We love being able to share our board member stories to provide a window into our organization and why we all feel passionately about LARC, our patients, and our mission. Without further ado, meet Erica Lyon, CCE, MPH! She’s a published author (The Big Book of Birth), a health educator, and a maternal child health and parenting expert. This multi-hyphenate is our interim president who has been on the board for more than three years now, from the point when A Step Ahead was first getting started in East Tennessee. Given her background in maternal child health, it was a perfect fit. Learn more about Erica and her passion for our mission and vision in her own words.
To date, LARCs are one of the best birth control options to be developed. I am a big believer in equalizing health opportunity and creating equity in life’s playing field. Not every female gets the same chances or support in life and when it comes to carrying the cost of reproduction I have seen too many times in my career how simple timing of a pregnancy, or cost of birth control, or lack of access to healthcare affects newborn and maternal outcomes. Every parent deserves the joy of a supported pregnancy and parenting experience; birth control access is a key to healthy babies and moms. I will always be an advocate for mothers to have what they need because if we take care of mothers, we take care of babies. This means taking care of women before they become mothers, too.
I originally joined the education committee, as I am a huge believer in people having solid information and support to make decisions by. I don’t want to make peoples decisions for them-I want them to take responsibility for their own decisions by having the full information and support to do so. One thing I really want to achieve is uniting the community around this service. There is so much division, misunderstanding and polarization around women’s health right now. The reality is preventing unwanted or mistimed pregnancy, in the narrow focus we provide, is a point of unification and healthy focus for everyone. Following reproductive justice concepts of support for all women is the way forward. We are doing one small thing -in the whole spectrum of what can be done-that is powerful for women’s health and that everyone can agree on.
Most people do not realize how many barriers there are for women to get effective safe birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Things that most folks take for granted are serious barriers to health care for many.
For example, privacy in rural areas is a problem. If you are a 19-year-old working after high school but were raised in heavily religious environment, you may not want anyone seeing you go to the local health clinic as you may see someone you know.
Distance is an issue if one person in a relationship needs the car for work and the other can’t get to a health care provider. Distance is shown to even just be a psychological barrier.
Cost is serious problem as LARCs, while being cheapest long term, can have significant upfront cost for most-a few hundred out of pocket is a real barrier for many East Tennesseans. Cost can be barrier just because someone doesn’t know what their benefits include. We have many clients that are actually eligible for free birth control via their benefits, but they don’t know.
Once they hear from us, they can get free birth control, the psychological barrier is gone and then it turns out they could have gotten for free all along. We facilitate access in many ways whether it be transportation, privacy, cost, literacy level, or psychological barriers.
Basic information is an issue as there are many false perceptions about how LARC works and how safe and effective it is. A key point in this is that women focused interventions are one of the few we know that are effective long term.
My long-term goal with this organization is that we can see significant drops in the NAS rates in our area as a result of our hard work. NAS babies are taking a huge toll on families and the community at large and will need extensive financial and physiological support and resources. We need to focus on prevention for the benefit of our whole state economy. I think the missing piece in our states focus on education; which is great-is that there is a second "leg" to supporting a strong economy. People must be healthy. Once you have a healthy educated population you are unstoppable. I am a true believer that all of us are interconnected in our functioning in society-like a human chain- and that all of us are only as strong as the weakest link in that chain of existence.
There are so many ways to help. If you work in a facility where your staff or client base needs to know about us, have us come do an education session or training. If you can be a Founding member and pledge at a Founders level for 4 years this gives us an ability to serve more women. If you can’t financially contribute at that level, then becoming small donor is vital to our continued service. Helping us table at events or helping us reach anyone who may benefit from our service is good. Providers can help by contracting with us to provide services in ways that meet the needs of financially challenged or at-risk populations.
Imagine your donation money of $300 concretely changing someone's life for the better for five years just by buying them time to grow and learn? It is a very practical tangible intervention that really works and as we see from multiple studies throughout our country and around the world.
An IUD is a T-shaped device that is only about an inch long and wide. IUD stands for intrauterine device, which is a form of long-acting, reversible, contraception. If you were to get an IUD, your doctor would perform a small procedure while you are awake to insert this device into your uterus. This application should not take more than five minutes. So what does an IUD do, and what are the different types to choose from?
A hormonal IUD is a device that, once inserted into the uterus, releases progestin. Progestin is a hormone that essentially tells your body that you are pregnant. Therefore, it prevents your ovaries from releasing an egg when you are scheduled to ovulate. A perk to this specific type of IUD is that it can lighten your period and cramps or even stop them altogether. However, some women report having heavy periods at first and some frustrating period irregularities to follow. This IUD can remain inserted for up to five years, so there is no time-consuming keep-up. It has a pregnancy prevention rate of over 99% so it is just as effective, if not more, than other birth control options.
