BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Having a baby can be one of the happiest times in someone's life, but it can also quickly turn into heartbreak, as it has for many families across the nation, particularly Black families. Black mother and infant death rates continue at alarming rates in the United States, as well as in the Central Valley.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. The Black Infant Maternal Health Initiative, which collects data from the CDC and other health monitoring organizations, reports that in Kern County, Black infants are also 1.5 times more likely to die than infants of other races.
Director of Health Education with Kern Family Health Care Isabel Silva says there is still no reasoning for the disparity.
"The variations cannot be explained in a way by factors such as age, income, educational level, and even health insurance status," said Silva. "Regardless if you take those factors out, we are still seeing these alarming rates among Black mothers."
For this reason, community leaders, including SHEPower Leadership Academy Executive Director Ora Frink, are hosting the first annual Kern County Black Maternal Festival on Saturday, March 25.
"The goal is to educate our moms, to educate our families. Not just the moms but the dads, too, and let them know they have a voice, and to start holding these doctors and nurses accountable for their actions," said Frink.
Frink adds that this education begins with families knowing the resources they have available to them, which is something the organizers of this festival hope to highlight.
"Not only will they meet different doulas and midwives and learn about their placenta and learn about delivery, they'll also meet other organizations that offer information about insurance, and so on and so forth," said Frink.
Raven Thomas is a prenatal massage therapist and doula in the community, and she believes mothers have to learn more about themselves during pregnancy.
"Before they can take care of their babies, they have to take care of themselves, and you cannot take care of anybody else if you don't take care of yourself or if you don't have that knowledge of your own wellness," said Thomas.
Thomas says she thinks it's time the community squared up for Black mothers and babies.
"We are dying and it's time. It's time for Kern County not to be the top percent of something tragic. It's time for Kern County to step up and do something better for Black women and for all women, and to be better than that," said Thomas.
According to Frink, one of the overall goals of the event is to kick off the kind of broader change Thomas wants to create.
"Black lives do matter. Our Black babies do matter. Our Black mommies do matter," said Frink.
Leaders with SHEPower Academy say that while this is the first Black Maternal Health Festival, it will not be the last. It is their goal for the festival to become an annual event.
The first Black Maternal Health Festival will be happening from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm on Saturday, March 25 at 201 New Stine Road just south of Stockdale Highway in Bakersfield. Reserve your free ticket at the festival's Eventbrite page.
IN-DEPTH: BLACK MATERNAL AND INFANT MORTALITY
A new study published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that regardless of socioeconomic status, Black families are disproportionately affected by maternal and infant death rates.
For every 100,000 births, 173 of the babies born to the richest white mothers die before their first birthday. 350 babies born to the poorest white mothers die.
For Black families, 437 babies born to the richest Black mothers die, and 653 babies born to the poorest Black mothers die.