Fighting fibroids: U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown kicks off crusade with personal tale

WASHINGTON, D. C. - U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown says that developing uterine fibroids “was like having an uninvited guest take over your body, month after month, for years,” creating painful, unpredictable menstrual messes that took such a mental toll that she finally resorted to getting a hysterectomy.

The Warrensville Heights Democrat on Thursday brought her battle against the common medical condition to Congress, introducing legislation she’s dubbed the U-FIGHT Act: The Uterine Fibroid Intervention and Gynecological Health and Treatment Act.

It would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to increase early detection of and intervention for uterine fibroids, education and awareness programs, and research. The grants would also address another uterine condition called Asherman’s syndrome, uterine scar tissue build-up following surgery, as well as disparities in pain control and management as it relates to uterine fibroids.

Medical experts estimates that 40% to 80% of women develop non-cancerous uterine tumors known as fibroids. Sometimes, they don’t cause difficulties. In other cases, the pain, and heavy, irregular bleeding they cause are disruptive. They’re most common in Black women, who tend to develop them at younger ages and be more likely to need medical treatment. Doctors don’t know their cause or why they’re more prevalent in Black women.

Brown said that Black women are three times more likely to be hospitalized for fibroids than white women, and three times more likely to need a hysterectomy. Despite the prevalence of fibroids, Brown says there’s no comprehensive federal program to address them. She said her bill would encourage early detection, treatment, education and research.

“A lot of women, a lot of Black women, when there is so much pain, they think that this is just part of being a woman, a normal part of your period,” Brown said at a Capitol Hill press conference. “Too many women delay medical care or are denied full treatment and care because they don’t know that the symptoms they’re suffering through aren’t normal.”

Brown’s legislation has 50 cosponsors in the House of Representatives, all Democrats. She says she’s working on bringing Republicans on board and getting similar legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate.

It is endorsed by organizations that include The White Dress Project, The Fibroid Foundation, Black Health Matters, Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Birthing Beautiful CommunitiesThe Center for Black Health & Equity, University Hospitals, Cleveland Clinic, and MetroHealth.

“Lack of research in the evaluation and treatment of fibroids and their much higher rates in black women reflects a significant disparity in our current health care system and we’re hopeful that this legislation will improve the health of women in Northeast Ohio and all across the country,” Elyse Mulligan, University Hospitals’ manager of public policy and community health engagement, said at the press conference.

Cleveland Clinic Chief of Staff Beri Ridgeway issued a statement that described providing education, research, and access to screening for uterine fibroids as “important to improving the quality of care for the millions of women affected by them.

“While not all fibroids require treatment, detection and intervention can reduce symptoms and complications, particularly among women of color, who are impacted by them at a higher rate,” her statement continued.

“We look forward to working with Congresswoman Brown to advance legislation that would expand access to early screenings and detection methods for uterine fibrosis, a debilitating condition that impacts millions of women, especially women of color,” agreed a statement from MetroHealth President & CEO Airica Steed. “Together, we can create a healthier community for every woman.”

Brown acknowledged passing her bill might be an uphill battle. She noted that her long-ago congressional predecessor Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who represented the same congressional district from 1999 to 2008, first introduced a separate bill called the Uterine Fibroids Research and Education Act in 2001.

More than 20 years later, other members of Congress are still introducing the same bill to support National Institutes of Health research into uterine fibroids, in hopes it will eventually pass. These days, the bill is called the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Uterine Fibroid Research and Education Act.

Brown said she believes that thanks to the work that public health and women’s health advocates are doing, chances for passing legislation to fight fibroids has improved since Tubbs Jones first introduced her bill in 2001.

“Let’s help women learn the facts,” said Brown. “Let’s expand access. Let’s study the problem. And let’s solve the problem.”

Cleveland.com |  Sabrina Eaton


Black women are at greater risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth. These grants aim to change that

Columbus, Ohio (April 15, 2024) This April 11 through 17 marks the seventh annual observance of Black Maternal Health Week in the U.S. I don’t say “celebration” because the facts, unfortunately, are dire: Not only do Black women in America continue to be much more likely than women overall to die of pregnancy-related causes, but maternal mortality has actually grown much worse in the past quarter century. A study published in the journal JAMA last year found that maternal mortality — which the study defines as death during pregnancy or up to a year afterward — more than doubled between 1999 and 2019.  

While the burden was borne by women of all racial and ethnic groups, there were disparities. Black women, in particular, had higher rates of maternal mortality than other races.  

