Jan 23-30 marks Maternal Health Week 2022

January 23, 2018 marked the first Maternal Health Awareness Day in New Jersey. The first of its kind in the US, this day was created to raise awareness of maternal mortality, and educate women, physicians and families about ways they can protect and care for expecting mothers.

The NJEA Women in Education Committee wishes to share resources and information on maternal health; a topic which has been surfacing more and more as we continue to see health care and healthcare systems stretched under the strain of skyrocketing costs, insurance ineligibility, and staffing shortages across the board. It’s also a topic which local associations should become more familiar to best represent the members who are or will become parents.

Perinatal Mood/Anxiety Disorders

The most common complications of childbirth are Perinatal Mood/Anxiety Disorders or PMADs. As many as 1 in 5 women will suffer with a PMAD during their pregnancy or up to the first 12 months after delivery, with 80% experiencing symptoms of anxiety. Unfortunately, only 15% will seek help. 

“After the birth of my first child, I had symptoms of anxiety and rage. I felt so ashamed because I wasn’t loving every minute of motherhood.  I did not even realize that there could be other things wrong with me so didn’t look for care right away,” shared Meg Santonacita, teacher in Freehold Regional High School District, NJEA member and PMAD survivor. “I had passed the Postpartum Depression assessment given in the hospital and at my 6 week check-up, so I really believed that I just wasn’t cut out to be a mom. Eventually, a friend connected me to a peer support group for moms with PMADs. In time, I was able to feel more like myself and enjoy motherhood more.” Santonacita has also served as a PMAD advocate and Peer Support Group Facilitator.

According to Lisa Tremayne, Director of the PMAD center at Monmouth Medical Center and President of The Bloom Foundation, patients have more than doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic. “This only increases the need for maternal mental health programs.” It is important to note that PMADs are temporary and treatable. Local and virtual support is available in NJ through RWJBarnabas Health.

Maternal mortality

In addition to the side effects that occur after delivery, such as PMAD, there are just as many concerns about the delivery itself.  The United States has ranked as poorly as 47th worldwide when it comes to maternal mortality. New Jersey shares the same ranking amongst its fellow states. The issue of women dying due to childbirth is one that cannot be overlooked. All women deserve an equal level of care throughout the birth process and making their health a priority is key in creating safer more successful outcomes.

Tara Hansen was a special education teacher who taught 3rd, 4th and 5th-grade students in
her hometown of Freehold, NJ. Her passion was always education and the ability it had to change lives. “I always say, she strived to help those who needed it the most, and that is now the spirit that embodies the Tara Hansen Foundation and the work that we do,” stated Ryan Hansen, Tara’s husband and the founder of the Tara Hansen Foundation.

“After Tara’s passing in 2011, one thing became increasingly apparent to me – we are so focused on being prepared for our newborns,” continued Hansen.  “we have lost sight of the woman’s experience and how to care for her postpartum. Empowering women’s voices has become vital to the work that we do.”

Lactation Rights for NJ educators

Following the Review publication of “Pumping at Work,” an article by NJEA member Dr. Lauren Zucker about employees’ lactation rights that includes interviews with New Jersey maternal health experts, NJEA formed the Lactation Rights Task Force. The task force consists of NJEA staff, members of the Women in Education Committee, NJEA members, and maternal health experts including members of the New Jersey Breastfeeding Coalition (NJBC). In June 2021, Dr. Zucker and maternal health expert Jill Wodnick presented on the collaboration between NJEA and NJBC at the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s annual conference. The task force continues to plan training opportunities and resources for members and staff to advocate for lactation rights in the workplace, and is planning to expand their project to address related topics such as childbirth education, paid leave, and parental mental health.

Infertility and pregnancy loss

Jackie Mancinelli is a high school English and ESL teacher and the Camden County representative for the Women in Education Committee. She is also a fierce advocate for parents struggling with family-building. As a mother who experienced a miscarriage, the loss of her infant son, and two pregnancies after loss, she recognizes how difficult it is to strike a balance between one’s work and personal life. She founded Start Healing Together (SHT), an organization dedicated to supporting educators experiencing pregnancy loss and infertility. It is often expected for teachers to be self-sacrificial, but it is paramount that their individual needs be put first. This includes the family-building experience. SHT advocates for contractual language that includes bereavement leave for pregnancy loss and failed fertility treatments. The organization also coordinates its efforts with the NJEA to ensure that all members’ rights are upheld. Specialized training is available to local association representatives, staff members, and administrators. These particular experiences are filled with grief, which complicate one’s ability to work effectively. Start Healing Together’s goal is to alleviate the stigmas surrounding family-building while supporting the mental and emotional health of educators.

Contributors and contact details

Meg Santonacita, Association Leave Chair, Freehold Regional High School Education Association

Ryan Hansen, founder of Tara Hansen Foundation

Dr. Lauren Zucker, NJEA Lactation Rights Task Force, member-Northern Highlands Regional High School Education Association

Jackie Mancinelli, Camden County representative–Women in Education Committee, member—Eastern Education Association

Resources