Human Trafficking in the US is Real! Here’s How Nurses Can Help

by, Leith Merrow Mullaly, RN, MSN, IBCLC

Sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery that exists in our own backyard. Traffickers resort to violence, threats, lies and other forms of intimidation to force both adults and children to take part in sexual acts against their will. Sex trafficking can occur anywhere, even in your very own community.

In 2016, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that 1 in 6 endangered runaways reported to their Center were likely sex trafficking victims.  The Urban Institute estimated that the underground sex economy ranged from $39.9 million in Denver, Colorado, to $290 million in Atlanta, Georgia.  Prostitutes are victims of these crimes.

Yet, sadly, since 2007 the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline has received only 145,764 calls*  (1-888-373-7888).  Why is this? Many of the victims of sex trafficking have no knowledge that such a resource even exists.  To make a phone call to get help is not possible for most victims as communication is strictly controlled and monitored by the pimp who has all the power.  Perhaps, we nurses should have this phone number posted in areas where women in your care can see it.  Nurses should also be aware of the warning signs associated with trafficking, and  when we suspect our patient/client may be such a victim, we should hand them a phone!

Commercially exploited children in our country have almost universally been sexually abused and enter prostitution with a history of complex trauma.  Their families have been absent or dysfunctional.  Several young women with whom I work were identified by teachers as abused (eg, a 7 year old who wouldn’t change gym clothes because of bruises all over her body).  There  were mixed reaction from teachers.  Some did follow up with local child protective services.  Some called parents.  One young woman told me “My teacher was concerned but my mother denied any sexual abuse but then said ‘well, she is so suggestive around my husband’; I was 6 years old!”  Many girls tried to tell an adult but many were afraid.  Some shared “I have told people and nobody believed me”.  Some were placed in foster homes, and believe it or not, they were molested and recruited by their pimps from the foster care system.

What can nurses do?  This may seem so much bigger than what we can do as individuals. But we can develop a more acute awareness about the realities of human sex trafficking right in our own environment.   When you hear or suspect human sex trafficking may be occurring to the patient sitting before you, believe them!  They very frequently display a fearful, distrusting affect because many times they have tried to tell and NOT been believed.  Offer them your belief.   Former President Jimmy Carter wrote an editorial in the Washington Post (May 31, 2016) entitled: “Curb prostitution, punish those who buy sex rather than those who sell it”.  I recommend reading this. Carter describes the “Nordic Model” which is a system that treats purchasing and profiting from sex as major serious crimes.  That might be something for which nurses in small or large groups, such as an AWHONN  Chapter or Section, can advocate for at their own local or state level.  Just imagine the impact it could have if the men in your community who are purchasing sex were prosecuted and exposed in public as the criminals they actually are.  We have heard “but he is a pastor” and “but he is on city council” and “ their reputations would be destroyed”.  Women and children who are sold for sex face more than ruined reputations, they face ruined lives!

As health care providers and patient advocates we must begin to work vigorously with our own elected officials to change the unacceptable and shocking status quo.  Did you know that trafficked children are treated as criminals in many jurisdictions even though under Federal law those under 18 years old are classified as victims?

My state, the Commonwealth of Virginia, was the last state in the country to pass a stand-alone human sex trafficking law (2015).  Now, anyone assisting, or working to traffic, sell or purchase prostitution can be arrested and charged.  This law came about because of the incredible tenacity and diligent work of a very few advocates working with their local legislators.  They provided both Representatives and their constituents with education on this issue.

Health education has always been a strong focus for nurses.  The public looks to us to educate them and the public trusts nurses to provide solid, honest information.  My “own public” sat in disbelief when we first started talking about sex trafficking right here where we live and work.  I heard comments like “No way, this is a lovely community.  Not here!”  As they learned the realities they were initially horrified, but now are very energized to help in any number of ways.  We also can’t  forget to educate parents.  They need to know that when young teens, girls and boys, meet other “youth” on the internet they are often opening themselves to traffickers.  When middle and high school kids sext and post photos they can and do become easy prey to predators.

If your community doubts the very idea of sex trafficking in your town, send them to a website called “Backpage”.  It is a trafficking website that lists ads for prostitution.  In my small size city there are more than 20 ads a day!  “Plenty of Fish” is another site that purports to be a dating site. We have had some of our trafficked victims “hooked up” on this site with “clients” purchasing sex.  If a nearly naked woman is advertising to come to a hotel room to provide a “massage”, read between the lines.  If the face is blurred, it most likely means the girl is a young minor.  If you look…unfortunately you will find human sex trafficking right in your own backyard.

Overwhelmingly the young women with whom I work had dreams of growing up to be moms or lawyers or teachers or doctors or nurses.  One girl had seriously and sincerely wanted to be an astronaut.  No one ever dreamed of growing up to be a prostitute!  They were brought into the “life style” as young minors.    They did not choose the life and do NOT benefit financially (a common misconception).  Once used, these victims are humiliated, shamed, embarrassed and trapped in a system they despise but have no idea how to escape.  Many seem to know of a girl who tried to escape who either “disappeared” or who was re-captured with her photo posted on line with her head shaved and tattooed by  her pimp.

NURSES CAN MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE if we just start working together to: 

  • Learn the facts about Human Sex Trafficking in our own communities
  • Work more closely with local and state law enforcement
  • Provide vitally-needed education to our peers, friends, organizations and parent groups
  • Advocate with legislators to enforce the law and explore alternatives such as the “Nordic Model” which is now used in Canada, France and Sweden
  • Believe a patient who trusts you enough to share their situation
  • Post the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline – 1-888-373-7888—in a visible location in your setting
  • Be hyper-alert to telltale signs such as :
    • Tattoos or branding
    • Very unclear past history and no stable address
    • STD’s, especially repeated episodes
    • Wearing scanty clothes – often 2 sizes too small
    • Presence of cotton or debris in vagina and/ or rectum
    • Problems with jaw or neck
    • Inability to keep appointments
    • No identification
    • Accompanied by a person who does not allow the patient to speak or does not want to leave them alone during interview and/or care
    • Inconsistent stories (conflicting stories or misinformation)
    • Lack of documentation of age- appropriate immunizations and health care encounters

There are 3 million nurses in our country.  I believe that together we have the power to change hearts and minds so that our local communities and our nation understand the realities of human sex trafficking.  I serve on the Foundation Board of a home for victims. Our motto is: “Changing one life at a time and changing the world for future generations”.  I have seen the first goal come true with individual young women.  Won’t you join me in meeting both goals?

