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NJ First Lady Tammy Murphy Unveils Groundbreaking Maternal and Infant Health Plan 

First Lady Tammy Murphy and national public health expert Dr. Vijaya Hogan recently unveiled the Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plana strategy to reduce New Jersey’s high rates of maternal and infant mortality and eliminate the racial disparities responsible for these deaths. The strategic plan is the latest element of the First Lady’s Nurture NJ initiative, which aims to make New Jersey the safest and most equitable place in the nation to deliver and raise a baby.

Eliminating racial disparities in maternal and infant healthcare 

Currently, Black mothers in the state are seven times more likely than white mothers to die from pregnancy-related complications. In addition, Black babies in New Jersey are three times more likely than white babies to die before their first birthdays. The Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan includes over 70 specific, actionable recommendations for maternal health stakeholders across all sectors. Funded by The Nicholson Foundation and the Community Health Acceleration Partnership, the plan will position New Jersey as a national leader in the fight for maternal health equity.

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First Lady of New Jersey Tammy S. Murphy unveils the Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Plan. (Photo credit: NJ.gov)

“Fully achieving the goals of Nurture NJ requires transformative change to a system that has historically and disproportionately failed Black women,” said First Lady Tammy Murphy. “The Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan provides the blueprint for necessary collaboration, partnership, and communication among government, private stakeholders, nonprofits and impacted communities and will ensure every New Jersey mother and baby gets off to a healthy start.”

The plan aims to reduce maternal mortality by 50 percent over five years and eliminate racial disparities in birth outcomes. To do so, the plan seeks to: (1) ensure all women are healthy and have access to care before pregnancy; (2) build a safe, high quality equitable system of care for all women prenatally through postpartum care; and (3) ensure supportive community environments during every other part of a woman’s life so that the conditions and opportunities for health are always available.  

“Nationally and in New Jersey, maternal and infant mortality are among the worst disparities that Black women experience,” said Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman. “We are bombarded by stories that prove this issue crosses socioeconomic boundaries, and despite decades of awareness, we’ve struggled to move the needle. It will take coordinated effort at every level to change these statistics, and I am grateful that the First Lady continues to use her platform and her power to be part of those efforts.” 

 NAACP NJ State Secretary and Health Chair, Vivian M. J. Darkes applauded First Lady Tammy Murphy, and said,  “It is time that we acknowledge this issue and declare racism the social emergency that it is. We must join this collaborative in its quest to build racial equity infrastructure and capacity while engaging trusted voices within the communities, including people of color in the overall structure from the top to the bottom.”

“Women of color experience some of the highest rates of health inequalities due to societal, economic and environmental factors that impact their health,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President, March of Dimes. “The Nurture NJ Strategic Plan will go a long way in tackling these social determinants of health, as well as the structural and systemic inequities that we see in our healthcare system. We’re honored to support this transformative and innovative approach to improving maternal health outcomes which has the potential to serve as a national model.”

“The maternal death rate for Black women in NJ is seven times that of white women,” Dr. Nastassia Davis, Founder/Executive Director, Perinatal Health Equity Foundation. “Black women in New Jersey are in a state of crisis.  Just this December we lost a Black mother named Jenayha Nulums to a post birth hemorrhage which was likely preventable. The Nurture NJ plan will complement the Black Mamas Matter Alliance’s plan as they both provide a solid framework of the necessary steps to move the needle forward. We have talked about these statistics long enough, it is time to put our words into actions.”

Implementing Nurture NJ: “Not just a ‘quick fix’ –it’s a long-term strategy” 

Formally launched as Nurture NJ on Maternal Health Awareness Day, January 23, 2019, the issue of maternal and infant health has been a focal point of the First Lady since the inception of the Murphy Administration in 2018.

NJ First Lady Tammy Murphy Keynote Speaker at 2019 Women Entrepreneur Empowerment Lunch. 

“This plan is not just a ‘quick fix’ — it’s a long-term strategy that will result in the systemic change needed to reach our goal of making New Jersey the safest and most equitable place in the nation to give birth and raise a baby,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. “By focusing on equity, we can more effectively transform a system that has been failing New Jersey’s women of color for too long.”

The Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan is the culmination of over a year of in-person and virtual meetings with over 100 critical stakeholders, including national public health experts, New Jersey state departments and agencies, health systems, physicians, doulas, community organizations, and mothers and families. The team drew on extensive maternal health research and data to examine the structural barriers and systemic racism that contributes to the maternal and infant health crisis. 

“The Nurture NJ strategic plan is designed to build a complete ecosystem that supports the health and well-being of mothers and infants,” said Dr. Vjiaya Hogan, independent consultant, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Maternal and Child Health, Gillings School of Public Health, UNC-CH and lead author of the Nurture NJ plan. “The desire for transformative change was shared in every stakeholder discussion across New Jersey and the nation. This plan is about changing health outcomes through changing the way society treats women of color in all aspects of their lives.”

nurture NJ, maternal and infant health

The Ecosystem is a map of the conditions that need to be built to ensure that all women in NJ are surrounded by environments that always support and never inhibit their health and wellbeing. (Graphic source: nurturenj.gov)

To begin implementation, the report includes a detailed Year-One Playbook outlining the immediate, actionable recommendations that lay the groundwork for systemic change. The plan also includes implementation tools for various stakeholder groups in New Jersey, including business leaders, state agencies, health and social service providers, and community groups. The team, which includes 11 national consultants, has already begun working with stakeholders to ensure the feasibility of implementing the recommended action steps.

To learn more about Nurture NJ, visit NurtureNJ.nj.gov.

The Nicholson Foundation is a private foundation in New Jersey dedicated to improving the health and well-being of vulnerable populations in the state.