The rate at which Black women die during and after pregnancy calls for urgent action. That’s why I’m proud that the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation is stepping up with $5.6 million in active grants in Ohio to improve pregnancy outcomes for Black women and address disparities that disproportionately impact Black women and their families. 

Most recently, we awarded grants totaling $1.5 million to five organizations: two in Cleveland, one in Columbus, one in Cincinnati and one in Kent. These are community-based groups that have demonstrated the ability to make a difference in this critical challenge to the well-being of women of color and their families. Here’s a quick sketch of the grants and how they’ll be used: 

  • Spirit of Motherhood, Kent State University (three-year, $300,000): Working with community-based groups in Cleveland, Canton and Akron, the program uses cognitive-behavior interventions to reduce stress and trauma in pregnant mothers with post-traumatic stress disorder, which Black mothers are four times as likely to experience as non-Black mothers. The grant will help pay for more interventionists, allowing the program to serve 20 additional mothers and up to 40 of their preschool-aged children.  
  • Birthing Beautiful Communities, Cleveland (two-year, $500,000): The group’s Perinatal Support Program provides professional doulas to help mothers and their families through pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. The doulas offer emotional support as well as physical and educational help, including lactation support, parenting workshops, healthy eating, life planning and more. 
  • The Centers, Cleveland (two-year, $250,000): Cuyahoga County has one of the nation’s highest rates of poverty and among the worst birth outcomes in the nation. The grant will bolster the organization’s comprehensive health and wellness services with additional supports to foster improved outcomes for mothers and babies.  
  • Homes for Families (formerly Homeless Families Foundation), Columbus (three-year, $300,000): The grant will create a Pregnancy Program Emergency Fund to provide services that aren’t typically funded by housing grants, such as access to food, transportation and child care.
  • Every Child Succeeds, Cincinnati (three-year, $150,000): According to the March of Dimes, Cincinnati’s rate of preterm births, at 12%, is higher than that of Ohio and the nation, both at 10%. Every Child Succeeds provides evidence-based home visits to support maternal health equity and optimize child development from the prenatal stage to age three. 

It should be clear from these programs that a newborn’s well-being is profoundly linked to that of its mother. The grants recognize that it’s extremely difficult for either to thrive amid the stress associated with poverty, housing insecurity, trauma from physical or sexual assault, and systemic racism. 

While it’s unclear exactly why America has higher maternal mortality rates than other wealthy countries in spite of the fact that we spend far more on healthcare, research and experience tell us that inequities in the healthcare system lie at the root. We’re taking aim at those inequities, working to remove the barriers that Black women face and raise awareness of the need for change.  

Every woman deserves the opportunity to experience pregnancy and childbirth as the joyful experiences they’re meant to be. No one should be afraid because her race or ethnicity stacks the cards against her and her baby. We at Anthem are excited to help these community partners make a vital and necessary difference. 

Ohio Association of Health Plans | Dr. Bradley Jackson, Plan Performance Medical Director at Anthem BCBS Ohio Medicaid


Black babies, moms need more support in the first year of life: Jazmin Long

Cleveland, Ohio (April 14, 2024) For decades, babies born in Cuyahoga County have been dying at some of the highest rates in the country. This is especially true for Black babies, who are three times more likely than white babies to die before they turn a year old.

Healthy babies start with healthy moms, and there is a substantial body of research showing that, in Ohio and across the United States, we are failing to give those moms — especially Black moms —even the most basic of care.

Our current system is not working. Maternal mortality rates have more than doubled in the last 20 years, a recent study showed. Women in the U.S. are about 10 times more likely to die during childbirth or in the 42 days following childbirth than women in other high-income countries, including Australia, Japan and Spain — and the rates disproportionately affect Black women, who in the U.S. are three to four times more likely than white women to die during or shortly after childbirth. In Ohio, the rates are even worse: Black women here are more than five times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications as compared with women from other states. In 2020 in Cleveland — the epicenter of our county — nearly 75% of the babies who died before they turned one were Black.

The most maddening thing, to me, is that these deaths are preventable.

Complications develop during pregnancy or following childbirth and go ignored or undiagnosed because we don’t provide moms with enough support while they are pregnant and in the immediate weeks, months and year following birth.

We have to do more to help moms, babies and families, not just in Northeast Ohio, but across our state and country. Black Maternal Health Week runs from April 11 to 17 and is an important time to have this conversation.

We should start with increasing and improving access to health care. We need better interventions to address pregnancy-related complications, from cardiovascular disease to postpartum depression to infection. And we must focus on dismantling implicit bias, racism and classism in our health care system, and on truly listening to women about their experiences.