AWHONN believes Nurses are ideally positioned to screen, identify, care for, provide referral services for, and support victims of human trafficking. Therefore, the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) supports improved education and awareness for nurses regarding human trafficking. Learn more about AWHONN’s position on this critical topic.

Resources:


References

*Number of calls reported to the Human Trafficking Hotline as of December 2016 for more information visit https://humantraffickinghotline.org/

Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Urban Institute


leithLeith Merrow Mullaly, RN, MSN, IBCLC
Leith Mullaly is a past president of AWHONN and has served at all levels of the organization. Leith has a passion for both nursing and the specialty of Women’s Health and Newborn care. Her focus within AWHONN has always been to mentor future leaders and encourage nurses’ participation in their professional association. She has experience as a Staff Nurse, Staff Educator, MCH Director, Clinical Faculty Member, Certified Lactation Consultant and Author. She is a nationally ranked speaker on topics such as Postpartum Depression, Breastfeeding, the Image of Nursing, Service Excellence, Perinatal Loss and Bereavement, Mature Primiparas. Her interest in care for Victims of Human Sex Trafficking has been a major focus for the past several years.

Lessening the Risk of Birth Trauma

By Karin Beschen, LMHC

 “I was at a routine dental office visit a few weeks after my daughter was born. I remember being reclined in the chair, the bright overhead light and the scent of latex.  Images of surgical masks whipped through my mind.  Fear rushed through my body and I shook uncontrollably.  My body felt hollow and numb but also heavy and out of control.  In that moment I truly believed I was having another emergency c-section.”

This quote is from a woman who experienced a traumatic birth.  She is the mother of a beautiful baby and has had many moments of joy and connection, but also times of panic and fear.  “Mini movies” of her daughter’s birth play in her mind throughout the day.  She deleted the photos of her daughter in the NICU and she wants to disappear when her friends talk about pregnancy.  The birth didn’t end when her baby was born; it followed her from the hospital and it has interfered with many aspects of her life.

Research reveals that between 33-45% of women perceive their births to be traumatic. (Beck, 2013).  Birth trauma is defined as “an event occurring during the labor and delivery process that involves actual or threatened serious injury or death to the mother or her infant.  The birthing woman experiences intense fear, helplessness, loss of control and horror.”  (Beck, 2004a, p. 28).

Approximately 9% of women experience postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth. Most often, this illness is caused by a real or perceived trauma during delivery or postpartum. These traumas could include:

  • Prolapsed cord
  • Unplanned cesarean
  • Use of vacuum extractor or forceps to deliver the baby
  • Baby going to NICU
  • Feelings of powerlessness, poor communication and/or lack of support and reassurance during the delivery
  • Women who have experienced previous trauma, such as rape or sexual abuse
  • Women who have experienced a severe complication or injury related to pregnancy or childbirth, such as severe postpartum hemorrhage, unexpected hysterectomy, severe preeclampsia/eclampsia, perineal trauma (3rd or 4th degree tear), or cardiac disease

My therapy work with mothers is typically after a traumatic birth.  The more I learn about the mother’s labor and birth experience, the more I can understand what care and education could have better supported her during  birth.

The “3 E’s” – explain, encourage and empathize – can be a useful framework for obstetrical staff in lessening the risk of a traumatic birth.  

Explain  

When explaining a process, options or a procedure, always include the woman in the discussion of her own care.  There is a distinct difference in hearing a discussion and being a part of one.  If plans change, explain what is happening and what is needed to correct the situation.

Encourage

The connection a mother has with those caring for her during childbirth is deep — you are present during one of the most emotional, unpredictable times in her life.  Encouragement is empowering and can offer the mother a sense of control.  Encourage questions.   If plans change, discuss possible alternatives.   Using “we” in conversations shows alignment and rallying together.

Empathize 

Women in labor yearn for companionship, support and empathy.

Phrases such as “I know,”  “I’m here,” and “Yes” are phrases that connect staff with a woman’s experience when she feels pain, fear, disappointment or frustration.

I’ve heard many birth stories over the years; devastating stories of physical compromise, intense fear and loss of the baby’s life.  How the mother is cared for, is what she remembers.  The tone of your voice.  The gentleness.  The validation of feelings.  One of my clients was unaware she was being rushed for an emergency cesarean.  She said in all of the chaos and in a knee-chest position, she extended her arm and a nurse held her hand.  Beauty within terror.   It was a simple gesture and it has been the most powerful, healing memory for her.   Even in the midst of an emergency, someone saw her need.  Someone saw her.

Obstetric staff has great influence on how a mother remembers her birth experience.  Expressing empathy and explaining and encouraging a laboring and postpartum mom can influence her health and well-being.  New mothers who receive the “3 Es” can better transition to home, experience less anxiety, have more positive feelings about themselves and improved bonding with their babies.


Karin Beschen is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor specializing in reproductive and maternal mental health.  She also serves as a volunteer co-coordinator for Iowa for Postpartum Support International.

 

 

Additional Resources

Postpartum Support International 

PaTTCh (Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Birth)

Improving Birth

References

Beck, C. T. (2004a). Birth trauma: In the eye of the beholder. Nursing Research 53(1), 28-35.

Beck, C. T., Driscoll, J.W., & Watson, S. (2013). Traumatic Childbirth New York, NY: Routledge.

