find better providers.”

Creating Positive, Necessary Change
On Wednesday, April 12, Virtua is hosting an online panel discussion in support of Black Maternal Health Week. The discussion will highlight providers and community partners, including representatives from the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative.

The Black and African American Colleague Community – one of six employee affinity groups at Virtua – is the sponsor of the virtual gathering. (Note: The event is intended only for the Virtua workforce.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are many factors that contribute to the wide disparity of maternal deaths by race, including variations in quality health care, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism, and implicit bias. Social determinants of health prevent many people from racial and ethnic minority groups from having fair opportunities for economic, physical, and emotional health. Black Maternal Health Week is an optimal time to empower Black women on the pregnancy-related complications that can lead to death. Expert advice includes:

  • Talk to a health care provider if anything doesn’t feel right or is concerning.
  • Know and seek immediate care if experiencing any of the urgent maternal warning signs, including severe headache, extreme swelling of hands or face, trouble breathing, heavy vaginal bleeding or discharge, overwhelming tiredness, and more. These symptoms could indicate a potentially life-threatening complication.
  • Document and share pregnancy history during each medical care visit for up to one year after delivery.
  • Maintain ongoing health care and social support systems before, during, and after pregnancy.