Our organization, Birthing Beautiful Communities, is committed to providing intensive peer-to-peer support to families throughout pregnancy, during labor and birth, and up to a babies’ first year.

This fall, we are breaking ground on a new birthing center on Chester Avenue, supported by gifts from The Cleveland Foundation, George Gund Foundation and city of Cleveland.

The U.S. has less than 400 birthing centers, and only a small handful of those — about 5% — represent people of color. Once complete, ours will be the only Black-led center in Ohio.

Our birthing center will be staffed by midwives, providing holistic, wellness care and support to moms, babies and families. That includes perinatal support, that critical time immediately after birth and in the first year of a baby’s life. Our dedicated Perinatal Support Program, developed with a gift from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, seeks to provide critical support. We believe that support is the first step to reducing infant and maternal mortality.

That is something each and every one of us should care about advancing, because while an infant’s death can shatter a family, it also harms our communities.

Infant and maternal mortality are barometers for a community’s overall health. And by this barometer, our region, state and country are failing.

This Black Maternal Health Week, I challenge all of us to learn more about the inequities in our health system, and about how to support all families—especially Black families—through pregnancy, childbirth and an infant’s first year of life. Healthy mothers, babies and families are the foundation of a thriving Cleveland. We must reduce Black infant and maternal mortality, so our city and community can truly soar.

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* Email general questions about our editorial board or comments or corrections on this opinion column to Elizabeth Sullivan, director of opinion, at esullivan@cleveland.com.

 

Cleveland.com | Guest Columnist: Jazmin Long
Jazmin Long is president and chief executive officer at Birthing Beautiful Communities, a Cleveland nonprofit devoted to improving our region’s infant mortality rate.


Event aims to support Cleveland doulas as a solution to high infant mortality rates

Cleveland, Ohio (April 4, 2024) A free event designed to bring attention to the role doulas can play in supporting childbirth and postpartum care — particularly among Black parents and parents of color — will take place in Cleveland Saturday.

Doulas are birthing professionals who provide information and counseling during pregnancy, comfort during labor and assistance with breastfeeding and newborn care.

The event, called the Doula and Community Expo, will provide more information about being a doula through panel discussions, interactive workshops and networking opportunities, as well as health screenings, dance breaks and a childcare space. It's organized by Birthing Beautiful Communities, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing the infant and maternal mortality rate in Cleveland.

"It's allowing doulas, birth workers, midwives, moms and community members to all come together and have this kind of trade show experience," said Krista Lumpkins-Howard of Birthing Beautiful Communities. "Then you're able to see what's working, what's not working, have engaging conversations."

Cuyahoga County's infant mortality rate in 2020 was 7.6 per 1,000 live births, compared with the national rate of 5.4 per 1,000. Statewide, Ohio also has higher-than-average infant mortality rates, and Black mothers are disproportionately affected. The rate for Black Ohioans is 164% higher than it is for white Ohioans.

Lumpkins-Howard said doulas are a critical component, for women of color especially, to have better labor and birth outcomes.

"Our goal is to connect the dots of those social determinants of health for our clients," she said. "We want to make sure that doulas have the tools that they need."

The event is open to new doulas, those already in the profession and anyone interested in becoming a doula, said Lumkins-Howard.

"Birth is sacred and we want to uphold that," she said. "So we want to make sure that when people are thinking about becoming a doula, they realize ... how much of an honor it is to be a part of someone's labor and birth experience."

The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 6 at BLDG17CLE, 4700 Lakeside Ave. Cleveland, on the second floor.

Ideastream Public Media | By Taylor Wizner


$2M Mackenzie Scott Grant Awarded to Cleveland’s Birthing Beautiful Communities, Supporting Medical Equity for Black Mothers Regionally

Cleveland, Ohio (March 19, 2024) – Today, MacKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving announced Birthing Beautiful Communities (BBC) as one of the Yield Giving Open Call’s largest awardees which supports people and places experiencing the greatest need in the United States. BBC received $2 million – the organization’s largest gift to date. 

Birthing Beautiful Communities is Northeast Ohio’s only community-based doula program dedicated to improving the quality of life for Black mothers, babies, and families. Since 2014, BBC has worked to address and improve systemic and community structures that contribute to poor birth outcomes through culture, education, advocacy, support, and engagement. BBC provides free services to over 700 new and expectant mothers and families annually, including perinatal support doula services; childbirth and parenting workshops; life goal planning; transportation and healthy eating; lactation consultation; postpartum support; and classes and support groups to address self-care and anxiety.