Non-hormonal or Copper IUD
This particular IUD is inserted the same way and in the same place as the hormonal IUD but uses different tactics to prevent pregnancy. The copper that is on this IUD acts as a spermicide because it is lethal to the sperm. Since this IUD does not contain hormones, you should not experience many changes or irregularities in your menstrual cycle. However, some women report having more severe cramps and heavier periods for the few months following the IUD application. It has the same pregnancy prevention rate of over 99% as the hormonal IUD. Plus, this particular IUD can remain inserted for up to ten years.
If you have an IUD and decide you are ready to get pregnant, the removal process is quite simple. You do NOT have to keep the IUD in for the full-time they are advertised to last. Keep in mind that both types of IUDs do not prevent STDs or HIV. If you think an IUD would be right for you at this time in your life, consult your doctor and call us at 865-657-8372 to schedule an appointment, or fill out our appointment interest form to learn more about how we can cover the cost of your IUD.
It may not sound like a logical fit for an advertising CEO to sit on the board for A Step Ahead, and though her path to us was not linear, Courtney Herda is a passionate member of the board, assisting in a wide variety of marketing roles. Meet Courtney below!
When people ask me how I ended up on the board, I always have to say, “Well, it’s kind of a funny story.” My marketing agency, Smarter Searches, has done a number of promotions and projects with the Health Department. So when A Step Ahead was getting off the ground and wanted to learn how to use social media more effectively, I was connected with Wendi, our executive director through some friends at the Health Department. My team leads social media training sessions (in addition to a number of other services) so we set up a session for A Step Ahead.
During the course of that social training, I learned a great deal about the organization and loved everything I heard. Even though my background isn’t medical, I married into it. My husband is a physician and I like to tell people I’m at least 25% of a doctor since I was his study partner all throughout medical school and residency. Wendi and I hit it off and she invited me to a board meeting to see more about the organization. It seemed like fun so I agreed. I’m not sure if I knew what I was in for in terms of work, but it’s all a labor of love.
I work closely with the team - mostly Wendi and Alison - to help them strategically frame social media campaigns, administer Google Ad Grants, answer questions on marketing for non-profits (Venmo? Facebook Payments? Invitations for an event? Analytics?), and take my decidedly un-medical perspective and try to help frame our mission for the masses.
We joke that most of the board isn’t particularly savvy about social media. Cue everyone looking at me, where I sheepishly have to admit that I spend almost as much time on Instagram as I do sleeping. But hey, that’s the job, right? I love that I can share something I love - marketing and advertising - and bring it to the organization at large for a larger, greater, more powerful platform.
If you could help me in the organization, I would ask you to like our posts, share our stories, spread the message. Invite your friends to like our pages. Read the emails we send out.
The mission of removing barriers is a powerful one. That’s what we do. No insurance? No problem. No transportation? No problem. Not sure if LARC is right for you? No problem. Afraid about privacy and confidentiality? No problem. No access to a regular provider? No problem. We tear down all the barriers that block a woman from claiming ownership of her body and her reproductive health. And it’s pretty amazing that I can do that with an Instagram post.
Long-acting reversible contraception is growing in popularity because it is
highly safe and effective. If you are considering starting birth control, we suggest
using a LARC method. There are several different types including: IUD, IUS,
injection, and implantation. Consult your doctor to find what type fits your needs the
best. Check out the benefits below to see why many women are choosing LARC.
By: Erica Lyon
Pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood health educator and Advocacy Board Chair of ASAFET
One concern I get from parents in regards to talking about birth control with their teenagers is that perhaps, by talking about birth control, it will imply condoning early sexual activity. As a pregnancy and parent educator for over 20 years, sadly I have seen more harm come from avoiding the topic rather than having a transparent conversation about birth control options. The value of the birth control conversation is it gives you a platform to instill your values into your kids, while being fully honest about what they may encounter from their peers and the world at large. Failure to discuss a pertinent topic with our teens, which will be discussed with their peers regardless, leaves our teens vulnerable to serious misinformation and possibly challenging outcomes. In my work with pregnant teens (ages 12-17) I have heard the following: “I heard you couldn’t get pregnant the first time”, “I heard you couldn’t get pregnant if you were drinking”, “I heard you couldn’t get pregnant if he withdrew…” the list of bad information goes on and on.
