By Tamara Hawkins, RN, MSN, FNP, IBCLC, CHHC, LCCE
Today, contributor Tamara Hawkins, RN, MSN, FNP, IBCLC, CHHC, LCCE finishes her two part post series “Welcoming All Families; Working With Families of Color” with a fantastic post on evaluating how well your classes are meeting the needs of Women of Color and tips and information to create a space that welcomes and celebrates WOC and their families. While, February is Black History Month, educators have a responsibility to offer classes that are inviting and appropriate for WOC all year long. Find Tamara’s first post here. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.
Are your classes inviting and supportive for Women of Color? Or are WOC not your “target market”? I received a comment after sharing my post about Tuesday’s Welcoming All Families; Working with Women of Color blog post; “Sadly many of my (as you say) ‘women of color’ friends, associates and even just casual acquaintances have told me straight up ‘you don’t need to do all that!’,” referring to the belief that taking a childbirth class is not really a valuable or important part of preparing to have a baby for African American women. I believe that it will take more than a few focus groups to get to the bottom of why some WOC do not feel the need to take childbirth education. In today’s post, I would like to focus on childbirth educators! How can childbirth educators be sure their classes are appropriate and inviting to Women of Color?
Prior education experiences
The first thing childbirth educators have to be aware of is that people are more likely to connect with people of their own culture. An example of this; a vegan may be more likely to seek out health care from a provider who blogs about a vegan lifestyle. WOC and other ethnic communities will seek out education from a provider they can relate to culturally. At the least, the educator will have proven to be sensitive to their needs whether those needs are cultural, ethnic or economic. Vontress writes in the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, “Members of minority groups bring an experience of consciously having to negotiate and even survive educational treatment of invisibility or negative ultra-visibility,[ultra-visibility; being singled out or made to be the “token” Black person], lower expectations, stereotyping, hostility and even abuse.” If an expectant mother or her partner has ever had this type of experience, why would they want to sit in yet another class and perhaps have those same feelings brought up all over again? What if they are presently feeling dismissed, their concerns ignored and rushed with their health care provider? Childbirth educators have the responsibility to understand this and make our classes welcoming by using language and images that subconsciously allude to our support and equal treatment and understanding of families of color.
I am guilty of saying “the baby’s mouth and lips should look pink to indicate great oxygenation.” A WOC in class raised her hand and said, “Even brown babies?” I responded “Well, yes, especially a newborn.” Be mindful that WOC have babies of all color hues. Some babies may be dark when born and others may be very light. Darker hued mothers who have not been around newborns may not know to expect their newborn to look light skinned. A culturally sensitive childbirth educator should mention this fact, so that all families can be prepared. During early pregnancy class, talk about how WOC may experience expansion of the areola and that yes even though they may have dark areolas to start, the areolas can get darker. In discussions about nutrition, talk about soul food cooked in a healthy flair. Remember that the standard American diet is not a one size fit all solution. The Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine mentions 70 percent of African Americans are lactose intolerant (compared with only 25 percent of whites) and may suffer from cramping, diarrhea, and bloating after eating dairy products. Encouraging a WOC to have cheese and yogurt to get calcium and added protein may not be the best advice. Offer alternatives that are appropriate for everyone.
Marketing and teaching materials
Next, evaluate your marketing materials. Have you placed images of women of color on your website, brochures, and social media pages? Do you keep up with the health disparities and concerns for women of color? Do the images on your classroom walls or your teaching posters represent a wide variety of ethnicities?
Review your teaching materials. Do you show birth and breastfeeding images of WOC? Are there images of WOC exercising, eating well, and asking questions of their care providers? In order to effect behaviorial change, one has to be able to envision oneself doing something similar. A great example is a commercial from fatherhood.gov. This videos features an African American dad learning cheerleading moves with his daughter with the grandmother listening and approving of the interaction in the background. AA women love this commercial because we remember performing the same type of cheers when we were young. This type of imaging will promote interest in fatherhood and also plant a seed in the minds of some men that it’s okay to spend daddy-daughter time, maybe even doing something fun or a little silly. The commercial would not be as effective if it showed a Caucasian father doing the same thing. There would be no connection. And if there is no connection, there is no assimilation, and therefore no change in behavior. When expecting parents can see themselves in the “role models” then they can see themselves emulating this behavior with their own children, or their own birth or breastfeeding experience.
Be ready to make change
Once your evaluation is complete, make some changes. There are not many sources to purchase ready made childbirth class images of women and families of color. Don’t hesitate to create your own. Look for images of AA couples on sites such as Shutterstock, Corbis Images , iStockphoto, or Fotosearch. Then use some creativity to create posters and images you can use! Or better yet, have a contest in your classes, asking them to create a poster. Invest in videos that show women of color birthing and breastfeeding. I use Injoy’s products in my classes as I find their videos do a good job representing multicultural families.
In Injoy’s “Miracle of Birth 4” video, Natasha’s birth shows a biracial couple experiencing a birth supported with analgesia. In “Understanding Labor 2” and the “Miracle of Birth 3,” Chelsea’s birth follows a young African American couple as they have an epidural birth with augmentation. Daniela’s birth follows a bi-lingual Spanish speaking couple as they have a cesarean birth. Injoy offers an option to purchase these videos individually which is great for a limited budget. The Baby Center has a video of Samiyyah‘s birth center birth which can be imbedded in PowerPoint presentations or played on a monitor. Unlike the well edited and discreet videos Injoy offers, this Baby Center video feels raw and uncut. Be prepared with Kleenex. This birth is a great lead in into discussing orgasmic birth, normal birth emotions, vocalization for pain relief and the fetal ejection reflex during pushing.