 

“We’re overjoyed and deeply grateful for this transformative gift from MacKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving Open Call. This generous support propels Birthing Beautiful Communities into an exciting new chapter, empowering us to amplify our impact and further our mission of ensuring every mother, baby, and family receives the care and support they deserve,” says Jazmin Long, President & CEO of BBC. “With this funding, we’re poised to continue transforming maternal health outcomes in Northeast Ohio and beyond, ushering in a future where every birth is a beautiful and healthy experience.” 

You can listen to further remarks from Long here.

In March 2023, Yield Giving launched an Open Call for community-led, community-focused organizations whose explicit purpose is to enable individuals and families to achieve substantive improvement in their well-being through foundational resources. 

The Open Call received 6,353 applications and initially planned for 250 awards of $1 million each. In the Fall of 2023, organizations top-rated by their peers advanced to a second round of review by an external Evaluation Panel recruited for experience relevant to this cause. They underwent a final round of due diligence. Considering the incredible work of these organizations, as judged by their peers and external panelists, the donor team decided to expand the awardee pool and the award amount. 

“We are excited that our partnership with Yield Giving has resonated with so many organizations,” said Cecilia Conrad, CEO of Lever for Change. “In a world teeming with potential and talent, the Open Call has given us an opportunity to identify, uplift, and empower transformative organizations that often remain unseen.” 

More information on the Yield Giving Open Call and other initiatives can be found at www.leverforchange.org. 

About Birthing Beautiful Communities

Birthing Beautiful Communities addresses the social determinants of health and real-life circumstances that at-risk mothers face, making them vulnerable to infant mortality. Infant mortality is highest amongst communities of color. The core of the program is social cohesion. BBC functions and serves the purpose of real-time learning opportunities that will increase the understanding of how and why the social determinants of health affect unborn children, and what resources are available or need to be created, to increase the likelihood of infant survival up to one year and beyond. 

BBC has evolved into a multi-layered, holistic set of services that, in addition to pregnancy and postpartum support, gives local women from historically economically depressed neighborhoods, opportunities to increase their personal and family wealth through employment with livable wages and address other needs that inhibit their quality of life and that of their children and families. Birthing Beautiful Communities mobilizes community residents and organizational partners to address the social, structural, and economic determinants of health and promote health equity.


You're Invited! BBC's Doula & Community Expo

We are thrilled to invite you to our first Doula and Community Expo on Saturday, April 6th, at the BLDG17CLE from 11 am - 5 pm.

 

This unique event will bring together 500 members from the doula, health, and general community locally and across the Midwest region. The Doula and Community Expo aims to celebrate birth work, share content, and highlight partners in the reproductive health and wellness industry. We can’t wait to see you there!

The Doula and Community Expo will honor Doulas as Superheros and include:

  • Relevant keynote presentations
  • Numerous resource tables from key partners throughout Northeast Ohio
  • Interactive breakout activities in curated lounges
  • Vendor tables, including a BirthWorkers marketplace
  • Educational opportunities to enhance the skills and knowledge of doula

This event will leave guests inspired and empowered to uplift doulas, birthing people and families in our community.

 

Although tickets to this event are free, you are encouraged to register using the link below. Vendors interested in setting up a table to promote their holistic or healthcare-related business can purchase a $75 vendor table using the link.
Purchase your tickets here!

For any questions regarding your ticket purchase, please get in touch with Yuolanda Murray at ymurray@birthingbeautiful.org

 

BLDG17CLE Address: 4700 Lakeside Avenue E., 2nd Floor, Cleveland, OH 44114

 

This event would not be possible without the generous support of our sponsors!

                  

If you are interested in sponsoring this event, please get in touch with Chantel Tolbert at ctolbert@birthingbeautiful.org


"Faces of Despair" Virtual Screening of "Toxic: A Black Woman's Story" & Panel Discussion

On Wednesday, October 5, 2022, Birthing Beautiful Communities will partner with Village of Healing and Pregnant with Possibilities Resource Center to host "Faces of Despair," a virtual screening of the short film, "Toxic: A Black Woman's Story" and panel discussion. To join us, please register by emailing events@birthingbeautiful.org.

 


Join Birthing Beautiful Communities' "Two Is Greater Than One" Fatherhood Program for "Kickin It With The Dads" on June 25th!

Birthing Beautiful Communities Present: Two Is Greater Than One Fatherhood Program

This FREE EVENT is family friendly, yet geared towards Fathers, Father-Figures, and Expecting Fathers. Please join us at our very first event for our fatherhood program: Two Is Greater Than One! Come enjoy a day full of fun & activities with your little one(s), as we engage in Kickball games, FREE food, shared resources, networking opportunities, and rebuilding our communities through our households. Registration is required.