 

 

 

Navigating a Labor Experience: As A Student

By: Amy Smith, Student Nurse at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Boston

I could feel the excitement in the room as I entered. The couple was receptive to my questions and suggestions; and the woman was more than happy to involve me in her care.  I tried to build rapport even though I was nervous in my role as a nursing student. This was the first time I had assisted a woman in labor and, after her membranes were artificially ruptured, her contractions started to come about two minutes apart.  At one point, I had my hand on her back and her husband smiled at me across the room and signaled for to me to remove my hand!  It was a great moment in which the support person and I connected!  I remained quiet during her contractions and I asked her if she wanted me to breathe with her but she said she had it under control. I kept thinking back to my own labors and what I felt I wanted from support people so I asked her if she would like lower back counter pressure but she refused.  The family had not done a childbirth preparation course so I assumed that their interest or skills with working through labor was limited.  I thought that they would need my help more yet her prenatal yoga practice seemed to have given her the tools she needed to get through her labor. The tools I offered her personally were meditative.  I told her to focus on her favorite place, to discuss her needs and frustrations with us in between contractions and reassured her that I was there for her to breathe with her and regulate her breathing as needed.

Reflecting on the Nursing Care Women and Babies Deserve virtues I used during this experience, I believe they were humility and engagement. Humility in that I had to understand I did not know what was best for this family. I assumed they would want and need what I needed during childbirth or skills I learned from the comfort measures video I used to prepare for this clinical experience. The woman decided what she needed and I was there to support her. In respecting their wishes I could engage with the family. Before I left them for the day they commented, “We felt like we had our own doula”.  It was easy and a pleasure to engage with this couple and follow their commands and offer suggestions. I told them I had never wanted to stay at clinical so much as I did with them. I will always remember this family.

 

Additional Resources

AWHONN’s Nursing Care and Women Babies Deserve Poster –  AWHONN’s statement on ethical nursing practice, Nursing Care Women and Babies Deserve, is rooted in the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics for Nurses, and provides nurses with core elements of ethical nursing practice for our specialty and corresponding examples of the virtues of ethical practice in action.

Read a commentary about Nursing Care Women and Babies Deserve in AWHONN’s journal Nursing for Women’s Health. Consider submitting your own story of how you or your colleagues practice nursing care that women and babies deserve at https://www.awhonn.org/?NursingCare


nursepicamyAmy is an ABSN student at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Boston.  She was a stay at home mother for 12 years,  a community coordinator for a non profit kids running program and a volunteer at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston before deciding to enter the nursing field.  With extensive volunteer experience from a camp for blind & visually impaired adults and children, to co-president of an elementary school PTO, she enjoys working with diverse groups of all ages.  Amy aims to work in labor and delivery after graduation in August 2017 but is also interested in global health and epidemiology.  She has intentions to keep making a difference in the lives of those she may never meet again.

Childbirth While Recovering From Addiction

By Tasha Poslaniec , Perinatal Quality Review Nurse

The first time that I cared for a patient who was both recovering from drug addiction while experiencing acute pain, was in Labor and Delivery in 2014. Neither of us was prepared for this. We both exchanged the same shell-shocked, “What do we do now?” look several times that shift. I had a profound realization that day; I needed to come up with a better plan.

My initial idea was a literature search in Pubmed, a free national database of indexed citations and abstracts from thousands of science and healthcare journals. I also hit up Cochrane, a database that provides systematic reviews of evidence based medicine.

While it is difficult to get a good estimate on the prevalence of drug addiction in pregnancy, the National Institute on Drug Abuse published data in 2015 showing that 21,732 infants were born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in 2012. That’s equal to one baby being born every 25 minutes with this syndrome. That is a lot of potentially challenging labors to manage.

Ultimately, the most important take away from my research was “treat the pain, not the addiction”. While it’s never ideal to administer narcotics to a recovering addict without a bigger plan, it’s still superior than allowing a patient to suffer.

In an ideal world, the best plan is to have a pre-labor consultation with the patient and anesthesiologist. This can be tricky to make happen as pain control is rarely addressed (especially the kind that recovering addicts need) during the prenatal course. The opportunity for this most often occurs when women are induced, or come in for antepartum testing. I was fortunate enough that my recovering patient was having both of those.  I was able to broach the topic during an NST, and I then requested her when she came in for induction. We were both thankful that the anesthesiologist on that day was open to discussing a plan that she was comfortable with. Just talking together as a team helped her relax.

My patient at that time was taking methadone, which I learned while doing my nursing assessment. Since she had not taken a childbirth class, I gave her homework to research how methadone can both increase the body’s sensitivity to pain (hyperalgesia) as well as limit the options for other pain medications like Stadol, due to the opioid agonist therapy (OAT) she was in. By front loading her understanding of how her pain control was about more than just preventing a relapse, her expectations were set to be more informed as well as more realistic.

The plan that we all agreed upon involved several key areas:

  • Set the expectation. While this falls under “patient education” it’s such a powerful tool that it bears having its own bullet point. Having a realistic and frank discussion about the realities of labor is important for any patient, and it should begin with prenatal care. As any L&D nurse can tell you, there is nothing more disheartening than a woman in labor demanding “the shot that takes all of the pain away”.
  • Utilize non-pharmacological modalities as much as possible. I created a folder with childbirth information for her in which Penny Simkin figured prominently. Her free guide with illustrations of positions and easy to read mantras were the perfect shorthand for the situation. While we started her induction, we discussed the handouts together.
  • Consult with anesthesia ASAP. Again, this can be difficult since you really need a doctor who is on board and .The plan that we came up with was for a labor epidural as soon as she wanted one. Thankfully, ACOG supports labor epidurals at any dilatation, and the evidence supports that receiving one “early” does not adversely affect labor outcomes. The other nuance was to administer the epidural without any opioids. No fentanyl mixed in, just Lidocaine and Bupivacaine. While the likelihood of the opioids placed in the epidural space crossing over into her circulation were pretty minimal, it was a very real concern for her, and we needed to respect that.
  • Have a plan B. Should things not go according to plan go sideways, we needed to have a course of action nailed down. This included contacting the obstetrician and enlisting their support while also reminding them that a patient in OAT can require as much as 70% more opiates to manage pain (which she was willing to take should she need surgery) post-operatively. We also discussed a social services referral in this event to help provide services to prevent relapse.
  • Provide continuous support. I have to say, this simple intervention was the most effective thing that I did. It helped that our census was low, and I had an understanding charge nurse.

