It’s time to prioritize maternal health in Arkansas

by Ashley Bearden Campbell ([email protected]) 383 views 

Mothers have a fundamental role in the fabric of our families and society. Each May allows us the opportunity to express our profound gratitude for their love and sacrifice, and to acknowledge the importance of maternal health – a value deeply rooted in Arkansas’ commitment to family and life.

May is also Maternal Mental Health Month. As a mom and maternal health advocate who has openly shared my own battle with postpartum depression, anxiety, and PTSD, I have a profound understanding of the importance of sharing our experiences to spark change in the way we approach maternal mental health before, during, and after pregnancy.

After delivering my daughter via an emergency cesarean at just 28 weeks and 5 days gestation, I was not only unprepared for the physical challenges I had to overcome due to complications from pre-eclampsia and a high-risk birth, but I was also unaware that NICU moms are more pre-dispositioned to experiencing mental health issues.

Several weeks into my daughter’s 70-day NICU stay, it became clear to one of her nurses that I was exhibiting classic signs of postpartum depression; signs that I had overlooked and assumed were normal after a harrowing series of events. The exciting moments all moms dream of when having their new baby quickly began to diminish, and I was overtaken by feelings of guilt and inadequacy from only having the ability to care for her in a clinical setting and knowing that every night I would have to return home without my baby. I was in excruciating emotional pain and know now that had I not sought help when I did, I would have continued spiraling into an even darker place as so many mothers without proper support do. Thankfully, treatment gave me a new lease on not only motherhood, but life, and gave me the perspective that these experiences matter and shape who we become as parents and people.

I’m proud of the steps Arkansas is taking to make maternal mental health a priority, reflecting a commitment to providing better support to mothers statewide and improving health outcomes for mothers and children. This is why I am proud to serve as the executive director of a non-profit that is working to ensure that every mother has access to the same care and resources I had.

Arkansans for Improving Maternal Health (AIM) is dedicated to raising public awareness and fostering change around the issue of maternal health in our state. The latest report from the Arkansas Maternal Mortality Review Committee found that 92% of pregnancy-related deaths from 2018 to 2020 were preventable, including those tied to mental health conditions.

Gov. Sarah Sanders has taken a commendable step by launching the Arkansas Strategic Committee for Maternal Health, a new working group focused on taking a collaborative approach to enhancing the health care mothers receive at every stage – before, during, and after pregnancy.

This move is more than policy; it’s a statement that Arkansas values life, cherishes family, and believes in supporting the pillars of our communities – our mothers.

The proactive efforts of our policymakers, healthcare providers, and community stakeholders shows unified support for a comprehensive maternal health care system, and I am proud to join this mission laying the groundwork for stronger families and a more robust economy in Arkansas.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, let’s affirm our commitment to and recognize the vital importance of maternal health. It is a declaration of our intention to bridge the gaps in healthcare, to confront disparities in maternal outcomes without flinching, and to ensure that all mothers – regardless of background, location, and financial status – have the necessary support to provide a healthy start for their children. The care we provide for our mothers today defines the future we offer our children tomorrow.

Editor’s note: Ashley Bearden Campbell is a partner with Impact Management Group and is the executive director of Arkansans for Improving Maternal Health (AIM). The opinions expressed are those of the author.