Feature photo: New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy
University leaders and state policymakers – including New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy – met at the third annual #123forMoms NJ Maternal Health Day at Montclair State University on January 22 to share efforts to improve maternal health in New Jersey, which currently ranks among the worst in the nation in pregnancy-related deaths for women.
The First Lady lauded the University’s partnership with her #NurtureNJ initiative to improve maternal health outcomes: “Keeping the conversation going until we truly have solved the crisis shows true commitment and concern for all of New Jersey’s mothers and babies. And Montclair State’s efforts are right on target – from providing technical assistance on breastfeeding disparities to supporting the infant-parent relationship through prenatal childbirth classes. Montclair State has clearly identified some of our biggest problems and is working hard to fix them.”
Murphy also cited the University’s internship program, Montclair State University Maternal Health Ambassadors, “which allows students the ability to work directly with mothers. Building relationships with mothers who visit Montclair State’s community clinic will create a meaningful motivation to solve the crisis. I truly believe that making this personal is what will affect the most change.”
Educational leaders from Montclair State’s Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health (CAECMH), School of Nursing, and School of Public Health then discussed how the University’s cross-discipline approach is identifying, addressing and hopefully solving the myriad of complex problems that stand in the way of improved outcomes.
Nastassia Davis, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing, related that she has created a new maternal and child health class for nursing students. “This is the first semester that the course is running. It’s a dynamic curriculum and we’re adjusting it to respond to current social and political dynamics in our local communities.”
Jill Wodnick, a doula who has been the cornerstone of much of Montclair State’s maternal health efforts, served as the event moderator. Through the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health, Wodnick has created ongoing, weekly low-cost prenatal Lamaze certified childbirth education for the community, assistance with prenatal health navigation, support and linkages for services, and programs with community partners.
Sze Liu, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health, presented her research on structural racism in severe maternal morbidity and infant mortality. After participants such as Montclair State student and maternal health advocate Ajanee McConnell shared their personal stories of heartbreak, Liu said, “As a researcher, I can provide the numbers, but it’s really you who provide the heart.”
Before the event started, Gerard Costa, director of CAECMH, credited Wodnick with giving birth to the Center’s maternal health division and Trish DeTura – a leader of International Cesarean Awareness Network’s Bergen County Chapter and a longtime significant donor to the Montclair State University Foundation – for supporting and nurturing its growth.
“The Center was founded in 2011 and our mission is to provide as much information as we can based on solid science,” said Costa. “As a public research institution of higher education in New Jersey, we can help forward the Murphy administration’s goals and provide Mrs. Murphy with that kind of information to support all mothers, parents and children.”
DeTura said that she and her husband, Jim, helped fund maternal health programs at Montclair State because, “It’s the Garden State. We wanted to seed it here. And we are actually seeing laws being changed as a result of our seed money. I can’t tell you how excited we are.”
“The students are having the conversations that matter,” said DeTura. “From the University to the state government to social media, I believe we are reaching critical mass. We need to carry that torch further and Montclair State is doing it.”