In the end, a lot of stars aligned that day, as my patient was able to cope with the pain, receive an epidural, and ultimately give birth to a healthy baby girl.

Educating the patient, creating a team, and formulating a plan with the patient’s input, as well as providing continuous support, has guided me with the increasing number of patients that arrive in similar situations. This experience has also led me into many different discussions with other nurses and doctors.

The consensus has been that this growing population of patients is compelling enough to establish a pathway for care during labor.  Something we are working on and will hopefully provide a road paved with evidence based best practices in the near future. And while these patients are by no means representative of every person struggling with addiction (recovering or not) they allowed me to recognize a growing need, as well as to learn new ways of helping patients to cope with the dignity and compassion we all strive to provide for the patients we are caring for.


Search for these resources available in the AWHONN Online Learning Center 

  • Opioid Use in Pregnancy: Detection and Support Webinar
  • Breastfeeding Implications for Women Receiving Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorders Webinar

Tasha-poslaniecTasha Poslaniec has been a registered nurse for 17 years. She has been working in obstetrics for over a decade and is currently a Perinatal Quality Review Nurse and Childbirth Educator.

She also writes about nursing and childbirth and has been published in the Huffington Post and the American Journal of Nursing. Pain control in childbirth has long been a topic of study and research for her.

Stress The Modern Day Predator

Holly A. Lammer, RNC-OB C-EFM

“The history of man for the nine months preceding his birth would probably be far more interesting and contain events of greater moment than for all the three score and ten years that follow it.”

~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Decreasing the amount of stress that we encounter daily is beneficial to our health.   Stress initiates the body’s ‘emergency response system’ which activates the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol and adrenaline.  Cortisol is important for energy (glucose metabolism), blood pressure regulation, immune function and inflammatory response, but is secreted in higher levels during increased stress.  Heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, chronic inflammatory disorders, mental health issues, obesity can all in some way be linked to how the chemicals of stress wreak havoc on our bodies.   Statistics paint a grim picture:

  • Preterm birth in the U.S. is higher than in other developed countries (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2015).
  • Stress is associated with an increased chance of preterm birth (PLos One, 2012)
  • High rates of anxiety and depression, according to WHO, the U.S. has one of the highest rate of mental disorders of any other developed country. (U.S. News, 2016)
  • High rates of obesity – females affected more than males (World Obesity, 2017)
  • Immune and allergy disorders, chronic diseases have increased drastically in the last few decades (overwhelming majority affecting women)(Molecular Metabolism, 2016)

One concern is how these chemicals affect a woman and her growing fetus during pregnancy.  Many pregnant women  are exposed to chronic stress;  examples are the stress of jobs, finances, family responsibilities, the expectation and drive for success, high fat and low nutrient diets, lack of time for physical activity,  lack  of community and family support, intimate partner violence, effects of racism and social marginalization.  Stress chemicals can pass to the developing baby through the placenta.

Watering the Seeds of Peace:

But pregnant women can seek to balance and reduce their stress in order to pass on positive neurological chemicals to their babies.  In particular, mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation have profound impacts on the human brain and, when practiced in the prenatal period, can also influence the growing brain of the fetus. (PLos One, 2012)These types of practices produce changes in the neural pathways and hormonal centers that support parasympathetic response and as these neural connections are strengthened, sympathetic hypersensitivity is decreased. Mindfulness has the potential to reduce the effect of stress chemicals in the body (Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing, 2009) since these chemicals are being sent directly to the fetus, through the placenta.

Mindfulness may also reduce the effects of stress chemicals in the baby.  Research shows increases in gray matter concentration in the left hippocampus, which affects learning, memory, and emotional control.  Infants  born of mothers who practice meditation have been shown to have better self-regulation and more emotional control. (Infant Behavior and Development, 2014)

Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis can also “create change in the brain that support feelings of peace, contentment, self-confidence and joy.  As these connections in the brain are strengthened, states of anxiety, worry and anger are decreased. Consequently, incidence and severity of stress related conditions are decreased and may, at the very least, become easier to manage.  Mindfulness practice has been shown to decrease anxiety, depression, insomnia, hyperactivity, substance abuse and chemical dependency.  It can also increase bonding and connection to others.

Preparation for Birth

In addition to all the above mentioned benefits, mindfulness has the added benefit of decreasing sensation of chronic and acute pain and possible subsequent psychological distress caused by pain.  This effect has been correlated to altered function and structure in somatosensory areas and an increased ability to disengage regions in the brain associated with the cognitive appraisal of pain, basically ‘reframing’ the sensation.  Most childbirth methods are based on meditative techniques (Lamaze and Bradley breathing, Hypnobirthing, etc.)  Mindfulness practices also enhance immune function – extremely important in pregnancy where it is already suppressed.  If there is a complication that is present (obesity, immune disorder, mental illness) or one that is diagnosed during the pregnancy (gestational diabetes, hypertension, multiples) or that happens during birth (prolonged labor, surgical intervention), regular meditative practices can help prime the immune system so that the effects of these events may be milder.

It’s as simple as ‘ABC’

One of the great things about mindfulness is that it can be practiced literally anytime, anywhere.

A is for Awareness:  Simply pause or stop and become AWARE of the present moment. An easy way to do this is just notice the body in space… the arrangement of the legs or arms, the overall tone in the body… the sensations in the body. Use the senses to drive your awareness:  the feel of the coffee cup in your hand, the sound of a bird chirping or the rain on the roof, the warmth of the sun on your skin.

