Doctor seeks MORE for Moms

Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Ford and son Nicholas

Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Ford and son Nicholas

DeKalb County District Director of Public Health Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Ford is a woman who precisely plans every aspect of her life. She also has a passion for young moms and wants to provide support to those moms and their infants. She has drawn from personal experience of the uncertainties of childbirth and single motherhood in creating a program to help others.

As a young, full-time pediatrician, Ford was expecting her first child and was about to be a single mother. She described herself, as well as other doctors, as a control freak. In addition to practicing medicine, Ford was attending night classes while pursuing her MBA and was pregnant. But she had her life under control. She had planned every detail of her delivery and the days and nights following.

Ford’s plan was to deliver her child in the hospital where she was working. She had picked her specific room—a corner room with more privacy. Ford said she had planned who would be with her during her delivery, who would be with her during her recovery and who would be with her when she brought her new bundle of joy home. She had the perfect plan, so she thought. When recalling this, Ford chuckled and said “When you plan, God laughs”. 

However, all of those plans for the birth of her first child did not play out the way she thought they would. Ford’s water broke unexpectedly while she was at home, in bed and alone. She said her first inclination was to change the linens on her bed so she would return home to a clean home. That is an example of how perfect Ford expected and wanted things to be.

The person Ford had planned to be with her during her delivery wasn’t available on short notice so she called on her grandmother to be with her. 

After her initial examination at the hospital, Ford was told that her child was in distress, that she had a compromised delivery and needed an immediate C-section. She asked the attendants to find her grandmother, who was in the dining area. Ford said her grandmother scrubbed up and off they went to the operating room. The scenario was far from what Ford had so meticulously planned.

Ultimately, everything turned out well for Ford and her son Nicholas. Reflecting on the situation Ford said she asked herself what she really needed at that time. The answer to her own question was that she needed her mother.

Fast forward to 2005, when Ford became district director of the DeKalb County Board of Health. She was reviewing infant mortality rates and discovered what she referred to as “a staggering difference” between the rates reported by the cities of Dunwoody and Lithonia. The mortality rate for moms in the Lithonia area was 13.5 percent—compared to a national average of 5-6 percent, which was also the rate in the Dunwoody area.

Around that same time, DeKalb Commissioner Larry Johnson shared with Ford that he had funding available to address infant mortality rates and that he wanted a program designed with a goal of reducing infant mortalities county-wide. Ford accepted the challenge and told Johnson she could handle the request. This was the beginning of the M.O.R.E (Mothers Offering Resources and Education) Moms program. M.O.R.E. matches young mothers with trained resource moms who help before, during and after pregnancy

Six women were initially recruited as “moms” to serve as mentors and provide support to young mothers. The message conveyed to expectant mothers was that the “moms” would help during, and after, their pregnancies with issues such as health care for the new moms and their infants, healthy eating, breastfeeding, parenting skills and even how to properly use a child safety seat.

For the next several years, the M.O.R.E. program flourished under Ford’s guidance with its limited budget and staff.

At the eight-year celebration of M.O.R.E., Ford had a chance encounter with pregnant 13-year old who was attending the event. The young woman asked Ford, “Does it hurt to have a baby? Ford said she replied with “Yes! Have you had any classes or anything?” “No ma’am,” the soon-to-be mom replied, “I’m in a girl’s home.” Ford asked who would be with her when she had her baby. The girl replied she would be alone. “That ripped me to shreds,” Ford said.

Ford’s chance encounter with this young lady was the catalyst to include more services to young mothers and Ford set up training programs for the ‘moms’ to act as doulas who can assist the expectant mothers during their delivery. 

Most of the women who receive assistance through the M.O.R.E. program are single teens, Ford said and “don’t have any concept of what childbirth is like.”

As the M.O.R.E. program continued to expand its services, it morphed into a more comprehensive program that provides self-esteem training, language skills, job training and support services so the young mothers can continue their educational pursuits. Ford said one former participant now has her Ph.D. and often attends meetings presented by M.O.R.E. to encourage the mothers to take advantage of the program and to continue to pursue their dreams and careers.

Ford hopes the next expansion of the M.O.R.E. program will be to have a residential facility where young mothers can come for additional life-skills training. She said having a facility would be a “really, really big component.”

The program has helped more than 5,000 mothers and babies since its inception and now serves more than 1,000 moms with an annual budget of $250,000. Ford plans to ask DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond for a portion of DeKalb’s SPLOST funds to increase the services provided and hopefully find a physical facility. “This is my baby; M.O.R.E. Moms is my baby, everybody knows it,” Ford said.

She credits the success of the program to the women who serve as surrogate moms. “The women on our team are so phenomenal,” she said.


A Mother’s Day Message:

“Wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to all those who take on the toughest yet most rewarding responsibility on earth, and to the villages that support us—most especially my wonderful M.O.R.E. Moms!  I am so proud of both the women that join the program, and of our team that assists them in every imaginable way. Though I love what I do at DeKalb Board of Health, being a mother is the job I love the most, and I am grateful to have a program that does so much to support both mothers and children.” 

– Wishing you peace and pampering (and rest),

     Nick’s Mom aka Elizabeth Ford, MD, MBA, District health director/CEO DeKalb County Board of Health



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