Resources for Maternal Health Awareness Day, Jan. 23

Maternal Health Awareness Day (MHAD) is Jan. 23, 2024. This day was created to raise awareness of maternal mortality and educate women, physicians, and families about ways they can protect and care for expectant mothers.

The NJEA Women in Education Committee has compiled resources and information on maternal health. This is a topic that local associations should become more familiar with to best represent the members who are or will become parents.

Maternal mortality

Maternal Deaths are preventable deaths. Ending the crisis of Maternal Death must be a shared global priority. Unfortunately, humanitarian crises and conflict have worked against countries’ efforts to reduce maternal deaths. Tragically, CDC data shows that Black women in the US are two-to-three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. 

The richest country in recorded history, the US ranks 47th worldwide when it comes to maternal mortality. New Jersey shares the same low ranking among its fellow states. 

Our valued member Tara Hansen passed away in 2011 days after giving birth to her son due to childbirth complications. She was a passionate special education teacher in her hometown of Freehold, NJ who advocated for students who needed a voice.

“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,” said 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.”

According to Amanda Williams, an OB-GYN physician, patients should never interact with the medical system alone. Having a vocal advocate for you is key to safer birth outcomes. She recommends getting ‘culturally concordant care’ – having a healthcare provider who shares your background. She also recommends considering wraparound services which can often be forgotten but are important for overall well-being and safety, such as 

  • doula support, 
  • lactation support, 
  • mental health, and 
  • nutrition. 

By following these pieces of advice, patients can ensure they receive the best care possible.


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.

It is important to note that PMADs are temporary and treatable. Local and virtual support is available in NJ through RWJBarnabas Health’s Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders.

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). Task force members participated in a panel presentation on “Breastfeeding and Pumping Rights and Resources” (recorded on Zoom), and contributed to an accompanying resource toolkit for members. More recently, Dr. Zucker presented on lactation rights and advocacy at the 2023 Winter Leadership Conference and then published “Advocating for Members’ Lactation Rights” in the Review to share advocacy suggestions and legislative updates (e.g., the Federal PUMP Act) more broadly.

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 educators 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 complicates 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.


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, Bergen County representative – Women in Education Committee

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