Language used when addressing health concerns of African American women is important. As an instructor, you don’t want to talk about pre-eclampsia and preterm birth in a manner that assumes that AA women should already know they are at higher risk for these diseases, but rather frame it as health care workers and researchers are uncovering higher rates of pre-term birth, diabetes, cesareans and lower rates of breastfeeding in the AA community. Presenting these subjects in this fashion, as an awareness among health care providers, may remove any feelings of guilt or negative self-consciousness for those who may not know the information ahead of attending class. Sources to find information related to women of color include Office of Minority Health, March of Dimes, Womenshealth.gov and Women’s Health Guide to Breastfeeding.
Create an event
Consider bringing in guest speakers to your class. Is there a WOC birth advocate in your area that has a large following? Collaborate with her to spread the word. Can you host a Twitter chat or Facebook party discussing your intent to serve the needs of WOC and clarifying the wants and needs of your birth community. Have WHO code compliant corporations donate products for a baby shower or a baby fair. Ideas for a fair may include a pediatric dentist who discusses the important of infant oral care. Bring in a safety expert who will discuss and demonstrate car seat safety and installation. Have a prenatal fitness expert and/or nutritional counselor to discuss food and the connection to gestational diabetes. A community midwife or OB can discuss the impact of lifestyle choices on the risks of developing pre-eclampsia, diabetes related to induction and cesarean births and low birth weight babies. Conclude the event with a game show set up like Family Feud with topics covering medical options, comfort techniques and support strategies for breastfeeding families. Having a fun event always draw crowds.
Offer tiered pricing
Are your classes accessible on an economic level? Do you accept insurance or have a sliding scale for families. The National Health Service Corp has a great resource on how to set-up a discount fee schedule. Is your practice set up to accept social service coupons or Medicaid for childbirth class subsidies such as what Washington State offers? The Kaiser Family Foundation reports 27 states out of 44 that responded to their Medicaid Coverage of Prenatal Services Survey offer coverage for childbirth education. Independent instructors will have to research their own state Medicaid offices for specific information on provider eligibility and reimbursement rates. When receiving reduced fees or subsidies, it may be tempted to schedule classes during the day. Please remember even people on Medicaid or WIC have jobs. Let’s respect that and offer flexible schedules for classes in the evening and on weekends.
Can you set up scholarships? Human Resources and Services Administration has several large grants available to serve the maternal child health community. The March of Dimes has scholarships available for grants reducing disparities in birth outcomes. The What to Expect Foundation has a new program to teach practices that build a healthy pregnancy. The wonderful Kellogg Foundation is another resource to tap into for help building a program to be inclusive and inviting to women of color.
Do you have local resources so you can connect AA women to WOC birth workers that share their ethnicity and culture? Sista Midwife Productions has a resource list by state of birth workers of color. If we have to refer out to help a mother feel more comfortable and get what she needs rather than what we have to offer, that’s a win-win situation.
Educators need to learn from the clients they serve. We have to ask the community what information is important to WOC. The Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association can serve as a template to build networks that educate and support pregnant WOC. Invite mothers and fathers of color to lead groups for expectant parents. Groups can cover topics such as how to have conversations about birth options, cultural expectations of birthing mothers and parenting styles and ethnic cooking with a healthy spin and specific topics related to controlling or preventing gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, reducing cesarean birth and increasing breastfeeding success.
In order to attract WOC to our classes, educators need to become culturally sensitive and appropriate. Evaluations of our marketing and teaching materials are in order to ensure inclusion of AA women. Educators have to be up to date on the statistics and health facts and challenges facing AA families. Our hospitals, birthing centers, birth support groups and networks should brainstorm ways to fund and provide scholarships and/or grants to make classes economically feasible. Lastly, if we are serious about supporting all mothers and helping them to have a safe and healthy birth, let’s build and support local birth support groups.
Change can be challenging. Start with small goals. The first step is self-evaluation. What had been working and what can be improved? Share your resources? Where do you find images and videos that are welcoming to women of color and all ethnicities? After you have evaluated your program, come back and let me know what worked and did not work. If you need some help, please contact me. I’m excited to try some of these resources myself. I’ll keep you posted on my Facebook page.
Vontress, C. “A Personal Retrospective on Cross Cultural Counseling.” Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 1996, 24, 156-166
About Tamara Hawkins
Tamara Hawkins, RN, MSN, FNP, IBCLC, CHHC, LCCE is the director of Stork and Cradle, Inc offering Prenatal Education and Breastfeeding Support. She graduated with a BSN from New York University and a MSN from SUNY Downstate Medical Center. She is a Family Nurse Practitioner and has worked with mothers and babies for the past 16 years at various NYC medical centers and the Elizabeth Seton Childbearing Center. Tamara has been certified to teach childbirth classes since 1999 and in 2004 became a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Follow Tamara on Twitter: @TamaraFNP_IBCLC