5 Questions with: Emily Hershenson

This post is the first installment in a new blog series where we pose five questions on issues related to maternal and infant care for vulnerable populations to health professionals, community advocates, mothers and other important voices. Emily Hershenson, an independently licensed clinical social worker who is in private practice as a psychotherapist in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, shares thoughts on maternal mental health.

1. How did you join the health care field and what inspired you to focus on mental health and psychoanalysis?

I went to graduate school for social work after forays into two very different fields: politics and the performing arts. I loved working in both, but I knew I wanted to go to social work school and specifically become a psychotherapist because of my own life experiences. I think there are usually personal reasons we choose the work we do; that certainly is the case for me. But psychotherapy is such a hopeful endeavor. The therapist and patient work together to gain a greater understanding of the patient’s life with the goal of relieving suffering and making life ultimately more meaningful. It can be so transformative. It’s a privilege to do the work I do. 

2. What do you think are the major maternal mental health concerns that are affecting women of color and low-income women?

I think the biggest maternal mental health concern can be summed up with one phrase: access to care. As an example, there’s a higher incidence of Postpartum Depression (PPD) among low-income and minority women. Often, it’s not even diagnosed among these women. If it is correctly diagnosed, a realistic treatment plan cannot often be implemented. Why? Because of access to care. If you’ve got two kids at home already, a newborn and you’ve been diagnosed with PPD, when are you going to see a psychotherapist weekly? Who is going to watch your kids? How are you going to get to the therapist’s office? How are you going to pay your co-pay? (Or, a more accurate question: how can you find a therapist with availability who also accepts your insurance?)

Further complicating the situation are language and cultural barriers to care. In many communities, mothers feel ostracized if they’re having a tough time after the baby arrives. Regrettably, there is still such stigma around mental health challenges, especially for new mothers. Many moms who would benefit from PPD treatment don’t even know there is help out there. They may not even have a name for what they’re experiencing. 

3. What are some possible solutions that can help resolve these issues?

There are no easy solutions, of course. I think JB-LF is doing great work. It’s going be the efforts of organizations that are going to make a difference–whether through direct funding, community partnerships, or campaigns raising awareness about the issues. I think the more maternal mental health is discussed openly, the less shame moms will feel in reaching out for help.

I had very difficult postpartum experiences after each of my children was born. It was hard, but I was relieved when I met other moms who had similarly tough times. I was lucky. I had the resources and fantastic support to get the help I needed. I think if more people are willing to open up and share their stories, it can be powerful and de-stigmatizing. 

4. What are some ways that women can handle or deal with postpartum depression at home?

If you suspect you have PPD or are experiencing any changes in your mood, talk to your doctor or RN right away. Ask for their help in getting help. It can be too overwhelming to have to coordinate treatment on your own. If you can, go walk with your baby in a carrier or a stroller; breathe some fresh air. Eat well. Snack on peanut butter, cheese, apple slices. Drink lots of water. Keep in contact with friends and family. Don’t isolate yourself. Remember that you’re not alone.

5. What are some resources, outside of hospitals, that low-income women can utilize that can provide support?

Often times, health care providers tell moms that they’re not alone and that the mental health challenges they are facing are not their fault and that, with help, they can be well again. This may seem like an empty sentiment if you’re someone without access to resources.

Everyone should know about Postpartum Support International. It’s a very important resource for postpartum mothers and their families: https://www.postpartum.net/. The organization is dedicated to helping women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PPD is the most common one) and they offer reliable support and information for moms and families (and professionals too). They have a help line–which is not a crisis line–as well: 1-800-944-4473.  On their website, you can find everything from online support meetings and local resources. Every new mom should visit their website at least once. They are doing important work. 

Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation Announces $25K Award to Children’s National

Inaugural Prize for Prenatal Innovation Award Will Support Research Project to Improve Mental Health in Pregnancy for Low-Income Black Women in Washington, DC


Jennifer Myers
703-462-2336, jmyers@jb-lf.org

Morgan McKean
251-421-1111, mmckean2@childrensnational.org

ARLINGTON, VA, SEPT. 4, 2019 – The Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation (JB-LF) is pleased to announce Children’s National as the winner of the inaugural Prize for Prenatal Innovation, which comes with an award of $25,000. The check will be awarded to Dr. Catherine Limperopoulos by JB-LF Founder Neal Lawson and Executive Director Jennifer Myers on Friday, Sept. 6 at 12pm at Children’s National, located at 111 Michigan Ave. NW. The check awarding event, in the hospital’s Costco Wholesale Atrium, is open to press; please RSVP to info@jb-lf.org.

JB-LF launched the Prize to uncover and support forward-thinking solutions that have the potential to improve access to prenatal care for disadvantaged women in the greater Washington, DC region. This inaugural award will support a citywide research project in Washington, DC, led by Dr. Limperopoulos to develop and implement strategies that reduce obstacles to screening for stress, depression, and anxiety in pregnancy and to provide necessary follow-up resources tailored for low-income black perinatal women.

Stress, depression, and anxiety are the most common complications of pregnancy, affecting up to 25% of women in the prenatal period and/or first postpartum year. For low-income black women, stark disparities cause an even greater burden, with 40% experiencing maternal distress.

The funds provided by JB-LF to Children’s National will specifically underwrite the work of the study’s Stakeholder Engagement Core (SEC), chaired by Robyn Russell and Patricia Quinn, fellows of the DC-Primary Care Association. The SEC will engage black pregnant women, community advocates and clinicians, and representatives from DC Health to adapt and refine proposed interventions. They will also monitor enrollment and follow-up, and disseminate local implementation of the study’s findings. The SEC’s role will ensure community voices strongly inform the research project’s final structure.

“Children’s National is honored to receive the inaugural Jennifer Bush-Lawson Prize for Prenatal Innovation. As a scientist focused on the developing brain, I see how unhealthy environments and maternal stress affect a child’s brain development, even before birth. By connecting with pregnant mothers and empowering them with tools to reduce their own stress and anxiety, we can help their babies have the best possible start to life. We are deeply grateful to the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation for partnering with us to create a citywide network that is strongly informed by community voices,” said Catherine Limperopoulos, PhD, Director and Principal Investigator of the Advanced Pediatric Brain Imaging Research Laboratory, the Center for the Developing Brain; Vice-Chair of Research in Radiology and Co-Director of Research in Newborn Medicine.

“We launched the Prize for Prenatal Innovation because too many vulnerable women don’t receive the type and level of care they need during pregnancy, and we wanted to make a difference. We’re incredibly pleased to partner with Children’s National to support this citywide research project, which could help many women and families now and in years to come,” said Neal Lawson, founder and chair of the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation.

About the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation

Established in honor of Jenn Lawson, who lost her life in 2014, the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, serves economically vulnerable mothers and infants by working to increase access to high-quality maternal and infant care and support. Jennifer was a loving, dedicated mother of three, driven to advocacy after receiving high-quality care during her own complicated pregnancies. JB-LF seeks to embody her generous spirit by giving all mothers and newborns the means to thrive. More information is available at www.jb-lf.org and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

About Children’s National

Children’s National Health System, based in Washington, D.C., has served the nation’s children since 1870. Children’s National is the nation’s No. 6 pediatric hospital and, for the third straight year, is ranked No. 1 in newborn care, as well as ranked in all specialties evaluated by U.S. News & World Report. It has been designated two times as a Magnet® hospital, a designation given to hospitals that demonstrate the highest standards of nursing and patient care delivery. This pediatric academic health system offers expert care through a convenient, community-based primary care network and specialty outpatient centers in the D.C. Metropolitan area, including the Maryland suburbs and Northern Virginia. Home to the Children’s Research Institute and the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, Children’s National is the seventh-highest NIH-funded children’s hospital in the nation. Children’s National is recognized for its expertise and innovation in pediatric care and as a strong voice for children through advocacy at the local, regional and national levels.  For more information, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Race, Bias, and Equity in Prenatal Care: No Pregnant Woman is the Same

Race, Bias, and Equity in Prenatal Care: No Pregnant Woman is the Same
June 26, 2019
By Amanda King, Wilson Center

