Newark-based organization aims to provide Black women with better pre- and post-natal care

A Newark-based organization is hoping to save Black women from dying during childbirth by offering preventative care. New Jersey ranks 36th in the nation for maternal deaths and has one of the biggest racial disparities for maternal and infant mortality, according to the state Department of Health.
Black women are seven times more likely to die from childbirth complications than white women, according to the Health Department. South Ward Healthy Beginnings is a program under the South Ward Promise Neighborhood Initiative. The program’s focus is on improving the maternal outcomes for Black women in Newark’s South Ward.
Tyhirah Thomas is a mother of three raising her children in the South Ward. By her second pregnancy, she learned about New Jersey’s maternal health disparities and preventative care for moms like having a doula. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she opted out of the virtual option. For her third pregnancy, she says she wanted to ensure a safer outcome.
“There’s no book that says we’re going to have an excellent pregnancy, so it’s tough,” Thomas says. “So, when you succeed and you come out, you’re like, ‘I did it!’ So, it’s definitely like an accomplishment.”
The Health Department also says that Black babies are three times more likely to die in their first year compared to white babies.
“I’m a Black birthing person – eight months pregnant right now. It’s really scary to think about. You might go into the hospital and not come out with your baby or you might not come out yourself,” says Jazmin Rivera, of Brick Education Network / South Ward Healthy Beginnings. “South Ward Healthy Beginnings is here to introduce evidence-based solutions and interventions so we can increase those healthy birth outcomes.”
The program offers community health workers who track new mothers and their babies up to age 5 to ensure their safety. The program also offers doulas to support birthing people pre- and post-partum. South Ward Healthy Beginnings says the proof is in the numbers.
“What we have found out is that once a doula is brought in…the number of cesareans has lowered…the number of episiotomies has lowered which then allows the mom actually have full autonomy over her own body,” says Juwana Montgomery, a doula and lactation consultant.
New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy launched the Nurture New Jersey Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan in January 2021. The plan aims to reduce New Jersey’s Maternal mortality by 50% over five years and eliminate racial disparities in birth outcomes.
Gov. Phil Murphy has signed more than 43 pieces of legislation supporting maternal and infant health since the plan began and millions of dollars have been allocated to the program in the governor's annual budgets, according to a spokesperson for the Murphy administration.
“It’s very important that you have a support system. You’re going to need the help regardless of if you’re paying for it or not and thank God that we have these programs now that are free to the community,” says Thomas. “It takes a village.”
South Ward Healthy Beginnings has been part of the community for two years. In those two years, they’ve been able to help at least 100 women with their birthing plans.