By Patreice A. Massey
For every 1,000 babies born in Michigan, almost seven will die before reaching their first birthday. In 2016, 730 infants under the age of one year died, resulting in an infant mortality rate of 6.4 per 1,000 live births, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The causes of death vary but have been narrowed down to a few categories. It was reported that 31 percent of newborn infants died due to conditions related to prematurity, 21 percent died due to birth defects and about 11 percent of premature infant deaths were due to accidents – accidents that could have been prevented with proper knowledge and guidance.
That’s where SisterFriends Detroit comes in. SisterFriends Detroit is an innovative volunteer program whose aim is to encourage and support healthier moms and babies. The program services pregnant moms and their families until their baby’s first birthday. The initiative was put in place by Mayor Mike Duggan as a response to the high infant mortality, low birth weight and premature birth rates in the city of Detroit.
A jarring claim on the SisterFriends website reads, “Black babies in Detroit die at twice the rate of other babies in Michigan. Moms in Detroit face barriers to accessing quality prenatal care, social isolation, and stress that can put their babies at a higher risk of being born too small or too early.”
SisterFriends Detroit is taking a communal approach to helping Detroit baby’s live longer and healthier lives by pairing pregnant or new mothers, with a mentor – a SisterFriend – to help new mothers navigate the journey of motherhood.
“Some of our mothers may encounter social isolation, limited access to prenatal care and other stressors that could contribute to the infant mortality rate,” said Shirley Mann Gray, Manager of SisterFriends Detroit. “We look to remove those barriers by providing resources and a support network.”
The mothers, who are referred to as Little Sisters, range in level of experience. Some Little Sisters are first time moms and join the program to get as prepared as possible. Some have more than one child and may lack familial support.
“This program has been a big help! When I had my son, I was in Tennessee so I had my mom to help me but when I moved up here its just me and her [Hazel] dad,” said Works. “Being a part of this program was a big help because I experienced postpartum depression and other things with Hazel that I didn’t experience with Christopher. So it was good to have a someone to talk to.”
That someone was, 53-year-old April Hill a Detroit Public Library retiree who decided to become a SisterFriend after hearing Mayor Duggan introduce the program during the 2017 State of the City address.
“When I heard the Mayor’s call, I thought what could I do,” said Hill. “I felt like I could be helpful to some young lady in the City who’s looking for someone to build a support system.”
Works and Hill have built more than a casual friendship they have a bond. “I remember going into labor early and I called Ms. April to tell her. She said, ‘I’m at church now but I’m on my way,’” Works sentimentally recalls. “I love Ms. April, she’s always there for me.”
Hill who has known Works and her family for a little over a year summed up her experience in one word– rewarding. “I was there with Danielle for the birth of the baby and that was a very rewarding experience,” Hill said. “Being able to talk with her and support her and hold her up during the pregnancy and after giving birth was amazing for me. I’m giving my time but getting so much in return, by being a SisterFriend.”
Works, Hill and the SisterFriends program are an example of the proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ The program is helping young mothers, changing lives and building tribes.
Since the program started, they have had around 370 SisterFriend mentors and while that is a lot it’s not enough. “We do have a lot of SisterFriends but we have far more little sisters who are in need of mentors,” said Mann Gray. “If you really want to make an impact in your community and help to change lives then we want you! It doesn’t take anything but your time and compassion.”
SisterFriends Detroit is proof that together we can make a difference! Mentorship, care, connection, love, and belonging make a difference. We can take care of each other. We are leaders in our own lives and communities. I am my Sister’s Sister.
To join the program or learn how you can become a SisterFriend call 313.961.BABY (2229) or visit the website at http://www.sisterfriendsdetroit.com
This article originally appeared in the Michigan Chronicle.