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FEBRUARY 5, 2024
Good morning, Fearless readers:

Whew. We made it through an unusually snowy, then mucky, January.

Welcome to Black History Month! Award-winning historian Keisha N. Blain just shared eight vital books, all written by women, to read during Black History Month.

Be sure to read all of the briefs in our headlines section. There were many bills introduced last week at the Statehouse that could disproportionately affect Iowa women. We want to make sure you remain in-the-know.

In this week’s Fearless e-newsletter, you will find:

  • A news story about the Iowa chapter of Postpartum Support International receiving National Institutes of Health funding to start peer support groups throughout the state.
  • An in-depth profile of Abigail Johnson, a teenager from Blue Grass, Iowa, who started a tech nonprofit to teach veterans basic computer skills.
  • In the headlines: Deborah Turner, a Mason City native, pioneering doctor and the national president of the League of Women Voters, died Jan. 28 in Des Moines. She was a speaker for one of our Fearless Focus events last year.
  • A break from the news: Is it possible that the Lockheed 10-E Electra flown by Amelia Earhart in 1937 has been located in the Pacific?
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

New postpartum support groups throughout Iowa aim to fill gaps in care
Adobe Stock image.
The Iowa chapter of Postpartum Support International received funding from the National Institutes of Health that will be used to create postpartum support groups throughout the state in 2024 and beyond.

Advocates said this funding – and the groups it will be used to create – will help not only babies and parents, but also the economy. Untreated perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, also known as PMADs, cost the United States approximately $14 billion annually, or $31,800 per mother-baby pair, according to Brittney Haskins, chair of the Iowa chapter of Postpartum Support International.

“If you’re suffering from mental health issues with no access to medication, therapy or other proven treatment options, you’re more likely to call into work and less likely to attend your baby’s well-child visits, which could result in higher health care costs down the line,” Haskins said.

The NIH funding comes at a critical time for Iowa families, as maternal mortality has continued to rise in Iowa while birthing units, especially in rural areas, have been closing.

The new postpartum support groups will particularly target vulnerable Iowa populations – rural families, NICU families, Black families, refugee families and more, Iowa PSI leaders told Fearless.

The Iowa PSI just finished recruiting postpartum group leaders from throughout the state. These leaders will be paid. Haskins said the leader training will take place in March, with the groups hosting their first meetups in May or June 2024. Each group will receive an annual stipend.

Misconceptions persist about the postpartum period. It’s easy to assume that once a baby is out and healthy, all is well with the mom, too. But more than half of maternal deaths in the United States, 52%, occur after the birth. Suicide is the No. 1 cause of maternal death in the first year postpartum, according to the Iowa chapter of PSI.

There are considerable challenges for new parents today, said Haskins, who was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety six weeks after the birth of her child. That is a big part of what led her to the Iowa chapter of PSI. She started as a board member and has been its chair since October 2022.

Haskins said PSI also provides resources for medical professionals, so that obstetricians and midwives and others can, for example, speak to a perinatal psychiatrist to better understand how to handle a specific patient’s care.

Ashleigh Wiederin, outreach coordinator for St. Anthony Birth Place in Carroll, Iowa, is a board member of the Iowa chapter of PSI and has been leading a postpartum support group in Carroll that will be a blueprint for the new groups.

Wiederin said that she shadowed Haskins for a day when she first started at St. Anthony and that they’ve stayed connected professionally since. St. Anthony used state grant money to focus on postpartum support. That program had broadened since starting out as a breastfeeding support group, she said. The idea was to help foster connections among families who were likely to see one another regularly in their small communities.

“What happened from there was beyond what we even imagined,” Wiederin said. “We started an evening support group because mothers were returning to work and they were like, ‘These are my friends and I want to still be able to see them.’”

The program has grown to over 700 visits a year.

Carroll is something of an oasis in a western Iowa obstetrician desert. Women who live as far as 45 miles away might choose to get care there instead of traveling to Des Moines or Omaha, Neb. In her day job, Wiederin works with each family on what options might best serve their unique needs, including connecting with a primary care provider closer to home after delivery.

Connection is one of the near-universal needs, of course. But facilitating it is not easy. Challenges rural mothers confront in connecting include transportation access, internet access, and second- and third-shift work hours, Wiederin said.

When challenges can be overcome and a group clicks, she said, the results can be inspiring.

She gave an example of a mother who came to the group with her breast pump she was having trouble operating. Other women surrounded her, leafing through the pamphlet for the pump and searching online.

“That mom wasn’t going to leave without an answer,” Wiederin said.

That sort of camaraderie is something she and PSI hope to replicate in other locations: “I want to be able to be that contact person for those who are starting and saying, ‘OK, here’s maybe something you can try.’”