B is for Breathing:  Bring your awareness to your breath.  The breath is always present.  Notice the inhalation and the exhalation.  Just by noticing the breath without changing it in any way, nervous system shifts to parasympathetic activity. You can enhance this shift by guiding the breath to be longer and deeper. Regulating the breath in this way also decreases blood pressure and heart rate.  Imagine your breath bringing oxygen to your growing baby. Imagine your baby listening to your deep rhythmic breaths and the slowing of your heart beat.  Calm, serene.

C is for Consciousness:   Or ‘thinking’. Now you have the space in the nervous system to examine your thoughts. Notice that they come and go like clouds on a windy day.  If there is a particular thought or sensation that is troubling you or seems uncomfortable, you have the ability to CHOOSE your reaction instead of unconsciously reacting with habitual patterns of response.

When we practice in this way, even for a few minutes a day, our nervous system slowly begins to rewire and connections of peace and joy are strengthened.  In the pregnant mom, this benefit is wiring the baby’s brain from the very beginning of development.

Helpful Resources and Links

We May Have Different Religions

By Evgeniya Larionova

“We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race”. –Kofi Annan (Ghanian Diplomat, 7th UN Secretary-General, 2001 Nobel Peace Prize winner)

What is exactly childbirth? Some people compare it to a miracle, a heroic act, or a surge of love accompanied by strenuous and intense hours of labor. It’s absolutely one the most unique experiences that can happen to a woman’s body. The time when she is particularly vulnerable and in need of much support and care.

For me, a nurse practitioner student on labor and delivery floor at Massachusetts General Hospital, witnessing childbirth was something that I would never forget. Thrown into the action on a first clinical day, I had mixed feelings of joy, excitement and a slight nervousness. I felt extremely privileged and grateful to witness a natural delivery and I was hoping to help a future-to-be mom during the process.

From the morning report I found out that the woman I was assigned to follow was a recent immigrant from Guatemala who belongs to the indigenous Mayan population. Mayan was the patient’s native language but she was also able to understand Spanish. Her husband had been residing in the United States for 5 years. She moved here a year ago and the family has finally reunited.

My patient was accompanied by a traditional nurse midwife known as comadrona. Comadronas are trusted women leaders in their communities who accepted a spiritual calling. They usually don’t receive any formal training but have years of experience delivering babies. Comadronas regard birth as a natural process and rely heavily on God and prayers. The nurses established a plan of care recognizing my patient’s spirituality and personal support system. The Mayan midwife was present during labor and helped with comfort measures. The nurses also invited a qualified interpreter.

When I entered the room, a nurse and a midwife, along with the comadrona, surrounded the tiny woman. One of the nurses was checking her vital signs and the nurse-midwife was encouraging the woman to take slow deep breaths and relax. The comadrona, wearing a traditional colorful embroidered dress, was gently massaging her back. The room was dimly lit and the scent of fresh lavender floated in the air. My patient’s contractions were increasing steadily and were becoming more regular. This was active labor –she was ready to give birth.

The whole atmosphere struck me. There was no other language present in the room but the language of trust, respect and compassion between these women. I immediately wanted to become connected with what was happening- just by holding this woman’s hand and talking to her.

Reflecting back on this experience, I understood that nurses not only created the environment that made this woman feel comfortable and that was respectful of her spirituality but that the environment also had a significant impact on the labor and birth process. Although childbirth is unique and at the same time a unifying biological event for any woman; providing therapeutic communication, physical, emotional, spiritual care and comfort during the labor process is crucial.

The comadrona shared her knowledge and experience with the American nurses. It was important for my patient to have a traditional midwife near the bedside who comforted and prayed with her. There was interplay between modern and traditional medicine that contributed to the positive outcome. Nurses in this particular case were not only culturally sensitive and able to understand cultural values, beliefs and attitudes of clinicians and patients, but also culturally competent and had knowledge, capacity and skills to provide high-quality care (Jernigan et al, 2016).

It’s essential for any nurse in such a unique, heterogeneous country like the United States to be cognizant and open-minded of cultural diversity and the patient’s cultural perspectives. I will take this amazing experience to my future nursing practice and strive to always treat my patients with dignity, respect and compassion. I also hope to continue to integrate a holistic model and culturally sensitive care into our modern childbirth practices.

This woman gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter whom she named after a nurse taking care of her during her labor and birth.

Additional Resources & References
http://prontointernational.org/
https://he-he.org/en/
http://www.mayamidwifery.org/
http://midwivesformidwives.org/guatemala/
http://www.birth-institute.com/study-abroad-guatemala/
http://www.acog.org/
Jernigan, V. B. B., Hearod, J. B., Tran, K., Norris, K. C., & Buchwald, D. (2016). An Examination of Cultural Competence Training in US Medical Education Guided by the Tool for Assessing Cultural Competence Training.Journal of Health Disparities Research and Practice, 9(3), 150–167.


evgeniya-headshotEvgeniya Larionova received her Bachelors of Science in Nursing from MGH Institute of Health Professions. She is a founder and an Artistic Director of AMGITS Drama&Poetry Club at the Boston Living Center. She is a member of the student Leadership Committee of the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care. Evgeniya is passionate about infectious diseases, community health and integrating holistic care in modern practices.  In her spare time she plays in the Russian theater, enjoy reading, playing the guitar and hiking.

What You Need to Know About Light Bladder Leakage

By Susan A Peck, RNC, MSN-APN

What do a 30 year old pregnant woman, a 67 year old who has 3 children – all delivered vaginally- and a 45 year who has never been pregnant have in common?  They are all experiencing light bladder leakage and each of them feels embarrassed to discuss it.  Bladder leakage is very common and can occur in any woman, of any age, and of any pregnancy status!

Light bladder leakage also known as urinary incontinence, is an involuntary loss of urine.  It is estimated to occur in up to 1 in 4 women.  The two most common types of incontinence include stress incontinence and urge incontinence, but some women can have a combination of both types.

