by Kenneth Braswell
Heidi Murkoff is a name that many parents—particularly mothers—recognize instantly. Known primarily for her “What to Expect” book series, she has long been a beacon for parents navigating the often tumultuous seas of pregnancy and early childhood. However, beyond the printed pages and the mobile apps, there exists a dynamo of a woman whose mission is rooted in something much deeper: the desire to “nurture the nurturers,” as she often puts it. Murkoff’s work isn’t limited to her writing; she’s been a maternal health advocate pushing for social justice, better healthcare policies, and, most importantly, emotional and educational support for parents regardless of their socio-economic or racial background.
Murkoff’s journey into this role started with her own experience of becoming a mother. As she found herself overwhelmed with questions and concerns, she identified a gap in available resources. There were medical books, yes, but nothing that addressed the emotional and psychological rollercoaster that pregnancy and early motherhood often are. Hence, she took it upon herself to write what she couldn’t find. This is where the gem of the “What to Expect” series began, and as they say, the rest is history.
However, what truly set Murkoff apart was an eye-opening experience at Rikers Prison in the late ’80s or early ’90s. Invited to speak to pregnant inmates, she walked in unsure of what to expect. Would they even be interested in what she had to say? She distributed her books and took questions, only to find that the queries she received were identical to those she’d heard from women in far more privileged circumstances. It struck her that regardless of their current situation, these women wanted the best for their babies. This was an epiphany moment for her, one that underscored the universality of maternal concerns and fueled her desire to nurture those who are often left out of the conversation.
Murkoff’s visit to Rikers crystallized something vital: to be a nurturer, one must be nurtured. Whether that nurturing comes from parents, other family members, or community support, the essence remains. Society is quick to judge parents, often mothers, who may not be seen as ideal caregivers. The assumption is that if you’re not behaving like a nurturer, perhaps you don’t love your child enough. Murkoff challenges this narrative head-on. She argues that these women do love their children but lack the support network, educational resources, or sometimes the basic human kindness that is often necessary to express that love in ways society readily recognizes.
Inspired, she expanded her work to address this nurturing gap. Her outreach initiatives aim to make quality maternal and paternal healthcare and education accessible to everyone. The What to Expect Project, born out of these principles, asserts that every parent deserves a healthy pregnancy, a safe delivery, and a healthy future for themselves and their children. This notion, although sounding simple, is revolutionary in a country like the United States, where racial disparities in healthcare are rampant and maternal mortality rates are alarmingly high, especially among Black and American Indian mothers.
It is disheartening to think that the wealthiest country in the world lags so far behind in maternal healthcare. And Murkoff acknowledges that the challenges go beyond healthcare policies. It’s also about paid family leave, affordable childcare, and the elimination of racial disparities in healthcare services. She knows that the fight is long and hard but is not one to be daunted by the challenge. Instead, she uses her platform to advocate for legislative changes. Not content with just talking about issues, she pushes for actionable solutions. Her initiatives extend to advocating for military families, who face their unique set of challenges, to even going abroad to countries like South Sudan and Sierra Leone where maternal mortality is a pressing concern.
But even as she spreads her wings wide to include a variety of concerns, at the heart of her endeavors is an unshakeable focus on the individual parent. She recognizes the intrinsic value and potential in each mom and dad, understanding that to make broad social changes, one must start at the foundational level of the family. Her books, apps, and educational programs are thus designed not just as informational resources but as tools of empowerment.
In her advocacy work, she aligns with other organizations and enlists the power of collective action. However, it’s not just about mobilizing those who already have a voice, but about giving a voice to those who have been silenced or marginalized. Through her initiatives, books, and even her personal interactions, she seeks to reassure parents that they’re not alone, that they have a community that sees them, hears them, and will advocate for them. It’s a powerful message, one that has the potential to change lives one family at a time, creating a ripple effect that can bring about societal transformation.
In a time where division seems to be the norm, Murkoff is a uniting force. Her message is simple yet profound: to build stronger communities, we need to start with stronger families; and to have stronger families, we must first focus on nurturing the nurturers. It’s a philosophy that transcends politics, race, and socio-economic status, reaching into the heart of what makes us all human—the fundamental need to love and be loved, to nurture and be nurtured.
Despite all her accomplishments and the scale at which her work impacts society, Murkoff remains remarkably grounded. She often states that she is merely a messenger for what millions of parents have shared with her over the years. This humility drives her to keep working tirelessly, to never consider her mission complete because there’s always one more parent who needs guidance, one more family who could benefit from resources, one more community that could be uplifted through informed parenting.
Heidi Murkoff’s vision and dedication have made her a cornerstone in the global conversation on maternal and paternal health, and her work serves as a model for how to enact meaningful change. It’s not just about advocacy on a grand scale but also about the small, everyday interactions—answering questions on social media, developing resources that are easy for parents to use, and making sure that all parents, regardless of their situation, feel seen and heard. It’s in these small, meaningful interactions that the seeds of broader societal change are sown.
In the end, what makes Heidi Murkoff truly remarkable isn’t just her prolific writing or her trailblazing advocacy work; it’s her ability to inspire love. Through her words, actions, and ethos, she encourages us all to be more compassionate, more understanding, and more nurturing, not just towards our own families but towards the global family we all belong to. She helps us realize that we are all, in our ways, nurturers who have the power to make the world a better place for the next generation.
With the weight and responsibility of raising future generations, parents are often beset with fears and anxieties. It’s a monumental task, and the pressure can be overwhelming. Yet, in the world of Heidi Murkoff, every parent finds a sanctuary, a space where they are reminded that while they might not have all the answers, they don’t have to go it alone. And that perhaps is the most empowering message of all.
While many people have different perspectives on how to change the world, Murkoff offers a compelling case that perhaps the most transformative change can start within the walls of our homes, at the bedside of a new mother, or in the arms of a father holding his child for the first time. In this intimate, personal space is where lifelong bonds are forged, values are instilled, and the future begins to take shape.
The work of Heidi Murkoff serves as a testament to the enduring power of love and nurturing, to the indomitable strength of parents armed with knowledge and support, and to the boundless possibilities that open up when society recognizes and fosters this potential. It is a narrative that is deeply rooted in the realities of human existence and yet reaches toward an ideal, inspiring us all to be better versions of ourselves—for our sake and for the sake of the generations that follow.
For parents and expectant parents out there, struggling, questioning, and trying their best, Heidi Murkoff’s life work says: “You’re doing great. Keep going. You’re not alone. We’re in this together.” In a world often divided by complexities and differences, this universal message of love and support might just be the unifying chord we’ve been searching for. In nurturing the nurturers, Heidi Murkoff nurtures us all.