Abigail Johnson runs a tech nonprofit to teach veterans basic computer skills
Abigail Johnson. Photo illustration by Kate Meyer.
Abigail Johnson is the founder and CEO of Veterans Tech Support, which offers classes in technology basics to military veterans in eastern Iowa. Johnson started the nonprofit in 2021, when she was 14 years old. Technology has been a part of her life since she was a small child, playing video games while sitting on a parent’s lap. Veterans have also always been a part of Johnson’s life – her grandfather lost his leg during the Vietnam War. Two years ago, Johnson saw a need to help older veterans gain computer skills and realized that she could do something about it. A grant helped get Veterans Tech Support off the ground, and now classes are offered regularly in the Scott County area. Johnson was born in Davenport and lives in Blue Grass, Iowa, just west of the Quad Cities. Now 16, Johnson has plans for Veterans Tech Support to grow, and she’s looking ahead toward the next moves in her own education and professional careers. She is a junior at North High School in Davenport and also takes classes at Eastern Iowa Community Colleges.

The following story has been formatted to be entirely in her words, and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

I’ve sort of always had technology around me, whether it was just playing video games with my parents or watching TV. Some of my earliest memories of hanging out with my parents are playing video games on their computer on their laps, or watching my parents do whatever they were doing on the computer.

I was 5 when I got my first computer because I kept stealing theirs for games. Really, I bonded a lot of the time with my parents when we would play video games together, and it would be great. They gave me a lot of what I thought at the time were just fun games, but then later learned were coding classes that they would show me and have me play. I’ve always been learning, even if I thought I was playing.

I really liked the social aspect of being able to do that and then show my parents, “Look! I did this in this game!” I really liked the amusement of it too. It felt like I was able to do something fun on my own without having to always have my parents’ assistance. So it gave me a little bit of independence, but it was mostly just me loving playing video games.

I was given less restricted internet access as a child because my parents trusted me. They knew that I wouldn’t do dumb things. We were always in the same room together whenever I was playing on my computers and stuff, but that’s just because we had a big shared office. It was also the living room. I love my parents. They’re the absolute best. I wouldn’t be anywhere at all without them, without the resources they’ve given me – not only with giving me things that I thought were fun video games, but were actually coding exercises – but also they signed me up for plenty of outside technology classes, like 212 STEAM Labs.


My grandfather is a 100% disabled, combat-wounded Vietnam veteran. He lost his leg in Vietnam. That happened around 1968. I have my grandpa, I have other family members that have been in the military and are in the military. He volunteered to be in the war after he got out of high school.

My grandpa’s always been great. He’s a really, really sweet person, and his outlook on life was always that every day is a gift. He was always like, “I should be dead. The land mine should have taken all of me and not just my leg,” so he treated every single day as a gift. He had a really nice outlook on life, which had a positive influence on me.

I always had a really positive relationship with him, which helped me have a positive influence on veterans. Not only because of him, but because about half the members of our local American Legion were at my mom’s baby shower for me. I’ve always been surrounded with military veterans.

My grandpa had a flip phone for many, many, many years. Whenever he needed help getting to online banking and such, he would always go to my mother. And he still does; we’re working on that part.

I won the Iowa Technology & Education Connection fair in fifth and sixth grade, purple ribbons all the way. After that, the members of my local American Legion started to ask me different questions about technology and asking for assistance with phones, like, “How do I get this picture off of my phone and into a physical picture?” It helped me realize that, “Oh, hey, I actually know a lot about technology. How can I help these people that apparently don’t?”

What does it mean to be fearless?

Being fearless is being able to do all of these things that I’m doing and not crumbling under the pressure. Being fearless is the ability to have fear and still go through with it – because I am terrified all the time that I’m not doing the right thing, but I still do it.

For me, helping people is the most important thing, and so as long as I’m helping people, it doesn’t matter if I’m scared.

In the headlines
Pioneering Iowa doctor, national president of League of Women Voters has died: Dr. Deborah Turner, a Mason City native and the national president of the League of Women Voters, died Jan. 28 from complications after a pulmonary embolism, according to a statement from the LWV. Turner was born in Mason City in 1950 and graduated from Mason City High School in 1969. After graduating from medical school at the University of Iowa in 1978, she became the first Black doctor certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the specialty of gynecologic oncology in 1985. Turner practiced medicine for 35 years and worked at hospitals in Mason City, Davenport and Des Moines. She also taught medical residents in programs at the University of Iowa, University of Nebraska and the Medical College of Wisconsin. Turner first joined the League of Women Voters of Metro Des Moines in 2010 and later served as president until 2015. Turner was elected president of the national organization in June 2020 and was reelected to the same position in June 2022, according to this story in Radio Iowa. Here's her obituary in the Des Moines Register and a statement from the League of Women Voters.

