Black Maternal Health Week is April 11-17, 2023, and this this year’s theme is “Our Bodies Belong to Us: Restoring Black Autonomy and Joy.” The ability of Black moms and birthing people to make decisions about our bodies and our health is essential to how we manage all health behaviors and achieve overall wellness. With rising rates of maternal and infant mortality in the Black community, including in Ohio, there is a need to create systems of care that center Mamas’ autonomy and the right to choose care options that align with their cultural beliefs and practices.
The Black Mamas Matter Alliance highlights culturally congruent practices, including access to Black midwifery and Black-led doula care as primary needs for Black mamas and birthing people. Black midwifery and Black-led doulas center Black mothers and babies. By design, they have an inherent understanding of Black bodies and our cultural contexts, they focus on non-medicalized births when possible, and they create environments of active listening and attending to mothers’ needs during pregnancy, birth, and early parenting.
The latter tenet of care translates to other forms health promotion, including nicotine cessation. It suggests the use of comprehensive, culturally congruent models of care that consider a person’s whole life experience. If for example, a person’s basic needs are unmet, quitting smoking or vaping will be difficult especially if stress is a trigger for use. For Black mamas and parents who are also managing racism- or other trauma-related stressors, but do not have adequate support or resources, quitting will be challenging. Whatever the factors that impact a parent’s ability to quit nicotine must be addressed if they are going to be successful at quitting. As such, we must listen to Black moms and birthing people and respond accordingly.
As providers, we have a wealth of knowledge in regard to our respective disciplines. Many of us have licenses, certifications, and advanced training in our fields. Despite the knowledge we have about health behavior, risks, benefits, and the most effective treatment options, Black women and birthing people are the experts on our bodies and lived experience. As care providers we need to honor that, understand that, and prioritize care that is centered on that. Our bodies belong to us, and we will care for them based on our values, beliefs, and the knowledge we acquire from our providers in making informed decisions.
As you ponder changes you will make in your practice to re-empower Black moms and birthing people to practice autonomy with their health decisions, consider supporting and uplifting Black-owned and led organizations in our community that support birth equity, reproductive justice, and maternal mental health awareness for Black moms and birthing people. The organizations listed below are both local and national organizations that focus on Black maternal health. Support them.
Dr. Thomas Houston, Medical Director of The Breathing Association’s Lung Health Clinic and as Tobacco Cessation Training Course, has announced his retirement.
Dr. Houston has an impressive bio as a graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Medicine. After a 10-year career in academic family medicine, he directed the American Medical Association’s tobacco control and public health advocacy programs. From 2003 to 2005, he held the Jim Finks Chair in Health Promotion at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans and was Professor of Public Health and Family Medicine. From 2005 to 2016, he worked at the McConnell Heart Health Center in Columbus, where he directed tobacco cessation and policy initiatives for OhioHealth. He was a former president of the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians, and he is currently Adjunct Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at The Ohio State University.
As impressive as his bio is, it does not signify just how much of his life has been donated to helping those around become better people. He has spoken up for those who could not speak for themselves as an advocate of tobacco cessation, and he implemented the Tobacco Treatment Specialist Program for The Breathing Association to help medical professionals, counselors, and therapists educate others in becoming tobacco free.
Dr. Houston has served as a board member and Medical Director of the Lung Health Clinic since 2008. The Breathing Association is a richer organization thanks to Dr. Houston’s service over the past 15 years. He has left a legacy that time cannot diminish.
March is Women’s History Month. We celebrate the countless women who have worked tirelessly and bravely for equality, and justice in our Nation. The theme for 2023 is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories”, which honors women in our past and present who have served as storytellers, family matriarchs, and community leaders and those who pass on history.
As we honor all women this month, it is also important to also consider how tobacco has impacted their health. Smoking is responsible for 80% of lung cancer deaths among women each year, and lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women. Did you know that female smokers are nearly 22 times more likely to die from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, compared to women who never have smoked?
It is also important to remember that women and young girls have often been the target of Big Tobacco, with ads targeting them with themes associating various nicotine products with social desirability, independence, weight control, and having fun.
President Carter said in his proclamation declaring March 2-8 the first Women’s History Week, “Too often, the women were unsung, and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed”. “But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength, and love of the women who built America were as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” So during Women’s History Month, let us celebrate the women in our lives that not only tell our stories. Let us celebrate the women of the Breathing Association past, present and future who will share the important story of this historic and vital organization.