Making New Jersey safe for moms of color

The state of New Jersey is on a mission to make it one of the safest and most equitable places to give birth in the nation. The Nurture New Jersey plan is a strategy designed to reduce the maternal mortality by 50 percent over five years and eliminate racial disparities in birth outcomes.

Currently, New Jersey is ranked 47th in the nation for maternal deaths and has one of the widest racial disparities for both maternal and infant mortality. A Black mother in New Jersey is seven times more likely than a white mother to die from maternity-related complications, and a Black baby is over three times more likely than a white baby to die before their first birthday.

"In the past three years we have been able to build networks within the state and non-profit organizations and companies that really support the growth of improving these birthing outcomes, and we've also been able to expand who we are able to reach," said Jaye Wilson, CEO of Melinated Moms, a community-centered women empowerment membership initiative for mothers and women across the melinated spectrum. Wilson is working on the groundbreaking initiative with First Lady Tammy Murphy to eliminate racial disparities and infant mortality as the newly appointed Special State Officer for Maternal Care Quality Collaborative by Governor Phil Murphy.

"[As a mother] I realized that there were things that I could simply not show up for. I had to figure out who were the people that I could rely on to help me to raise my children. I had to figure out who were the people that I could also reach out to and vent about what it meant to go from [various] transitions of motherhood."

Wilson started her grassroots organization on the Meetup app four years ago, hosting a variety of events where moms could meet up with other moms of color at the park for playdates and to cultivate relationships. Melinated Moms eventually grew into a movement with over 3,000 members that created a safe space for many women who have felt unheard to network and talk about maternal health and their childbirth experience.

"Our most notable work has been centered around policy and legislative spaces that have to do with maternal health," said Wilson who started Melinated Moms as a way to find space for herself as a divorced single mother of two young girls. "I normally don't get to see Black women show up in public policy and legislation. There are very few people of color who can represent me from the space of being a Black person, from the space of being a Black woman, and also from the space of being a Black mother. For a non POC [person of color], everyone they see is a representation of themselves. So I look at who can represent these marginalized parts of my identity."

In 2018, Wilson held an event called "Childbirthing in Communities of Color," that explored the crisis of Black Maternal Health in the United States. A representative from First Lady Murphy's office was in attendance at the event and told Wilson that she would be a good fit to the Nurture New Jersey team. Wilson is a four time survivor of preeclampsia, a blood pressure condition that usually happens after the 20th week of pregnancy, and can result in serious or fatal complications for both the mother and the baby.

"For me to have to experience four different pregnancies and unfortunately losing two children to this disease, [I realized] this didn't just impact me personally, but this is something that affects a lot of women of color. More than 60% of preeclampsia cases are in Black women."

The Nurture New Jersey strategy seeks to: (1) ensure all women are healthy and have access to care before pregnancy; (2) build a safe, high quality equitable system of care for all women prenatally through postpartum care; and (3) ensure supportive community environments during every other part of a woman’s life so that the conditions and opportunities for health are always available.

In June a request for information was extended seeking ideas to help inform the creation of a Trenton-based maternal and infant health center. The Center will be dedicated to innovation and research, with an emphasis on addressing racial disparities and ensuring equity in care and outcomes for mothers and infants. "The plan for the center is to create a patient-centered approach to look at all of the needs of the women who are at risk of being a part of these unfortunate statistics. [We want] to create a maternal health experience that embraces who you are through your prenatal experience, postpartum experience, and interconception. We will also focus on the social determinants of health and how they contribute and inhibit moms from having a positive birthing experience."

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