From Teen Mom to Maternity Department Leader
When Tammy Turner got pregnant at age 16, her family tried to be supportive. Deep down, however, she could feel their disappointment.
“The pattern in our family was clear—once you have a baby, you’re going to keep on having babies,” Tammy recalled. “Your life was over.”
Tammy’s life wasn’t over. She made a vow: “My life would not be determined by one moment in time.” She finished high school and went on to earn degrees in nursing and leadership. Her hard work and focus enabled her to become the Manager of Perinatal Services at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital.
And the little girl she gave birth to 37 years ago? She grew up to be Dr. Tasha Dixon, a family medicine physician at the nearby MLK Outpatient Center operated by Los Angeles County.
It is that experience—of overcoming poverty, of creating opportunities—that makes Tammy such a compelling advocate for the mothers she cares for.
“I understand them. I connect with them,” says Tammy. “Some of them have never heard someone say, ‘I see you, I believe in you, you can do this.’ This can be life-altering for them.”
"It doesn’t matter where you’re from—you still deserve kind, compassionate, and high-quality care. Motherhood is hard work. If we can provide encouragement to our patients that they can do this—and so much more—it can have a deep impact on their lives.”—Tammy Turner, Manager of Perinatal Services at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital
Moms at risk
South LA has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in all of Los Angeles County—44 percent of girls under the age of 18 will become mothers here.
Motherhood in general is more dangerous in South Los Angeles, due to decades of economic, social, and educational neglect. Lack of access to care, healthy food housing, and other challenges make a healthy birth less likely. As a result, women in South LA are more likely to have low-birth-weight babies than those in almost any other part of the county.
If they are African American, the statistics are worse: 13 percent of Black babies die in South LA from a variety of causes, a rate two times higher than all other racial groups.
Defying the odds
Like many of her patients, Tammy grew up poor. Her mother shucked oysters in a Louisiana factory and worked as a cashier in a Dallas grocery store. The family needed public assistance to supplement her mother’s wages. They lived in an underserved neighborhood notorious for its debilitating battles over desegregation. Many of Tammy’s peers went to jail or got involved in drugs.
But Tammy excelled in school. She had a strong role model: Her mother, despite being unschooled herself, fiercely promoted education as the path out of poverty.
Then Tammy became pregnant. Her dreams of becoming a lawyer crumbled. Her ambition for a better life did not. The hardest phase of her life was about to begin.
“So much at stake”
Tammy finished high school with help from her grandmother, who provided childcare to her infant daughter. She enrolled in junior college. The goal was now more practical: an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. Tammy took classes and squeezed in work at the same Dallas grocery store where her mother was.
“It was a really tough time—it was all school or work,” she recalls. “But my life and the life of my daughter depended on it. There was so much at stake.”
To her surprise, she loved nursing. At the age of 19 she took a job at Dallas’s Parkland Memorial Hospital, which, at the time, had one of the busiest maternity departments the country. She found a tiny apartment and slept on a donated bunk bed with her daughter. She worked nights so she could be at home during the day to pour the same passion for education and hard work into her little girl. She advanced in her career while earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a master’s degree at night.
“There were plenty of times where I thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” Tammy says. “But I would snap out of it because I really didn’t have a choice.”
When Tammy’s daughter graduated medical school and received an appointment in California, Tammy followed her. MLKCH was one of the first places she applied.
Today she inspires new mothers, not just with her considerable healthcare experience, but with her belief that the future has yet to be written.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from—you still deserve kind, compassionate, and high-quality care,” Tammy says. “Motherhood is hard work. If we can provide encouragement to our patients that they can do this—and so much more—it can have a deep impact on their lives.”
How MLKCH supports mothers
MLKCH has one of the lowest rates of C-sections in the state—making it one of the safest places to give birth in California. Fewer C-sections means a reduced risk of complications and an increased chance of health for both mom and baby. Our low rate is due in part to having both a doctor and a registered nurse-midwife on staff around the clock—so they can respond in real time to every need a mother may have during labor.
In addition to this innovative staffing structure, the hospital supports healthy births and babies by following other World Health Organization best practices, including skin-to-skin time for mom and baby immediately following birth and encouraging breastfeeding. It also participates in First 5 LA’s “Welcome Baby Program,” which offers free visits from a registered nurse and parent coaching to new parents at home.