Reflections from our Executive Director

In 2018, Maternal Mental Health NOW embarked on an ambitious project in partnership with i.D.R.E.A.M. for Racial Health Equity and 3 Los Angeles medical institutions (Cedars-Sinai, Watts Healthcare and Eisner Health) to test the effectiveness of 2 interventions to make a dent in the devastating disparities in birth outcomes experienced by Black women in Los Angeles County. Personally, this project was of extreme importance as my sister had recently lost her first child a mere 6 hours after birth. What followed was an extremely difficult period of time for our family. For a Black family to have this experience 4 times the rate of white families for no other reason than racism was, quite simply, unfathomable and inexcusable.

Maternal Mental Health NOW was extremely fortunate to have i.D.R.E.A.M. for Racial Health Equity as a project partner. Over the past 29 years, i.D.R.E.A.M.’s mission has been to equip a learning community of visionaries with a comprehensive understanding of maternal and infant health throughout the life course. Maternal Mental Health NOW’s relationship with i.D.R.E.A.M. began when their team members were speakers at our 2017 and 2018 Diversity, Determinants and Disparities in Perinatal Mental Health conferences.

On this project, i.D.R.E.A.M. took a lead in implementing both interventions that we were testing – cultural humility trainings for medical providers at the three health care institutions and online support groups for pregnant Black women served by the institutions. Not only did these interventions prove to be effective, but i.D.R.E.A.M. openly and willingly shared their experience as a Black-led organization doing birth equity work for the past 20+ years, which taught me and Maternal Mental Health NOW valuable lessons on how to undertake racial equity work in a humble, respectful and impactful way.

i.D.R.E.A.M. for Racial Health Equity brought their whole selves to the project. The trainings on cultural humility included personal stories of childbirth and loss, which made the lessons being taught resonate and stick with the audience further. The killing of George Flloyd in May 2020 and the protests that followed impacted the hearts and minds of all team members, and i.D.R.E.A.M.’s facilitators were very open in terms of sharing their reactions and the impact the event had on their daily lives and work. When COVID hit and members of the i.D.R.E.A.M. team experienced personal losses, they shared their pain with us and took time needed to grieve.

Along the way, Wenonah Valentine, i.D.R.E.A.M.’s Founder & Executive Director, affectionately known as Coach V, regularly made time to check in with me, discuss project progress and “call me in” when I, as a white woman, took mis-steps and made mistakes (something that is inevitable when doing this type of work). I learned some incredibly valuable lessons from my relationship with Coach V and the rest of her colleagues at i.D.R.E.A.M., most notably that true partnership takes time. Maternal Mental Health NOW was thrilled to present Coach V with the Perinatal Mental Health Champion Award at our May 2023 Speak Up When You’re Down gala celebration. Her leadership and impact was felt by 100+ guests in the room that came specifically to honor and celebrate her.

As Maternal Mental Health NOW progresses on our path of becoming an anti-racist organization, we are committed to centering the lived experiences of Black bodies and minds, dedicating time to meaningful partnership development and bringing our true and authentic selves to our work.

Kelly O’Connor, Executive Director

Initiatives & Key Outcomes

Maternal Mental Health NOW | Improving Outcomes Project Interprofessional Education

IPE Trainings

90%+ of the 219 medical providers who participated in IPE trainings reported increased confidence levels when communicating with patients of different races and ethnicities. These results were shared in presentations at the International Marce Society conference in October 2020 and at the Postpartum Support International conference in July 2021.

Maternal Mental Health NOW | Improving Outcomes Project Safe and Sacred Pregnancy

Safe & Sacred Pregnancy Groups

100% of support group participants reported that they felt that they would have a safe and dignified birth at their birthing place after program participation

Maternal Mental Health NOW | Improving Outcomes Project Black Birth Workers Conference

Black Birth Workers Conference

98.5% participants “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that the program enhanced their professional expertise

“I learned about other resources and practitioners working in this area that can support the work that we do. I learned more about where to go for questions, and just who I can refer patients and families to.”

“I think there needs to be a continued learning space like this to train and engage in restorative practices for Black perinatal mental health professionals. This can completely transform the field and Black Lives.”


Wenonah Valentine, MBA
Wenonah Valentine, MBA
Wenonah Valentine, MBA (she/her) stands out as a cultural humility practitioner in healthcare by reframing the narrative from death and dying to healing and hope for Black birthing families. She is the founder of i.D.R.E.A.M. for Racial Health Equity, a project of Community Partners® with a social justice-led 26-year storied mission.
Meridith A. Merchant, PhD
Meridith A. Merchant, PhD
Meridith A. Merchant, PhD (she/her) is an advocate, consultant, speaker, and a multicultural community trained and trauma informed licensed psychologist. Dr. Meridith’s personal maternal trauma has served as fuel and inspiration for her mission to increase awareness and activism toward equity for all and the cultivation of unapologetic wholeness from the inside out.
Nakeisha Robinson, LMFT
Nakeisha Robinson, LMFT
Nakeisha Robinson, LMFT (she/her) is a perinatal health and mental health advocate and consultant. Her experience includes coalition building around improving the lives of birthing individuals and babies through community-based doula services, breastfeeding initiatives, and access to culturally responsive perinatal mental health support.
Ellen Branch, BA
Ellen Branch, BA
Ellen Branch, BA (she/her) brings a unique well-versed perspective to everything she does; from spoken word poetry to advocating for laboring women as a doula and more recently as a program coordinator for Black Women for Wellness. She is committed to honoring herself, serving the community, and being a proud black queer woman! Ellen earned a BA in Women’s Studies and a Multi-disciplinary Minor in Pre-Nursing from East Carolina University (Greenville, NC). She is a certified family planning health worker, full spectrum/holistic doula, and yoga instructor.


Maternal Mental Health NOW | partners


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