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Cecilia PearsonThe Baby Lady, Founder and CEO of Babypalooza
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Cecilia Pearson brings First-Ever Black Maternal Health Expo to Birmingham
BirminghamTimes Aug2023 (1)

Cecilia Pearson brings First-Ever Black Maternal Health Expo to Birmingham

By Je’Don Holloway Talley

For the first time ever, Babypalooza will include a Black Maternal Health Expo, which will focus on the unique health concerns and needs of Black mothers.

“Our goal is just to make sure there’s always representation. We want to make sure [attendees] can find and meet Black doulas and have a safe space to talk about the issues [faced in health care within the Black community] because our issues are different,” said Cecilia Pearson, founder / CEO and organizer of the annual event which launched in 2006.

“As a Black female entrepreneur, I know there are some obstacles and microaggressions that I face in the career world that moms face in the health care world, so we want them to have that type of support.”

Babypalooza makes its return to the Magic City, following a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Saturday, August 26, from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC). The annual one-day baby-and-maternity expo is free to the public (registration is required: https://babypalooza.com/event/birmingham-babypalooza-baby-expo/).

Sprawling the convention center floor, the event hosts local and national retailers; exhibitors from the health-and-wellness, childcare, and financial industries; and boutique baby and maternity vendors, in addition to offering swag, games, prizes, and fun for the whole family.

NOWINCLUDED

The Black Maternal Health Expo is powered by NOWINCLUDED, an initiative and platform created by health care advocates to improve health outcomes in the Black community.

Tiffany Whitlow, 35, is a co-founder of and the chief development officer at Acclinate, NOWINCLUDED’s parent company.

“We know that health/health care is often generalized, and this expo allows people to have a safe place to ask questions and to receive answers that are specifically for them,” Whitlow said. “Also, we all understand that there’s a lot of data showing that there are just different experiences, different outcomes, and death rates [for Black women], and this allows us to continue to fight against that.”

“We have experts answering questions that are specific to Black moms [at the expo], and not just generalizing it. I think it’s really cool that Birmingham has groups like Chocolate Milk Mommies, [a Black breastfeeding advocacy group] that completely normalizes [breastfeeding] and that experience. I breastfeed my son on business calls, he comes to work with me, and that helps us to normalize the experience for Black women,” said Whitlow, who is also a cast member of OWN’s “Love and Marriage Huntsville.”

The Huntsville, Alabama, resident, wife, and mother experienced a health scare when her son, David, was an infant, and it made her understand the importance of Black and Brown representation in clinical trials and research.

“He was diagnosed with asthma and hospitalized for a week,” said Whitlow. “We left the hospital with [an inhaler].

“I had no idea that [the medication] was 47 percent less effective in African Americans and 67 percent less effective in Puerto Ricans,” she added. “It was kind of like that ‘aha’ moment. … People do not know this information [and there is] truly a lack of education and awareness about how drugs are being designed, how treatments are being developed, and how medical devices are being created. I feel like we as a people are completely missing out. So, NOWINCLUDED is that community platform for us to do the early education awareness not only about clinical research but all things health.”

“Unique Journeys”

Aleeya Davis, who is 17-weeks pregnant, learned about the upcoming Black Maternal Health Expo through her NOWINCLUDED community.

“Within this community, many individuals have generously shared their own experiences, allowing me to gain insights into their unique journeys,” she said. “The ability to ask questions and engage in these conversations has been transformative, providing me with invaluable perspectives and strategies to navigate the uncharted territory of becoming a parent for the first time.”

“I’m thrilled about the opportunity to not only participate in the event but also share the strength and support of my NOWINCLUDED community with fellow members of the Birmingham community,” Davis added. “This expo promises to shed light on essential matters regarding Black maternal health, fostering awareness and understanding that will undoubtedly contribute to positive changes in the field.”

NOWINCLUDED plans to set up its “mobile listening unit [as part of the Mommy Listening Tour] to allow people a unique opportunity to share their story,” said Whitlow, mother of David Faulk, Ace Whitlow, and bonus son, Lamir Whitlow.

“We also like giveaways and are allowing moms an opportunity to enter to win a maternity photoshoot, [which can be] super expensive. … Some women cannot afford to have a full-blown, high-quality maternity photoshoot, and those are memories you want to have forever. [We’re] just being mindful of ways we can give back and make sure that no one in our community feels used or overlooked.”

Advocacy Training

Pearson pointed to another important topic for Black moms: self-advocacy. Babypalooza will include a one-hour advocacy class hosted by BirthWell Partners to help moms understand how to be their own advocate in the health system.

“A lot of times, people get that sense of authority from doctors, so they just accept what is said and don’t challenge it or ask questions,” the expo founder and organizer said. “We’re gonna teach them how to advocate for themselves and how to have their voice in the health system.”

Dalia Abrams, the program director at BirthWell Partners, a Birmingham-based community doula project aimed at increasing the number and diversity of doulas in Alabama, said Rachel Bailey, a contract doula with BirthWell Partners and owner of Eleison Doula Services will be leading the advocacy training at the Black Maternal Health Expo. This is a necessary addition to Babypalooza, she said.

“We’re really excited about the self-advocacy training. It’s training on how to advocate for yourself when you’re in a medical setting. [We discuss] what ‘informed consent’ looks like,” Abrams said, speaking about the process of communication between a patient and physician to ensure that the patient authorizes or agrees to undergo medical intervention. “[We’ll give advice about] how to ask questions, tell your story, and make sure you are heard and getting good respectful care.”

She added, “I think in Birmingham, where our population is majority people of color, we have to do these things. It’s so appropriate that we address the inequities that are there, to address the systemic racism that’s right within the system and how it’s not working for everyone. … “I hope that people will find it cathartic, that they will be able to come in there and feel like it’s a safe space to really address concerns.”

Asked why she decided to add the Black Maternal Health Expo, Pearson said, for one, “Black moms are three times more likely to die [from pregnancy-related causes] than white moms, and a lot of that is because they don’t feel seen or heard. We even have people like [tennis phenom] Serena Williams, one of the biggest celebrities in the world, who almost died after childbirth.

“We’re having a class on advocacy because there are issues. [Birthing women] will say, ‘I still hurt. I’m still bleeding. I’m still this and that.’ [Some health care professionals] are ignoring them and saying, ‘It’s in your mind.’ … They don’t know how to keep going back and saying, ‘No, it’s not in my mind, I need a different doctor,’ and advocate for themselves. That’s where [death] happens, and that’s why we’re going to teach you how to have your voice,” Pearson said.

Being Cared For

Jemia Roberson-Storey a Prattville, Alabama, resident, wife, and mother, knows the importance of speaking on your own behalf.

“I had to advocate for myself after I had my last baby, due to a postpartum hemorrhage,” she said. “I was kind of treated like I was [exaggerating], but I was actually bleeding out. When I first told [the nurse], she was like, ‘Oh, you’re fine. You just had a [Cesarean section, or C-section, the surgical delivery of a baby through an incision made in the mother’s abdomen and uterus]. You’re going to bleed down there.’ I told her, ‘No, this is my third baby, and I know what’s supposed to happen after birth. I am actually feeling like I need to bear down, [push] like I’m about to have a baby vaginally, and I had just had a C-section.’”

“It’s important for Black women to be educated on when to speak up, and how to know when something is not right and demand that you be cared for. Had I not spoken up after I had my daughter, there’s no telling how that would’ve turned out,” Roberson-Storey said.

First-Ever Black Maternal Health Expo Coming to Birmingham
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