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