  • Stress incontinence is the loss of urine (small or large amounts) from activities that cause pressure on your bladder such as coughing, running, jumping, or sneezing. It happens when the pelvic floor muscles- that support the bladder- weaken.  The weakened muscles can be caused by pregnancy, previous vaginal births, obesity or being overweight or chronic urinary tract infections.  Sometimes, incontinence may occur without any of these risk factors.
  • Urge incontinence is the frequent sudden need to urinate that often causes bladder contractions and the loss of small or moderate amounts of urine. It happens from bladder irritants such as caffeine or alcohol, excessive hydration, use of certain medications such as diuretics (water pills), or neurological conditions.  In some women, this may be called an overactive bladder.

As a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, I ask my patients about bladder leakage and incontinence- because most of the time they will not mention it to me first. Here are two stories which are very similar to real life cases I see every day.    The first was a 55 year old fitness instructor who has 3 children, all delivered vaginally.  She sees me once a year for her annual well woman exam and this year when I asked her if she had any bladder leakage, she said yes, that it just started about 6 months prior.  She was quite surprised by this because she teaches Pilates as well as Zumba and thought she had a pretty “strong core”.  But lately, in Zumba class she would feel dribbles of urine coming out.  She was embarrassed someone would see it on her pants, so she’s started to wear a pad to class, but hated exercising while wearing one. Patient B is 30 years old, a mother to a 2 year old son born via cesarean section and working full time.  When I asked her about incontinence, she told me that since her son was born, she leaks urine each time she coughs or sneezes and notices that it happens more when she drinks coffee – the caffeine she needs because of her busy life!  She was also quite surprised that the leakage is happening because “she is young and did not have a vaginal birth”.

Both of these women were surprised to know how common bladder leakage is, but very happy to know they are not alone.  During their pelvic examinations, I asked them to each perform a Kegel exercise- by contracting the pelvic floor- so that I could assess their pelvic floor tone.  The Patient A did the Kegel correctly, but had poor tone.  Patient B did not perform the Kegel correctly – instead she was bearing down/pushing out.  I routinely test my patients for their pelvic floor tone and at least 50% of the time, tone is poor, or the exercise is not performed correctly.

Below are some tips to help maintain good pelvic floor muscle tone, which is is critical to prevent or improve bladder leakage.

  • Kegel exercises are the easiest way to strengthen these muscles, as well as pilates exercises which focus on strengthening the core. Here is a link from the Mayo Clinic to assure you’re practicing them correctly.
  • Weight loss is very important in the management of bladder leakage. Even just a 5-10 lb loss can relieve some abdominal pressure against the bladder.
  • Try to reduce exposure to bladder irritants such as caffeine and alcohol and to not let your bladder get too full – even during busy days!
  • For some women, referral to a physical therapist that specializes in pelvic floor physical therapy can also be very helpful. Yes, there are physical therapists that specialize in this important muscle group!  In situations where these conservative measures do not help sufficiently, there are urogynecologist physicians – who are gynecologists who have a sub-specialty in pelvic floor medicine- who may offer other treatments including surgery.

Light bladder leakage is a common complaint among women of all ages.  If you are experiencing this, please mention it to your nurse or health care provider, if they don’t ask about it first.  Many women believe it is a normal part of ageing or a normal consequence of pregnancies or childbirth – but there are ways to help, so do not feel embarrassed or uncomfortable bringing up the subject and asking for help.


RRWJMS20150428

Susan A. Peck, RNC, MSN, APN is a practicing Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. For 20 years, Ms. Peck’s career has focused on women’s health care, first as a labor and delivery staff nurse and for the last 16 years as an Advanced Practice Nurse. She currently works in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology within Summit Medical Group, a large multi-specialty practice group in Northern New Jersey.

Ms. Peck’s areas of expertise include contraception, osteoporosis, general gynecology and prenatal care. She has spoken at several national and state conferences including the AWHONN National Convention.

Human Trafficking in Our Own Backyards

by, Leith Merrow Mullaly, RN, MSN, IBCLC

Learn more about AWHONN’s position on this critical topic.

Slim and obese, tall and short, strikingly beautiful and very plain, black, Asian and white…literally the girls who live next door.  These are the young women I support and with whom I work.  They are all victims of sex trafficking right here in the “good ole U.S.A.”

Most of us think of sex trafficking as something that occurs in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Russia or South America.  Unfortunately it is estimated that there are almost 300,000 women, children and even men who are trafficked for sexual purposes in our own country.  I have been told by multiple young women that there is not a single hotel or motel in the United States where a prostitute cannot be obtained!  This includes the most expensive and elegant big city hotel to the most humble rural establishment.

Prostitution is much more lucrative than drug dealing.  A single pimp can earn more than $1.5 million every six months with 6 women or children in their “stable”.  The chances of being apprehended are fairly small and there is often no one to testify against the pimp.  I have worked closely with a young woman who finally agreed to testify against her pimp only when the F.B.I. put her into hiding.  Two previous potential witnesses had “disappeared” and are assumed to have been killed.  (It is most distressing to learn that this pimp is a husband and father with children in an elite private school.  He is a highly respected businessman who owns several companies and is known for his charitable giving!)

My husband and I serve on one of the few Foundation Boards in our nation that is providing real hands-on help to these young women.  This sheltered home, provided by  the county and located in a small city,  offers not only a safe escape away from their dangerous traffickers/pimps but most importantly, individual and group trauma-based counseling  because many of our residents are suffering from PTSD, dissociative and other personality disorders.  Most of our residents were on the street by age 14!   Many of our young women are pretty badly damaged and not easy to handle initially. They are combative and angry and extremely defensive.  They cannot TRUST!  They express profound shame and state “I feel so dirty”. We take them to free clinics to treat their STDs and obtain medications for their anxiety disorders, which are often severe.  We help them finish their GED certification and work closely with our community college on educational opportunities.  We offer classes on body image.  We try to introduce them to what a healthy male-female relationship should be via “Pizza Night”. One or two married couples, who really care, bring pizza and spend the evening eating and visiting.  Sadly, for some of our young women, this is a totally new experience. Things that you and I accept as common and expected, these women have never known.  We held the very first birthday party for a twenty year old!