The Community Health Acceleration Partnership works to build stronger and more effective community health systems through catalytic investments and strategic engagement.

Selina Ringel’s Film “39 Weeks” Captures the Reality of Pregnancy During Covid-19

Selina Ringel is an award-winning writer, producer, and comedian. She is a Jewish Mexican-American that grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, and now resides in Los Angeles with her husband, Dan Levy Dagerman. The duo are the co-founders of 2HandsProduccion, a film production company whose current project is capturing Selina’s real life pregnancy during Covid-19 as part of the fictional film “39 Weeks.”

Husband-Wife Duo, Selina Ringel and Dan Levy Dagerman (Photo courtesy Selina Ringel)

Pregnancy During Covid-19

Pregnancy for any new mother is a strange, uncertain time. The body is constantly changing as the baby grows and emotions run high. It is also a time of excitement and anticipation as parents and family members wait to meet the baby. Every pregnancy milestone is a treasured moment. Parents long for each ultrasound appointment where they can see their adorable growing bundle of joy and listen to the heartbeat. Family and friends plan baby showers, shop for gifts, and ask to feel the baby kick.

Pregnant during Covid-19 means taking extra precautions. Selina poses with mask and gloves. (Photo courtesy Selina Ringel)

These are moments we have all taken for granted. These are moments we expect every pregnant person will experience. For the fictional Eva Garcia from “39 Weeks,” these moments are taken from her when Covid-19 strikes. Her ultrasounds become a solitary event. Her family and friends must be kept at a distance to protect her growing child.

The film is a direct reflection of what pregnancy during Covid-19 is like for expecting parents, family members, and friends.

“Being pregnant during this time is like nothing that has ever happened in history,” says Selina, actress and producer. “Every single day the rules change about hospitals, workers, delivery, ultrasounds, everything!”

Selina and her husband, Dan, began producing the film before Covid swept the globe with the plan to make a fictional film that would incorporate the real-time progression of Selina’s pregnancy. They never expected it to turn into an inside look at pregnacy during a pandemic.

When asked about what she would like women to receive from the film, Selina says she would love for women who were pregnant during this time to really see themselves in the reality of the uncertainty of this new world.

“For a woman who runs anxious, has issues with uncertainty and already had a miscarriage, let me tell you that this is a very strange time to be pregnant,” says Selina. “But I also think these women and babies will be strong in ways they don’t fully understand yet. We have had to cancel our baby shower, let go of being surrounded by family, figure things out on our own that we never thought possible, and somehow coming out if it I think we will be so proud of the depth in character we have built.”

Vulnerability is not a weakness

“39 Weeks” follows the fictional Eva Garcia, a single mother by choice, as she embarks on her journey through pregnancy. Eva is strong-willed and think she can do everything on her own. The film explores the stigma surrounding vulnerability, asking for help, and the need for connection.

“The message we are trying to send is that asking for help and expressing vulnerability are strengths not weaknesses,” says Selina. “After so many years of fighting for women’s rights, equality, etc. we have sometimes started operating from a place where women need to be unemotional to be successful.”

Selina Ringel, lead actress and producer of “39 Weeks” (Photo courtesy Selina Ringel)

This stigma extends beyond women too. For men, there is also a huge stigma against vulnerability. Anyone trying to be successful is often told not to ask for help, to do it all on their own. They are told help is weakness.

“It’s as though we need to stop being human if we want to be taken seriously.”

Reflecting on her own experiences, Selina says she spent many years trying to pretend she didn’t need any help or didn’t have any problems.

“Fake it til you make it, they say. And So I had always had to seem like I had everything together and to be honest it was not only exhausting but it made me less efficient,” she says. “It has been through doing some deep work on myself that I have realized that asking for help is a strength, that saying you need someone by your side is an asset, that reaching out when you need to can make all the difference and I want us to start seeing women, and humans in general, in a new light.”

Eva’s journey in “39 Weeks” is about her coming to terms with asking for help and understanding that she is stronger for doing so. Throughout the film she discovers that its okay to need people. She realizes she needs some sort of support system during her pregnancy and it doesn’t have to be a man, it can just be some form of human connection. This theme of connection becomes even more important for those going through pregnancy during Covid-19, and the film explores how single Eva finds support at a distance throughout her pregnancy.

You might be interested: How MiLegasi’s founder deals with resilience in children during COVID-19 

Filming in real-time during a pandemic

Selina and her husband did not originally set out to make a film about pregnancy during Covid-19, but thanks to their unique filming style, the project evolved into something they never could have expected.

Filming in real-time, during the pandemic, the production team of once 20+ people is now down to just two. (Photo courtesy Selina Ringel)

“39 Weeks” is taking an approach not usually seen in fictional films by filming in real-time over the course of 9 months.  Originally intended to simply capture Selina’s real-life pregnancy and bring Eva’s character to life, this filming approach has allowed Selina and her team to change and shift the narrative to incorporate real life events into the film, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests for sparked by the murder of George Floyd.

The fictional film feels almost like a documentary when we see the character, Eva, driving through crowd-packed streets as she struggles with her desire to support the BLM movement and her fear of going into a situation where she might get Covid-19 and potentially put per pregnancy at risk.

It’s so powerful and emotional to see such a real depiction of our current world. Most shows and films have not caught up to current times so it is often strange seeing the pandemic and protests absent from these fictional settings. But “39 Weeks” is boldly showing us the reality while still telling a fictional story. It’s a great mix of the documentary and the fictional film, brought together into one truly innovative style.

The film is set to be completed by mid-October and Selina and her team are currently exploring distribution options so that the film can reach the most people and make an impact. Selina hopes that all who watch it will get to experience what her journey, and the journey of so many other women, has been like experiencing pregnancy during Covid-19.

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