RICHMOND, Va. -- Twice as many black women are dying in Virginia while pregnant or after childbirth compared to white women, according to the Virginia Dept. of Health. In an effort to make sure moms live to see their newborn's first birthday, Gov. Ralph Northam wants to reduce these deaths by 2025.
"I've even had fathers say 'I'm afraid for my partner. I'm afraid for my child,"" Stephanie Spencer, the Director of Urban Baby Beginnings, said. The community health group sends nurse midwives and doulas to homes to help expecting and new moms. Some of these women, Spencer says, experience anxiety and fear doctors won't take their concerns seriously.
One big fear, she says, is dying.
"This legislation gives us the opportunity to say, 'our moms matter,"' she explained. "We need to make sure we know what is happening, what happened, and how we can fix it so the next family never has to go through that."
Serving some 8,000 across the Commonwealth, a common theme at Urban Baby Beginnings is that it takes a village of support to care for a child and mother.
Leading that village Wednesday, Gov. Northam announced a goal to reduce the number of maternal deaths, seeing a racial disparity between the impacts it has on minorities in Virginia. He hopes to eliminate the disparity in mortality rate among black moms by at least half in the next six years.
"It does take a village, we are all in this together," he added.
Among a number of strategies to achieve this goal, the governor has directed health leaders to expedite enrollment for pregnant women eligible for Medicaid and to explore ways to increase training for healthcare providers on implicit bias.
The governor also signed two bills into law that could help expecting moms and growing families.
HB2613, sponsored by Del. Karrie Delaney (D - District 67), requires healthcare professionals who work with pregnant women or new moms to information about perinatal anxiety, which is anxiety experienced during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. It's also called prenatal and postpartum anxiety.
"Postpartum anxiety actually happens at a higher rate yet there's no requirement to inform pregnant women and new mothers and their families about that condition," Del. Delaney said.
The father of the infant or other family members at an appointment will also get the information about the disorder, under the new law.
Right now, licensed nurse midwives, licensed midwives and hospitals providing maternity care are required to give information to maternity patients about postpartum blues, perinatal depression, shaken baby syndrome, the dangers of shaking infants and safe sleep environments for infants.
HB2546, sponsored by Del. Roxann Robinson (R-District 27), puts the Maternal Death Review Team into Virginia code, strengthening is resources. Since 2002, this committee has collected data on women who died while pregnant. The group will continue to develop and implement procedures to make sure these deaths are analyzed and will give a report to the Governor and General Assembly every three years.
The new law also ensures more protections for patient information. Individual maternal deaths discussed by the team will be private.
The hope is that this data collected in Virginia will help more moms live to see their child's first birthday.
The new laws take effect on July 1.
If you or a loved one is dealing with prenatal or postpartum anxiety or depression, click here for resources in Virginia.