Following up on an expansion of their community and new offices on Northeast Martin Luther King Boulevard, the International Center for Traditional Childbearing hosts its second Afro-Centric Pregnancy Fair, Saturday, June 29, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Lents Park at SE 92nd and Holgate in southeast Portland.
Shafia Monroe, ICTC founder, at left, says the event is designed to draw the whole family out in embracing childbirth and plugging into services and healthy options for moms, dads and kids.
The ICTC is a non-profit group working to increase the number of midwives, doulas, and healers to empower families to reduce infant and maternal mortality.
A midwife is a woman who specializes is childbirth, prenatal care and infant health; a doula is a professional health worker who cares for the whole family, often during the months before a birth and especially in the months after.
Because Monroe has spent so many years researching and connecting with African midwives, she brings the quality of their childbirth practices back to the United States.
This is a key point because the Black infant mortality rate – 9.1 deaths per 1000 live births – is almost twice that of white babies; the Native American child mortality rate is almost as high, at 9.0 deaths per 1000 live births.
The infant mortality rate measures the number of babies who die before their first birthday.
"When African-born women come here from Africa, their birth outcomes are the same as Caucasian women," Monroe says. "They celebrate pregnancy, the village supports you, there are certain prayers and rituals, you don't birth alone."
But once they settle in the United States, the stresses of racism take a significant toll on the moms and the families, Monroe says. In the moms she has studied, too often the stresses – together with a lack of prenatal health care and education about infant and maternal health -- lead to premature birth.
It's the preemies who are most at risk, Monroe says, because when infants are born so long before their real due date – nine months is normal – their bodies are not finished developing, they end up in a specialized hospital ward and even if they live can face major disabilities including cerebral palsy, vision and hearing problems, attention deficit problems, and more.
"We want more women of color to know that there are options that can help them have a healthy, full term baby," Monroe says. "We provide information to let people know when there is a problem and what we can do to reduce that problem."
At the Afro-centric Pregnancy Fair, a big focus will be on educating families on the importance of breastfeeding and making moms feel comfortable nursing their babies anywhere they need to.
There will also be free blood lead testing for children and loads of fun activities, even birthing classes in the park.
It's really about community building as well.
A first of its kind survey of Black mothers on their childbirth experiences in Multnomah County in 2011 – conducted by ICTC in cooperation with Portland State University – found that Black moms are impacted by the lack of a whole range of basic services, as well as the lack of family and community support during the birth itself. Oregon's first ever survey of black mothers sheds light on poor birth outcomes.
Monroe says the goals of the Afro-centric Pregnancy Fair event are to prevent infant mortality and premature birth, increase breastfeeding duration, and support fathers.
"The fathers' involvement is crucial and too often they have a harder time being present for their families," she says. "We want dads to come to the park and feel welcome and understand how important they are in the health of their kids."
Organizers have planned activities including "birth balls" for kids to bounce, free massages for moms, baby sling-wearing demonstrations, face painting, breast pump demonstrations, henna tattoo tables, free baby clothes, face-to-face meetings with doulas and community midwives, a father's tent to share birth stories, a stroller-decorating contest, a DJ, and more.
The ICTC office is located at 2942 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Call them at 503-460-9324, or go to their website at www.ictcmidwives.org.