Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Nigeria and moved to the states when I was 8 years old. It was actually during that journey that I decided to be a Pediatrician. I wanted to be an advocate for kids that don’t have a voice. I became a Pediatrician and I loved it. Then, when I entered motherhood I saw how little we know about pregnancy and the devastating outcomes we have for pregnant people of color. Then I focused on that research and that became my clinical job as well. I have two amazing kids that I love. I also have my bonus son who is adopted from South Korea who makes me a much much better parent in general.
How did your motherhood journey start?
I have uterine fibroids and so my OBGYN told me that I probably wasn’t going to get pregnant naturally. And so I accepted that. But then I moved in with my boyfriend at the time and then I got pregnant in 2017. I actually ended up switching OBGYN’s. Because my initial one didn’t see me or hear me. And I truly believe that had I not switched to my current OBGYN that I would have become a statistic. My OBGYN listened to me and listened to my concerns. Because of my fibroids I had excruciating pain but I knew there is a stigma going into the emergency department. But I’m a physician, so I thought that if I went into my own Emergency Department where I work that it would be better. And so I went to the ED at 2:00 AM and the receptionist the way she looked at me. She made assumptions about me, pregnant, there at 2:00 AM in the morning by herself with an UBER. And the way I was treated was atrocious. I remember the ultrasound technician who did the scan to try to find where the pain was coming from, and I was crying in pain because it hurt so bad, said, “well, we just got to do this.” He completely disregarded my pain. And it wasn’t until the person who comes around to check insurance that they realized that I was a physician in their healthcare system. Then the way I was treated completely changed. Then the attending physician called me Dr. and called me the next day. They even called me the next day to apologize for how everything happened. It was really complete night and day. I didn’t know at the time that I was having a girl or boy. But I knew that I was bringing a child into this world that they would have all these stigmas. That’s why I want to change how we treat people. When people go to the ED, you’re scared. You expect to be treated with respect. My journey into motherhood really increased my gas in the fire to make me want to make things better. Being a mom made me a better doctor, clinical research and patient advocate. My kids teach me alot.
What was your birthing experience like?
I felt like I wasn’t just a number, that I was a person with feelings. I ended up having two c-sections. My first daughter was breech. My OBGYN tried to honor my wishes and worked with me to try to have a vaginal birth but at the end of the day I had two urgent c-sections and had two healthy happy babies.
Can you tell us about POWERMOM? How did it get started and what do you hope it ultimately achieves?
It started in 2017 under the principal investigator Jennifer Radin. She and myself, and actually one of our colleagues too, were all pregnant at the same time in 2017. During that time one of our colleagues’s wives was complaining about how she was being told that she wasn't gaining enough weight but she's of Asian descent and she said you know, I look the same as my mother and my grandmother and I don't understand why I'm being told this. And so the three of us actually started talking about how pregnancy is not a one-size-fits-all. There's differences within cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. And so we really started POWERMOM to personalize pregnancy. To find out more about each pregnant person's individual journey and to see how we can actually provide personalized information to the pregnant person. And then when I took over POWERMOM in 2019, I saw it as a way to decrease pregnant disparities.
We look at the health disparities that exist in maternal health and we know that it exceeds beyond low socio-economic status. The morbidity and mortality we see is not just about SES, it’s not just about access. And so I really thought that a research platform that gathers information about everyone, that has a way to reach out to communities of color who don't typically engage in maternal research can really fill in the missing gap. So we can find out why this keeps happening. And then once we have that information, what can we do about it? And that's the vision for POWERMOM. Let’s investigate the disparities and let’s test interventions so we can make it better. Because when we take care of those who are at greatest risk, who are the most vulnerable, then we actually create a system where everyone is healthier and better.
Also, with POWERMOM, as we get results, we message it out into the app. You give your data, your time and then you get to see how your data was used, and what other people who are in the study with you answered their question. It’s one way we give back to our POWERMOM community.
Is anyone sponsoring PowerMom?
Yes. I’m very honored that Fitbit, Microsoft and March of Dimes are all working in different ways to help us conduct our research and to get the word out. They’re helping to get this tool out into the hands of pregnant people.
How do you think we help amplify all mom's voices?
I think going to populations that aren’t typically seen on the commercials and on the ads and reaching out to those communities. Recognizing what you don’t know and then finding out about it. Step one is to find out who those voices are. Step two is to reach out to those communities and make contact with them. And then keep reaching out. It takes a group of people working together. To make POWERMOM a community, we work with OBGYN’s, Midwives, Doulas, Patient Advisory Boards, and a diverse partnership of communities.
Where do you see maternal health in 5 years?
In five years, I see the United States reimbursing home care, whether it’s Doulas or Midwives, to have that team care between home care and hospital setting. Home visits being completely reimbursable. So mom’s don’t have to worry. A place where a mom doesn’t have to go back to the OBGYN and Pediatrician. That care can come to her home and she gets that service and it’s all reimbursed. That’s the vision I see. I think about in Nigeria, where childbirth isn’t medicalized there like it is here. There is a sense of home, the care team comes to the home. And I hope that the U.S. can embrace that. What’s needed for the mom can be there at their home. For routine checks, let’s not make moms leave the house during that time. That’s my vision.
*This interview was conducted via Zoom but has been transcribed for reading purposes and cut for time.