Doulas make a difference for every delivering mom — but especially for those who face one of life’s most challenging experiences on their own, separated by thousands of miles from family and friends, and often, from their deployed partners, too. That’s why Heidi Murkoff, What to Expect creator, founder of the What to Expect Project, and long-time advocate for military families, has worked closely with Senator Richard Blumenthal and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to ensure that all pregnant active duty servicewomen and military spouses have access to the vital support offered by a birth doula. The TRICARE Coverage for Doula Support Act introduced by Senators Blumenthal and Gillibrand, will not only help military moms feel more supported, among many other benefits doulas have been shown to lower the risk of complications in a hospital birth. Investments in doula support will reduce costs and improve maternal and infant health.
Being pregnant and becoming a mom is challenging under the best of circumstances, but for military moms serving far from family, friends, and their network of support, it can be far more difficult. Isolation and loneliness can take a toll on maternal mental health and increase the risk and severity of pregnancy and postpartum mood disorders. Yet for military moms, help can be harder to ask for and harder to find. To help remove barriers to maternal mental healthcare for active duty servicewomen and spouses who are suffering from depression, anxiety disorder, or another pregnancy or postpartum mood disorder, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Senator Tim Kaine have introduced The Military Moms’ Mental Health Assessment act, working in close collaboration with Heidi Murkoff, creator of What to Expect, founder of What to Expect Project, and long-time advocate for military families.
Over the last two decades, disparities in healthcare and a consistentrecord of putting maternal health last, has made the U. S. the least safe place to have a baby in the developed world. While globally, maternal mortality has fallen, it has risen in the U.S., where every year, approximately 700 to 900 women die of complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Nearly two-thirds of these deaths are preventable. Every maternal death is unthinkable, but every death that could have been prevented with the proper care should be considered unacceptable.
Many factors contribute to this, but one looms larger: race. Black moms are at the greatest risk of all – nearly three times more likely to die of complications from pregnancy and childbirth than White moms.
Black Maternal Health Week represents a vital opportunity to bring acutely needed awareness to what can only be described as a crisis of maternal mortality and morbidity. Maternal health, including preconception health, is the foundation of all public health–making solving this crisis not only a moral imperative, but also a public health imperative. Thank you, Congresswoman Adams and Senator Booker, for your leadership, tireless efforts and commitment as champions of maternal health. Read more on WTEP's support to helpadvance this important congressional resolution, and to end all preventable maternal deaths:
BMHW Resolution Letter of Support
"Being a mom is always hard, but this has been an especially difficult year for moms everywhere, particularly for military moms. The challenges for military moms — the pressure they feel to be strong no matter what, the anxiety and depression they’re more likely to face, their need for more support before, during and after childbirth -- are nothing new. But the unique struggles of moms who serve their country - and to be clear, all military moms serve, whether they’re active duty or spouses - have intensified exponentially during the pandemic, which has left them feeling more isolated than ever. I know this, because I’ve had the honor of meeting, speaking to, and hugging thousands of military moms around the world - they’ve become not only part of my life and my family, but my greatest source of inspiration.
That’s why I am so encouraged that this year’s National Defense Authorization Act has been passed into law. It’s welcome progress in supporting the families who sacrifice so much to protect our nation, offering doula and lactation support for military moms under TRICARE and studying prenatal and postpartum mental health conditions and access to care to better understand and serve the needs of members of our Armed Forces and their families. It’s time to support our military families in meaningful action, instead of empty platitudes. This is an important first step, and I’m grateful that Congress has taken it, thanks to the leadership of Senator Blumenthal, working collaboratively with Senator Gillibrand and Senator Kaine. Today is a great day, even in a tough year, for military moms."
Heidi Murkoff, author of "What to Expect When You’re Expecting," creator of WhattoExpect.com and founder of the What to Expect Project
Unfortunately, compassion for our moms is not always a given. But the short-term investment in maternal health care, especially for Black moms who are already at greater risk for complications, can dramatically lower health care costs when it prevents maternal morbidity, long stays in the hospital for moms and long stays in the NICU for babies, as well as long-term care for conditions that become chronic.
We know the challenges are greater than ever – but so is the urgency of our mission to ensure quality care for all moms that comes without exception and without disparities. Every mom should expect and deserves the care and support she needs to deliver a healthy start in life and a healthy future for herself and the baby she loves.
As the new administration moves towards the development of a critically-needed maternal health strategy, WTEP recommends the following policies to be prioritized within the first 100 days – all in equal importance.
WTEP Presidential Transition Recommendations
The What To Expect Project was invited to participate at the Second Annual Black Maternal Health Caucus Stakeholder Summit held online on July 27, 2020. The virtual event convened more than 100 organizations working to address the Black maternal health crisis. The Summit presented an opportunity to discuss advocacy efforts on behalf of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, legislation to address the Black maternal health crisis. The bill was introduced in March 2020 by founders and co-chairs of the Black Maternal Health Caucus U.S. Representatives Lauren Underwood (IL-14) and Alma Adams (NC-12), and by U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA).
Heidi Murkoff, founder of the What To Expect Project and author of What To Expect When You’re Expecting, delivered remarks for the virtual summit that echoed the all-too-familiar experiences of the WTE community of over 20 million expectant and new moms.
WTEP president and executive director, Annie Toro, JD, MPH represented the organization at the Summit and spoke about WTEP’s recommendations to end preventable maternal deaths.
During the week of September 15, Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser hosted the third annual National Maternal & Infant Health Summit – a keystone event planned and executed by Thrive by Five DC in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs – to build on the interest concerning these critical issues and the District’s new approach to protect the health of women, babies, and families. With the COVID-19 pandemic changing business as usual for everyone, the Summit focused significantly on the impact of the pandemic on pregnant women, moms, and babies.
The virtual Summit was a unique opportunity for various partners representing a range of stakeholders, including nonprofit organizations, health officials, and elected officials to use lessons learned from the COVID-19 response to advocate for improved delivery of perinatal care and continued investment in support for moms, babies, and their families.
The What to Expect Project joined this year’s summit as a partner. In advance of the Summit, WTEP’s Founder, Heidi Murkoff, prepared remarks for Summit participants and joined Thrive by Five DC’s Executive Director, Dr. Faith Gibson Hubbard, for an interview about WTEP’s efforts to advance maternal health, including ongoing activities and strategies to help moms during the pandemic.
Heidi's Summit Interview
Link to Summit
9/14/2020 National Maternal & Infant Health Summit Interview
7/27/2020 Annual Black Maternal Health Caucus Stakeholder Summit Remarks
7/22/2020 Rickey Smiley Morning Show Bump Day Interview
11/14/2015 International Medical Corps Humanitarian Award Acceptance Speech
11/29/2016 We Must Protect Pregnant Women From the Zika Virus
5/13/2017 This Mother’s Day, We Must Acknowledge The Negative Impacts Of The AHCA
9/15/2017 Raising awareness about maternal health worldwide on National Bump Day
4/25/2018 Why Supporting Our Troops Means Supporting Their Families
6/23/2016 If Motherhood Is The Ultimate Sisterhood – Then Our Sisters Are At Risk