Bill would repeal Iowa’s gender-balance law for state boards, commissions: Republican lawmakers gave preliminary approval Thursday to a bill that would eliminate gender-balance requirements for Iowa’s boards and commissions, saying that the state has achieved functional gender representation on many of the panels. Senate File 2096 would repeal Iowa’s gender-balance law, established in 1987, which requires that an equal number of men and women serve on boards and commissions in the state, according to this story in the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, proposed a similar measure during the 2023 legislative session that did not advance. But this year, Schultz said he is bringing the legislation forward once more with the backing of Gov. Kim Reynolds, a recent review committee report, a federal court ruling and the support of multiple Republican women lawmakers. “It is time for Iowa to get beyond this ideological purity test and just get on to merit and putting the best people in the best place,” Schultz said.

Kim Reynolds introduces bill defining 'man' and 'woman,' opponents brand it 'LGBTQ erasure': Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds introduced a bill Thursday that would define the words “sex,” “man” and “woman” in state law, requiring changes to the way the government collects public health data, issues birth certificates and drivers’ licenses, and offers anti-discrimination protections. "We refer to it as the LBGTQ erasure act," said Keenan Crow, director of policy and advocacy for One Iowa. The legislation, House Study Bill 649, creates a new section of code defining a person’s sex as their sex assigned at birth. The bill defines a “female” as a person whose biological reproductive system is developed to produce ova and a “male” as a person whose biological reproductive system is developed to fertilize the ova of a female, according to this story in the Des Moines Register.

Iowa House lawmakers reject bill to remove gender identity protections from Iowa civil rights law: Members of an Iowa House panel did not advance a bill Wednesday that would remove “gender identity” as a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act and classify “gender dysphoria” as a disability, according to this story in the Iowa Capital Dispatch. As advocates and members of the public spoke for and against the legislation, advocates and LGBTQ allies led chants of “trans rights are human rights” and “no justice, no peace.” The chants turned to cheering and celebrating as all three members of the House Judiciary subcommittee voted against moving forward with House File 2082.

Principal to host ‘The Thread Collectors’ authors for International Women’s Day event: Principal announced it will host authors Shaunna Edwards and Alyson Richman to celebrate International Women’s Day. Edwards and Richman co-wrote “The Thread Collectors,” a novel from the perspective of two women who sewed clothes for soldiers during the Civil War. Business Publications Corp. President and CEO Suzanna de Baca and the authors will lead a discussion from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, March 7, at the Principal Financial Group Auditorium. Pre-registration on Eventbrite is required.

Chrysalis Foundation awards over $100,000 to support girls and women: The Chrysalis Foundation has granted over $100,000 to support girls and women in the Greater Des Moines area. In 2024, 27 organizations were awarded Community Partner Grants to invest in the safety, security, education and economic empowerment of women and girls. Since its establishment in 1989, the foundation has invested over $5.5 million in such organizations. Recipient agencies receive grant funding and have access to emergency funding for both their organization and the populations they serve. Additionally, Chrysalis offers strategic planning, board development training, fundraising and grant writing training to interested nonprofit organizations. For a comprehensive list of Chrysalis 2024 Community Grant Partners, click here.
Worth checking out
We asked Iowans what it means to be a woman today. Here’s what they told us. (Iowa Public Radio). Why (and how) male allies should lean into paternity leave (Forbes). Bill would require schools to show fetal development videos to students (Iowa Capital Dispatch). ‘Gray divorce’ rates have doubled. But it’s a costly move, especially for women. (USA Today). WIC has never turned qualifying people away. If Congress can’t agree, it may have to start. (the 19th). For new moms in Seoul, 3 weeks of pampering and sleep at a Joriwon (New York Times). Lupus and other autoimmune diseases strike far more women than men. Now there's a clue why. (San Francisco Chronicle).
Amelia Earhart’s story deserves a full, complete ending
I’ve been fascinated by Amelia Earhart for as long as I can remember – as a child, her fate haunted me in the same way that I wondered about the dinosaurs.

It was a mystery that seemed far more accessible than the reptiles’ demise. I knew that Earhart saw her first airplane at the Iowa State Fair and lived in the Drake neighborhood as a girl.

My daughter, Juliet, dressed up as Amelia Earhart for Halloween when she was not quite 3 years old. We have many children’s books about Earhart.

I immediately speed-read this story in the Wall Street Journal when I saw the headline: Someone thinks he might have found her plane at the bottom of the Pacific. I was giddy. Then I saw the sonar images, and my default cynic brain kicked in. But anything is possible – I mean, what exactly happened to Earhart? Shouldn’t we know more now, with today’s technology?

A commercial real-estate investor from Charleston, S.C., sold his commercial properties to search for Earhart’s plane. He is convinced he found it. What do you think? Is this Earhart’s plane?

I hope we eventually learn exactly what happened to Earhart in 1937. Her story deserves a full and complete ending.

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer
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At its core, Fearless exists to help empower Iowa women to succeed in work and life. We believe that everyone has a story to share and that we cannot progress as a society unless we know about one another. We share stories through featuring women in our reporting, featuring guest contributions and speakers at our events.

We are always looking for new stories to share and people to feature. Get in touch with us!

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