It’s disturbing to see the data going in the wrong direction and it means we have to go beyond what we’ve been doing, said Terri D. Wright, Vice President of Programs and Community at the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation at a recent event on equitable prenatal care in the United States hosted by The Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation and the American Medical Association at Duke University in DC. “We can’t do the same things the same way and expect a different outcome,” she said. “We’ve got to do something different.” …

Read the full post here: https://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2019/06/race-bias-equity-prenatal-care-pregnant-woman/

D.C. Finally Establishes a Committee to Address Maternal Deaths (Washington City Paper)

Washington City Paper reporter Kayla Randall’s latest piece on DC’s newly formed maternal mortality task force shares follow-up on the conversations and connections made at JB-LF’s Feb. 13 event on maternal mortality, co-hosted by Huge Inc. and Duke in DC, including this one:

“At a panel on maternal health this February, [Dorie] Nolt stood up and told her story as a diverse room full of women thanked her for sharing it. A staffer at Councilmember Allen’s office was present at the panel, and approached Nolt about possibly serving as a lived-experience committee member. But she says the mayor’s office told her that she didn’t fit the description in the legislation because she hadn’t lost a loved one to maternal mortality.”

Read the full article, and watch Dorie sharing her story at our event here:


Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation Opens Applications for Inaugural $25K Prize for Prenatal Innovation


ARLINGTON, VA, DECEMBER 14, 2018 – The Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation (JB-LF) announces that applications are now open for the inaugural $25,000 Prize for Prenatal Innovation at JB-LF.org/Prize.

More than one-third of births in Washington, DC, receive no prenatal care in the first trimester, according to a recent report from the city’s Department of Health. That number is not much better in neighboring Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, where 29-30% of women didn’t receive prenatal care during their first trimesters. In Arlington County, VA, 1 in 5 births in the county lacked care in the first trimester — a number that is worse than the state average.

The first trimester can be a critical time for doctors to catch chronic health conditions of the mother that could affect the health of both mom and baby. Too many economically vulnerable moms also miss prenatal appointments in the second and third trimesters because of lack of leave or flexibility with work, childcare concerns or problems with transportation. JB-LF, which works to increase access to pre- and post-natal care for economically vulnerable moms and their babies, wants to change that.

By launching this inaugural $25,000 Prize for Prenatal Innovation, the Foundation seeks to uncover and support forward-thinking solutions that have the potential to improve access to prenatal care for disadvantaged women in the greater Washington, DC region.

Who Should Apply

JB-LF welcomes applications from any nonprofit, government or for-profit entity that has an innovative or creative project targeting prenatal care for economically disadvantaged women in the DC area, with a preference for projects that are measurable and have the potential to scale. We see the Virginia, Maryland and DC region as an incubator for these innovative ideas, and by tracking the effectiveness of any project or intervention funded by the prize, our goal is to be able to share successes with other cities and regions tackling similar issues.

“Our country’s maternal health and mortality crisis shows that the way we’re delivering prenatal care right now, especially for economically vulnerable women, simply isn’t working well enough. We need to fund and test new and innovative ideas and then share those solutions broadly. That’s exactly what this Prize seeks to do,” said Neal Lawson, founder and chair of the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation.


Applications are now open for the Prize and the deadline to apply is February 28, 2019. Our three-judge panel will then review applications in March and April 2019, with finalists expected to be announced in early May 2019 and a winner in late May/early June 2019. (Timeline subject to change based on the number of applications received.)

Judges’ Committee

Applications will be reviewed by a three-person panel of experts and practitioners. They are:

Sarahn Wheeler

Dr. Sarahn M. Wheeler is a practicing maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Duke University Medical Center. Dr. Wheeler was born and raised in Mt. Laurel, NJ. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University. She completed medical school at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine. Dr. Wheeler went on to residency training in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Wheeler completed her maternal-fetal medicine sup-specialty training at Duke University in June of 2016.