Trust is a key part of faith and family. If you want to explain to your kids why your faith wants a teen to wait for sex, then you need to be honest about all the options your kids will hear about from the world around them. This includes reviewing various forms of birth control so they know the true process in addition to the why, as a parent, you likely want them to wait to engage in sexual activity. By failing to acknowledge a reality, we risk losing the trust of our children. They may wonder why we have only told them half the story or not told them anything at all about what they are hearing about in the world. One critical value of a conversation about birth control is it brings home the key point that being sexually active comes with responsibility. It requires adult planning and forethought in terms of relationships, intimacy and child planning.
We live in a world where our kids are inundated with innuendo, over-commercialized sexuality and ever-changing perception of cultural norms. It’s a dangerous time to be parental ostriches and stick our heads in the sand claiming we cannot talk about sex and birth control because it will condone sexual activity. Respectful conversation about sex and birth control is important because it teaches our kids at a vulnerable age about healthy relationships. Which conversation would you prefer as a parent to have with your teen: “Um, mom, I was thinking maybe I could get the pill?” or “Um mom, I’m pregnant”. As a parent, I have little input necessarily on the latter if I don’t, as a parent, take responsibility for educating my kids about the former. It is important to address the teen elephant in the room to prevent the distrust or silence a teen may begin to have with their parents as they normally begin to mature and separate from us.
The age of puberty is a time of new thoughts, new insecurities, new pressures and new feelings. Consider that the teen brain is wired for risk taking. Just 3 generations ago our 16-year-olds would have been likely married or preparing for marriage. Their “taking risk” brain would have been fully satisfied by leaving home, marrying, starting their own family and working a 16 hours day to put food on the table side by side with their spouse. Not so in the modern era. Our kids have a long extended leisurely adolescence-plenty of time for finding new ways to take risk. Sex being the oldest, first and foremost possible experimentation. This age is an opportunity for teaching and arming a teen with the truth about choices and our own family values to empower them to feel they know what is going on and that they can make the right choices for themselves in the world. Regardless of my personal belief about when my teens should be sexually active, I would far prefer he or she (this is a conversation for sons as well as pregnancy and potential parenthood is an equal burden in a young person’s future) could come to me to discuss rather than avoid my counsel.
Ultimately, what we all hope for with our kids, as they grow into adults, is to be able to achieve and maintain loving adult relationships. Teaching about sex and birth control with the emphasis on relationship, respect and responsibility furthers that message. I suggest, as parents, we stop birth control from being a taboo subject, otherwise we create license for misunderstanding, deception, hurt and serious consequences in the teen and parenting world.
Erica Lyon is a pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood health educator and is on the Board of ASAFET. The views expressed are hers and may not necessarily reflect the views of all ASAFET members or supporters.
Coming soon: how to talk to kids about sex and birth control by age appropriate developmental stage
By: Erica Lyon
Pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood health educator and Advocacy Board Chair of ASAFET.
Imagine a job where every day you saw young women struggling to feed their children and find a good job that could take care of themselves and their children. Imagine a job where day after day, year after year, you saw young moms, ages 14-21 struggling to find their way out of poverty. This is what Claudia Halton saw during her time as a Memphis judge. She compassionately resolved to find a solution and support system for young women struggling to get ahead in their lives. This was the beginning of A Step Ahead Foundation. A Step Ahead began in Memphis providing free long-acting birth control to any young woman who wanted it, in the hope of furthering her educational and career opportunities before staring a family.
Spreading from West to East across the state of Tennessee, A Step Ahead has grown chapter by chapter to provide this resource for women. We are excited to introduce our chapter here in East Tennessee: A Step Ahead Foundation of East Tennessee (ASAFET) and excited to bring this resource to the women and families in the area. ASAFET provides free long-acting birth control for any woman who needs or would like this resource. We partner with local clinical providers, such as Cherokee Health Systems, Interfaith Health Clinic, Knox County Health Department and local private providers, for excellent reproductive education and medical expertise to ensure a quality clinical experience.
Access to birth control, to plan for healthy and timely pregnancy instead of an unintended one, is one of the most critical tools needed for women to advance in life. Regardless of geography, education level, race, economic status or religion, all women need to know where to find and how to use birth control in order to pursue their own destiny and become the mothers and women they hope to be.
We are excited to be part of the East Tennessee community! Stay tuned for upcoming stories and educational pieces and general fun tidbits from our blog!
Fact: Only 5% of all unplanned pregnancies happen to women who are using birth control carefully and consistently. So it’s not surprising that birth control is linked to a whole host of benefits for women, children, families, and society. By being able to choose when and if they become pregnant, women are more able to finish their education and they have higher lifetime earnings. They are more likely to receive prenatal care early in their pregnancy, leading to improved health for mother and baby. Their children are more likely to reside in stable two-parent families and relationships among family members are stronger. There are fewer abortions and public spending decreases.
Read more here.