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Empowering moms to advocate for their needs and their babies

From her first interaction with VCU Health, first-time mom Precious Wilson valued her care team’s focus on compassionate patient care.

Woman holding baby on a couch. Baby has a pink bow in her hair. Precious Wilson chose to deliver her daughter, Rhyan, at VCU Health because she wanted to be at a Baby-Friendly designated hospital. VCU Health is the only facility in the Richmond area with this qualification. (VCU Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

By Debbie Schumacher and Sara McCloskey

Pregnancy can be filled with a lot of firsts for families, especially for parents expecting a baby for the first time.

When Precious Wilson found out she was pregnant, she and her husband, Randy, were in the process of moving to Richmond, Virginia from North Carolina. One of her top priorities was to find a designated Baby-Friendly Hospital in Virginia to provide support for her growing family.

“I knew from being a first-time mom that the experience was something that I want to be remarkable and unforgettable. And I knew that would start with exceptional perinatal care,” Precious said.

The Baby-Friendly designation is why Precious chose VCU Health. It’s the only hospital in the Richmond area with this special designation, which is recognized nationally and internationally for facilities. This means a highly trained staff works with pregnant people to create the closest bond with their newborn, by educating, guiding and supporting their choice to breastfeed.“

That was important for me because I knew that what that meant for me was that both baby and I would be in exceptional hands,” she said.


Not only did team members from VCU Health’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology use their exceptional experience to bring Precious’ daughter, Rhyan, into the world, but they also empowered this new mom to listen to her gut when she felt something was wrong.

Despite a difficult medical emergency during the first weeks of Rhyan’s life, Precious and her family felt supported through personalized care options and the thoughtful actions of the family’s care team.

“There is such a culture at VCU Health to be empathetic and compassionate pretty much everywhere, from the emergency room to the Children’s Pavilion,” Precious said. “They were very conscientious about integrating my support team – my husband and my mom. I could champion them for days because they championed me.”

Concerned woman standing next to her baby in the NICU.

When her daughter was rushed to Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, Precious Wilson says the care team was checking up on her family “around the clock” to make sure they felt supported. (Contributed photo)

Empowering and educating families to speak up

In her second trimester, Precious established care with VCU Health’s midwifery team. She wanted to have an unmedicated birth and a dedicated team of experts who would be open to the kind of experience she was searching for.

VCU Health’s award-winning midwifery team has advanced training and a collaborative relationship with OB-GYN's and high-risk pregnancy specialists. Being able to access a wide variety of resources and specialists allows the team to “provide personalized patient-centered care,” said David Chelmow, M.D., chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

It’s a priority for all VCU Heath providers to have open conversations with the pregnant people they’re caring for. This includes adapting to any health complications and educating patients about all of their options.

“You should feel like you can talk to your provider about what you need and where you're at all the time.” said Haguerenesh Woldeyohannes, a certified nurse-midwife with VCU Health’s midwifery team. “Surprises can happen, but how it’s communicated matters. Informed decision-making leads to trust in the process and in your provider - that you feel safe makes the whole difference.”

Precious says she felt empowered during her pregnancy and birth because she felt educated, heard and cared for – and developed a complete trust in her care team. Their patience, passion and professionalism created a positive experience from her first meeting to the time she walked out of the hospital.

This trust became even more evident when Precious met with her lactation consultant after discharge. There were changes in Rhyan’s skin, which Precious was concerned about. The nurse listened and ordered blood work.

The phone call that followed reinforced how important it was that Precious followed her intuition. Rhyan’s bilirubin levels were too high, and she was on the cusp of developing brain damage. The family rushed Rhyan to Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s (CHoR) neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

While this was a traumatic experience as first-time parents, Precious and Randy felt supported every step of the way.

“All types of people came around the clock just to make sure that – in an already traumatic experience – we were still cared for,” Precious said. “We understood what our options were, what the risks and benefits were in each step, and how we could be part of the process.”

The care team knew how important it was for Precious to continue to provide breastmilk to her newborn, which is recommended for the first six months of a child’s life by the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization. They worked with Precious so she could pump by Rhyan’s bedside and continue to feed her. Several days later, Rhyan wrapped up treatment and the family were able to return home. 

The importance of advocating for your needs, as a mother

Hundreds of people die in the United States every year because of complications either during their pregnancy or within the year giving birth, with more than 80% of these deaths being preventable.

Racial disparities exist when it comes to maternal mortality. Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy related complication than white women.

"Given alarming headlines and statistics, we understand the fear many people of color feel. As health care providers, our team is here to listen and make mom and baby as safe as possible,” Chelmow said.

VCU Health’s OB-GYN department has gone through implicit bias training and openly discusses Black maternal health issues to ensure every patient receives respectful and exceptional care. Part of this work includes educating pregnant people and their families about postpartum symptoms to watch out for, in an effort to reduce complications.

Precious recognizes the struggles many parents face. The most important advice Precious says she can give pregnant women of color is to “communicate, advocate and navigate the health system.”

“Communication is really important. You really have to take control and be responsible for your own health care,” Precious said. “If you have a question, ask it until you understand the answers... From there, you’ll be empowered, educated and informed to make the best decision.”

As Precious learned herself, advocating for your own needs and finding the right care team – who will listen – can save not only a mother’s life, but their newborn’s.