Moms2B Builds Community through Education, Support
By Francis Pellicciaro
Outreach and Engagement Communications Student Intern
There is a circle of about 20 women sitting on folding chairs in the well-lit basement of the Grace Missionary Baptist Church on a Wednesday morning. They are not praying, but they are lifting each other up in their own way. They are all there together as part of Moms2B, a program with the goal of reducing infant mortality rates in low-income areas by providing expecting mothers with education on health and nutrition as well as clinical and social support through each baby's first year of life.
One by one and going around the circle, each woman tells the rest about whether they wanted children earlier in life, how many children they may have planned on having and how many children they have had. A strand of each of their life's stories is pulled into view, and the women connect to each other along a common thread.
"Our plans don't always work out the way that we want them to," said community health educator Tanikka Price, "from here on out we can make solid plans."
Some of the women in the circle are health workers like Price, and they are there to help the moms and moms-to-be who had come seeking advice and support for the health and wellbeing of their unborn and infants.
When Price speaks, the only eyes that do not focus on her are those that are looking at one of the three babies present on their mothers' laps in the circle.
Infant mortality is a problem throughout Ohio, including Columbus. Weinland Park, where the church is located, once had an infant mortality rate which was roughly triple that of New York City. Five years of the Moms2B program in Weinland Park has brought a change.
"We've seen the infant mortality reduced from 15 per 1,000 to three per 1,000," said Dr. Patricia Gabbe, professor of pediatrics at Ohio State and one of the two people who founded the Moms2B program in 2010.
When Gabbe arrived at this session of the Moms2B program, the smile on her face looked permanent as she welcomed guests and old and new members of the program. The smile belongs, as Moms2B has recently earned the Emerging Community Engagement Award – one of the highest Ohio State awards for outreach and engagement.
"I think you have to have empathy and be non-judgmental, respectful, willing to hear everyone's story," Gabbe said, "we're helping women make reproductive health plans."
She said that the huge rates of premature births and infant deaths in Ohio, primarily in African American communities, have been a hidden problem and people have "just started to get it on the front page."
There are three other sites in Columbus where the Moms2B program meets – the John R. Maloney Columbus Neighborhood Health Center in south Columbus, Mount Carmel West Hospital in Franklinton and the Ohio State University Hospital East.
The Moms2B program has generated demand for its services outside of Columbus as well. "We do have an application to go to Youngstown," Gabbe said, "they requested us." In the meantime, there are women in Columbus who can attest to the job that the Moms2B program does.
"It was normalcy," said one participant of the program. "They stood by me every step of the way. They learned the barriers that other women have."
When her daughter was an infant, this participant was facing the barrier of homelessness after fleeing a situation of domestic violence. The abuse caused her daughter to be born about five weeks early, and the stress caused her production of breastmilk to stop.
She said that at Moms2B, her daughter was surrounded by caretakers that supported her, and they found housing through someone working at the program. Her daughter is now almost two-and-a-half years old and the participant works full-time.
Another participant, a mother of two, said that the Moms2B program helped teach her "how to be a better mom" and "to not be afraid to ask for actual help when you need it."
She said that when she feels stressed and needs a person to talk to, she can make a telephone call to Brandy Warne, the emotional wellness worker at Moms2B and Wexner Medical Center resource and support coordinator.
"You can either include people into your practice or exclude them by the way you treat them," said Twinkle Schottke, program director and one of the founding members of Moms2B.
When two children who seemed to be about four years old arrived with their mother, they ran to her for hugs. Schottke said that at Moms2B they are creating a community through trust and by always having the same familiar people there to help others.
"People want to come in and they come every week," she said, "everybody here is part of the solution."
Moms2B received an Engagement Impact Grant from the Office of Outreach and Engagement in 2013. Read more at http://outreach.osu.edu/for-faculty-and-staff/2013engimpactgrants.html.
Photo of Dr. Gabbe and Moms2B participant by Jo McCulty.
Contact: Dr. Pat Gabbe, firstname.lastname@example.org
Moms2B website: www.moms2bohio.com