The infant mortality rate for babies born to African American women in the United States is more than twice that of infants born to white mothers in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Native American and Pacific Islander communities face comparable circumstances.
As part of an effort to address maternal health issues in vulnerable communities, Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson recently ministered to new and expectant mothers during a citywide baby shower in Chicago, Illinois.
About 400 mothers attended the Chicago Citywide Community Baby Shower on Saturday, Nov. 5, held at the Imani Village community center on the city’s South Side.
“I felt that sense of sisterhood,” President Johnson said in a news release about the event on ChurchofJesusChrist.org. “People were looking out for each other, getting to know one another [and] recognizing that they are in it together, and our desire is to raise successful and happy children.”
The baby shower
The baby shower was organized by Hustle Mommies and the Urban Mom Collective in collaboration with the Rev. Dr. Que English, director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mothers who attended were connected with local community and government resources — including prenatal care and mental health services — and learned about self-care during and after childbirth and support services offered by doulas and midwives. They received diapers, baby strollers, clothing, baby bottles, car seats and other essentials donated by the Church. Heidi Murkoff, author and creator of the What to Expect Project, also attended.
“These opportunities to work with our friends in government and community are so important for us to touch the lives of [individuals],” President Johnson said. “We look at things globally, but we must also look at the needs of the one. Today was a sweet opportunity to minister one by one.”
LaShawn Thomas, an expectant mother, described the community baby shower as a blessing. “I saw it [advertised on social media], and it was last minute, but it was amazing. I came and I had nothing, but I have so much now. I think it’s great for us expectant mothers to look forward to something.”
Addressing maternal health issues
The event is part of a wider effort by the Rev. English and the Church of Jesus Christ to address maternal health issues afflicting Black and Native American communities in the U.S., according to the news release.
The community shower was “just a drop in the bucket,” the Rev. English said. “What is so beautiful about it is that this is not a start-and-stop project. This is not one time. This is an investment into the lives of people.”
The Church is supporting similar efforts in other U.S. cities. For example, in New York City, the Church is providing funding to train doulas for mothers in vulnerable communities.
Sharon Eubank, director of the Church’s Humanitarian Services, added: “It isn’t just about today. There is a trained person that will be with every mom — prenatal, at the birth and post-natal — to help her navigate the change in her life.”
President Johnson said maternal and newborn care has been a focus of the Relief Society since 1921. “We’re just doing what we’ve always done, expressing an interest and love for our sisters around the world. Wherever we serve, wherever we are, we can bless and lift. We’re all mothers. Women need each other,” she said.