On July 16 and 17, Boston University hosted “Bridging the Chasm between Pregnancy and Women’s Health over the Life Course,” an innovative national conference held to address the stark chasm in maternal mortality rates in the U.S., where Black women die from pregnancy and childbirth complications at three times the rate of White women.
Conference co-organizers Dr. Lois McCloskey, associate professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH), and Dr. Judith Bernstein, professor of community health sciences at BUSPH, used improvisation and storytelling to bring together 75 women with diverse backgrounds and professions. Participants included mothers who experienced complicated pregnancies, clinicians, researchers, health system innovators, policymakers, and private sector advocates.
The conference had two aims: to launch a cross-sector network with patients’ voices at the center, and to co-create a national agenda to close gaps in care, especially for the prevention of diabetes. Participants established relationships through improvisational theater and sharing stories from data and life experience, and then used these stories to develop solutions to improve the maternal care experience.
“There is nothing like storytelling from the heart that pulls people out of their protective shells or silos or constricted ways of seeing the world,” Dr. McCloskey said. “Stories engender empathy, and empathy generates creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.”
For further action, the online “Bridging the Chasm” portal is a place where conference participants and other stakeholders can convene virtually and take action on the proposals that seem the most promising for research, policy, and community efforts.