Brooklyn Borough President (BP) Antonio Reynoso launched a $250,000 multilingual maternal health campaign on Nov. 16 to raise awareness in Black and brown communities facing high maternal mortality rates.

Reynoso, whose second child was born recently at Woodhull Hospital, pledged to reduce maternal health disparities in Brooklyn and make the borough “the safest place to have a baby.” 

“We will continue to remind people that Black and brown communities in Brooklyn are facing crisis level risks of complications during pregnancy, childbirth and the year after,” said Reynoso at the press conference. “The Black maternal health crisis is one of the gross inequities that exists in our time.”

Reynoso started a Maternal Health Task Force in April 2022 and then allocated his entire $45 million for next year’s fiscal capital budget toward state-of-the-art birthing centers in Brooklyn’s safety net hospitals in July. Kings County Hospital received about $15 million to renovate their newborn intensive care unit, Coney Island Hospital received $18.5M to renovate their labor and delivery rooms, and Woodhull Hospital got $11 million to build a birthing center. 

Reynoso also partnered with the Met Council to launch the “Born in Brooklyn” initiative, which gives resource boxes to new parents. The boxes have free baby supplies and postpartum resources.

The online resource guide, bus, train station and digital ads campaign feature dark-skinned pregnant women and are made in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole to be inclusive of affected immigrant communities in Brooklyn. Several of the digital ads feature Reina Rikards, a local and new mother, as the voice of the campaign. “I am a proud mom of two girls who are 7 years old and 3 weeks old. I was fortunate to have two healthy and easy pregnancies partly with the help of my doula, who empowered me and advocated for the care that I deserved,” said Rikards. “These services shouldn’t be secret.”

Black pregnant people in Brooklyn are 9.4 times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than their white counterparts, with Haitian women facing the highest risks, said the BP’s office. A third of pregnancy-related deaths in New York City are among residents of Brooklyn, with the highest rates reported in neighborhoods such as Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, Bushwick, Canarsie, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, East New York, Flatbush and Williamsburg, said the BP’s office. 

Reynoso said that the ads are multicultural and inclusive to reach women where they are and in the languages they speak, especially when maternal health is most acute among Creole-speaking Haitian women. 

Cheryl Hall, executive director of the Caribbean Women’s Health Association, said that she specifically recruited more than 100 Haitian Creole-speaking doulas to help with all-too-common accessibility issues and language barriers “because they [doctors] don’t understand their culture. One woman came in and the translation for services was wrong. The translator was speaking about her other child, not the one she was currently pregnant and carrying,” said Hall.

Helena Grant, co-chair of the BP’s Maternal Health Taskforce and Director of Midwifery Services at Woodhull Hospital, said that the maternal task force has been diligently unpacking the problem and working together to fortify the citizens of Brooklyn. She considers Black and brown maternal mortality a symptom of the “patriarchal model of medicine” and the structured racism that exists.

“There should be no pregnant person that doesn’t have what I call the three S’s: a birth that is safe, a birth that is satisfying and a birth that is sacred,” said Grant at the presser. 

Dr. Wendy Wilcox, chief women’s health officer for NYC Health + Hospitals, also sits on the BP’s maternal health task force. “It took a lot of courage for the borough president to put together a task force that looks like the women who are having the most difficulties during the birth process,” said Wilcox.

Present to lend their political support for the BP’s maternal health campaign and taskforce was Senator Jabari Brisport and Assemblymembers Monique Chandler Waterman and Brian Cunnigham.

Chandler-Waterman is a mother of four. She said she remembers the stigma of possible death when she was pregnant. “I was a 19-year-old that got pregnant and because I presented young and am a Black woman and I come from the neighborhood I come from, I wasn’t listened to,” she said. “I told my husband, ‘don’t complain.’ I got to be here and I could die by accident here, too. I remember the feeling of being in those hospital beds. It’s so emotional.”

Cunningham, who has his own maternal health task force in the assembly, said that his wife had been diagnosed with endometriosis and fibroids about three years ago as they began the journey to parenting. 

“It gives me great pride to know that our borough president and so many of our partners and elected officials are doing this work every single day to make sure we’re creating conditions for safety, not only in our hospitals but in our communities,” said Cunningham. “Whether we’re talking about access to food, gun safety—all these things are the conditions that go into a healthy environment so when a woman decides she wants to have a child that she can do so safely.”

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting:

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