One day a young woman decided she really wanted to move forward.  She asked if we thought there was a “thrift shop for prostitutes” where she could donate all her clothes “because some of these outfits were very expensive”! Instead, we had a big bon fire!  Today she is in college, hoping to become a nurse.  As nurses, we have seen and experienced so many facets of life.  We know about child sexual abuse.  Yet, have we really considered what happens to them long term?  Certainly many children receive help, counseling and appropriate adult love and support.   I must confess that I had not consciously made the direct connection between abused children and victims of sex trafficking.  Men in prison have bragged that they can spot a vulnerable young person in less than 2 minutes!  I was truly ignorant about the scope and size of sex trafficking…right here in our own backyard.  This is the impact and outcome for many victims of childhood physical and sexual abuse.  I sincerely hope that I may open your eyes and hearts so that when you see a prostitute, you see a victim and not a criminal.

When you see a young woman “on the street” or in your clinic, L&D or E.D. be alert to signs and indicators of possible human trafficking.  While not all signs prove human sexual trafficking, some of the following should be “red flags”:

  • No stable address & no family, community connections
  • Very unclear past history
  • An overbearing male companion
  • A “beaten-up” body, often with healing scars
  • A number tattoo (pimp’ s ID)
  • Emaciated, starved appearance
  • STD (almost 100%)
  • Scanty clothes (often 2 sizes too small & often animal prints)

When you encounter these kinds of signs we need to at least think “sex traffic victim”.  Yes, victim!  Most, if not all young women and to a lesser degree, young men, end up on the street because they are victims of repeated child sexual abuse at home.  Pimps brag that they can spot a “vulnerable prospect” in 2 to 10 minutes!

As nurses we need to grasp the pervasive nature of this problem…NOT in some far off country, but rather, right here at home…in our own backyards.  I was naïve about all this until I became involved with one of the very few homes in the United States offering a safe haven for these young women.  We work with the state police, the F.B.I. and Homeland Security to get sex- trafficked women off the street.  It is estimated that there are only 100 beds nationally for sex trafficked women over the age of 18 and only another 100 beds for those less than 18 years old.

I’ll be writing more about this topic and what we can all do to help these victims in upcoming AWHONN Connections blogs.

_______

AWHONN believes Nurses are ideally positioned to screen, identify, care for, provide referral services for, and support victims of human trafficking. Therefore, the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) supports improved education and awareness for nurses regarding human trafficking. Learn more about AWHONN’s position on this critical topic.

leithLeith Merrow Mullaly, RN, MSN, IBCLC
Leith Mullaly is a past president of AWHONN and has served at all levels of the organization. Leith has a passion for both nursing and the specialty of Women’s Health and Newborn care. Her focus within AWHONN has always been to mentor future leaders and encourage nurses’ participation in their professional association. She has experience as a Staff Nurse, Staff Educator, MCH Director, Clinical Faculty Member, Certified Lactation Consultant and Author. She is a nationally ranked speaker on topics such as Postpartum Depression, Breastfeeding, the Image of Nursing, Service Excellence, Perinatal Loss and Bereavement, Mature Primiparas. Her interest in care for Victims of Human Sex Trafficking has been a major focus for the past several years.

The Cornucopia of Contraception

by, Susan A Peck, RNC, MSN-APN

In 2000, as a new Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, the provision of contraception to my patients was actually pretty simple.  Most every woman who wanted hormonal contraception used the pill, and there were only a handful of brand name oral contraceptives that we all knew and regularly used.

Shortly thereafter, in 2001, the contraceptive patch and the contraceptive vaginal ring were approved by the FDA.  These other two options quickly became competitors to the oral contraceptive market and gave patients and clinicians more choice, and ways to avoid the sometimes daunting responsibility of daily pill intake.

In the background was the IUD – only ParaGard and Mirena were available at that time.  Still holding on to the worries of the unsafe IUDs of the 1970s and 1980s, most women and clinicians were not supportive of these devices at that time – fortunately that has dramatically changed!  In 2013, the Skyla IUD became available and the Liletta IUD followed in 2015.  And let’s not forget about the contraceptive implant, Implanon (now Nexplanon) that was approved in 2006.

Barrier methods have also always been accessible to women, such as condoms (male and female) and various spermicidal formulations, as well as the diaphragm – did you know the “old” diaphragm is no longer available, but that there is a new one, Caya?

So, when we consider all of these options, and factor in the complexity of some women’s medical conditions or social practices, how can women’s health clinicians consider not only which method might be most acceptable to a woman, but also which method is the safest??  There certainly is a lot to keep track of with all of today’s contraceptive choices.  And if a woman does not use her method correctly, what can a clinician advise?

Fortunately, the CDC has recently published two documents, the 2016 US Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use (MEC) and the 2016 Selected Practice Recommendations for Contraceptive Use (SPR).  The references are invaluable for any clinician who is providing contraception to women.  I have a copy of both at my desk in my office and even after 16 years of practice, I regularly rely on their guidance to make the best, safest recommendations about contraceptive choices for my patients.

I’d like to tell you about two recent patients, for which both references helped guide my decision making. 

First, Jennifer, a 32 year old woman living with multiple sclerosis, has used oral contraceptives successfully for five years.  She enjoys the regular, very light periods she has with the pill, and is a very responsible pill taker – never misses one!  But, this year, when I see her for her annual exam, I learn that her MS has unfortunately taken a turn for the worse.  She is currently in a wheelchair more the 50% of the time and her mobility is greatly limited.  She is very hopeful that this period of immobility will be short lived – there is a new MS drug she is starting next month.  So, I begin to wonder whether an oral contraceptive is the best, safest method for Jennifer.  I use my 2016 MEC App on my phone and determine that due to her immobility related to MS (increased chance of hypercoagulable state) it may be time to change methods.  She and I discuss all options and she decides on the Mirena IUD.  Not only is she pleased with a long term method, she feels more comfortable knowing she is safe – it is one less thing she has to worry about.