Dr. Wheeler currently serves as Assistant Professor in the Duke University School of Medicine. In this role, Dr. Wheeler is both a practicing clinician and research faculty. in her clinical role, Dr. Wheeler is the director of Duke’s Prematurity Prevention Program, a specialty clinic that is geared for women with risk factors for preterm birth.  In her research role, Dr. Wheeler has published several peer-reviewed articles on topics ranging from fetal brain injury to vaccination during pregnancy. Dr. Wheeler’s current research focus is on race disparities in preterm birth. She is actively involved in research to develop interventions to improve utilization of preterm birth prevention therapies.

Dr. Wheeler also serves as the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the OB/GYN department.  In this role she leads efforts to ensure an inclusive environment for the diverse patients, faculty, staff and trainees within Duke OB/GYN.

Toni G. Verstandig

Toni G. Verstandig is currently the Chair of the Children’s Hospital Foundation Board and the Executive Vice President at The S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. From November 1994 until January 2001, Ms. Verstandig served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department. In this capacity, she directed and coordinated U.S. bilateral relations and overall policy developments concerning Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, as well as U.S. economic and commercial policies in the Middle East.

Ms. Verstandig worked directly with the Secretary of State and the Special Middle East Coordinator as a member of the Peace Team where she participated in bilateral and multilateral Middle East peace negotiations. She has a particular expertise in economic, civil affairs and water issues. She also chaired the bilateral Committees on Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Prior to joining the Peace Team, Ms. Verstandig served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula, where she coordinated the Bureau’s relations with the congress. In that capacity, she was also responsible for the development and management of U.S. bilateral relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen.

She also served for 17 years as senior staff to the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives where she specialized in international terrorism policy, aviation security issues and U.S. military assistance programs.

Ms. Verstandig is a graduate of Boston University and Stephens College, and also holds an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Seton Hill College. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She serves on the Board and Executive Committee of Children’s National Medical Center, the Board of the University of Denver Korbel School for International Affairs, the National Advisory Board for the Catholic Center for the Study of the Holocaust, the Board of Trustees of the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center, and of the Center for Global Development. Ms. Verstandig is married, and they have one child.

Terri D. Wright

Terri D. Wright, PhD, MPH, is the Vice President for Program and Community at the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation. She has employed her extensive leadership skills and expertise advancing equity and public health through policy, practice, and management in local and national government, philanthropic and non-profit organizations throughout her career, with a specific interest in maternal and infant health.

She served as the first executive director of The Steve Fund, and as director of both the Center for Public Health Policy and the Center for School, Health and Education at the American Public Health Association (APHA). She also served as program director for health policy at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation for 12 years, where she developed and reviewed the Foundation’s health programming priorities and initiatives, evaluated and recommended proposals for funding, and administered projects and initiatives. She assisted in public policy funding and related policy program development, as well as provided leadership to the Foundation’s policy programming for systemic change.

Prior to the Kellogg Foundation, Dr. Wright was maternal and child health director and bureau chief for Child and Family Services at the Michigan Department of Community Health. In that role, she managed policy, programs, and resources with the goal of reducing preventable maternal, infant, and child morbidity and mortality through policy and programming in Michigan. She improved the availability and utilization of community-based social support programs for positive pregnancy outcomes and secured federal waivers to demonstrate innovative approaches to reducing unplanned pregnancies and improving pregnancy outcomes.

She has also served as the women’s health director for the Family Health Section in the Georgia Division of Public Health, where she directed statewide program policies, practices and budgets for improving the access and quality of family planning and maternal and infant care services to families in rural and urban communities.

Dr. Wright holds a master’s and a doctorate degree from the University of Michigan, and a bachelor’s degree in community and school health from the City University of New York. She is an active member of APHA and was honored with their 2018 Executive Director Citation, and is a former member of the Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on the Promotion of Health Equity and the Elimination of Health Disparities. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband.

Additional Information

More information about eligibility and criteria, as well as the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation, is available at JB-LF.org/Prize.

About the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation

Established in honor of Jenn Lawson, who lost her life in 2014, the Jennifer Bush-Lawson Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, serves economically vulnerable mothers and infants by working to increase access to high-quality maternal and infant health care and support. Jennifer was a loving, dedicated mother of three, driven to advocacy after receiving high-quality care during her own complicated pregnancies. JB-LF seeks to embody her generous spirit by giving all mothers and newborns the means to thrive.