My next patient is Mary, a 20 year old healthy college student who tells me that she wants to use the contraceptive implant, Nexplanon.  She is going back to school out of state in two days, and would really like to have the implant inserted today.  In the past, some clinicians have traditionally preferred to insert LARC methods during a woman’s menstrual period to “make sure she is not pregnant”.  However, this is often cumbersome for scheduling and delays an opportunity to provide effective contraception.  So, I use my 2016 SPR and review the section ‘how to be reasonably certain a woman is not pregnant’.  I determine that since Mary has consistently and correctly used condoms since her last period, it is safe to assume she is not pregnant. After receiving her informed consent, I safely place the Nexplanon and she is able to return to college with a highly effective long term method of contraception.

It is important to remember that in nearly all situations the use of a birth control method is safer than an unintended pregnancy. These CDC resources are invaluable guides for clinicians so we can be confident our contraceptive recommendations are based on the latest evidence.  Both the MEC and the SPR are available free – of- charge with the option of downloading an APP for your device.

Tell your colleagues and have these references close at hand!

RRWJMS20150428

Susan A. Peck, RNC, MSN, APN is a practicing Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. For 20 years, Ms. Peck’s career has focused on women’s health care, first as a labor and delivery staff nurse and for the last 16 years as an Advanced Practice Nurse. She currently works in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology within Summit Medical Group, a large multi-specialty practice group in Northern New Jersey.

Ms. Peck’s areas of expertise include contraception, osteoporosis, general gynecology and prenatal care. She has spoken at several national and state conferences including the AWHONN National Convention.

 

 

 

Like Mother, Like Daughter: Working to Wipe Out Diaper Need

by, Jade Miles

Michelle and Corinne

Michelle Delp and daughter Corinne

Helping mothers and babies comes naturally to mother-daughter team Michelle and Corinne Delp. This dynamic duo has made a big impact on families experiencing diaper need in their hometown of Rome, PA.

Michelle Delp, RN, has been a nurse for 30 years, and for the last 7.5 years she has worked as a maternal-child home visiting nurse for Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) of Bradford, Sullivan, and Tioga counties in Pennsylvania. She works with first-time low-income moms beginning in the second trimester of pregnancy through their child’s second birthday. NFP nurses offer the support these women need to deliver healthy babies, become confident parents, and achieve their life goals. Michelle is certified as a childbirth educator, birth and bereavement doula, and lactation counselor.

It’s no wonder that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; Michelle’s daughter Corinne starts nursing school at Arnot Ogden Medical Center this fall. Corinne has had many opportunities to learn from her mother. She shadowed her mother when Michelle was a camp nurse, and they have even found themselves helping out side by side at the scene of several accidents. Corinne’s natural caring instincts and up-close-and-personal experiences with her mom have put her on the path to becoming a nurse.

Before graduating from North Rome Christian School this past spring, Corinne needed to complete a senior year service project. Driven by her love for babies and children, Corrine—who also works as a nanny—chose to organize a diaper drive for the Endless Mountain Pregnancy Care Center (EMPCC) in Towanda, PA. She called it “Bottoms Up for EMPCC.”

delp photo 1Corinne first learned of EMPCC when they came to speak at her church and became increasingly familiar with the organization by serving at their yearly fundraising banquets. Knowing that EMPCC is frequently in short supply of diapers and moms can’t use food stamps to pay for them, Corinne felt certain that a diaper drive would be perfect for her project and would also serve a great need in the community. She fulfilled her 30-hour requirement while working tirelessly to market and organize the drive, as well as collect, transport, and stock diaper donations at EMPCC.

They advertised the diaper drive on Facebook for just under a month, and word soon spread about the event. The volume of donations exceeded Corinne’s expectations: The grand total came to 6,212 diapers; they had also had several people donate wipes. Michelle credits their success to the true sense of community in her small town.

Another clever idea? Add a little incentive to encourage folks to donate. Michelle and Corinne took advantage of a Target promotion and created a Target registry with diapers in a variety of sizes and also some wipes to help people reach the free shipping total. The promotion the first week was to purchase three packs of diapers and receive a $20 gift card; the second week, it as a $30 gift card with a purchase of two bulk packs or a $10 gift card with the purchase of two giant packs.

delp photo 3All items were delivered to Michelle and Corinne’s home, and they personally delivered everything to EMPCC. Both ladies said that hearing the UPS truck come by was always exciting because it signaled the arrival of more donations. In fact, North Rome Christian School administrator and EMPCC board member Lee Ann Carmichael decided to request that more shelves be built to accommodate the influx of diapers at EMPCC. At the end of the drive, Corinne’s senior class of 10 students filled those shelves to the brim, all as a result of the kindness and generosity of their friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

The experience left a lasting impression on this mother-daughter pair, and they were both touched to see people coming together to make a difference. “People are generous, even when they don’t have enough for themselves,” said Michelle, referring to several of her clients from NFP who wanted to donate leftover diapers from their children as they had changed sizes (Note: Most banks will accept loose diapers or open packs; just call ahead to ask).

“I learned that being able to reach out and communicate with others outside of my normal social circle is an excellent skill to develop,” said Corinne. “I live in a community that is very supportive of others’ endeavors. It’s beautiful to see a large number of people rally behind a cause.”

 Corinne and Michelle’s diaper donations are just one example of what nurses are doing to end diaper need—and their efforts will count toward our 2016 Healthy Mom&Baby Diaper Drive goal of 250,000 diapers donated. We want to hear your story, too! Go online to AWHONN.org/diaperdrive to let us know what you’re doing to help the 1 in 3 families who experience diaper need.

For more information on how you can start a diaper drive in your community, contact Healthy Mom&Baby Diaper Drive consultants Jade Miles (jmiles@awhonn.org) and Heather Quaile (hquaile@awhonn.org).

Jade HeadshotJade K. Miles, BA, BSN, RN, is a nurse consultant for the Healthy Mom&Baby Diaper Drive and lives in Raleigh, NC.