DC leaders seek more funding for maternal programs east of the river

It’s taken work, but these days, D.C. has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in years. But dig deeper, and you’ll see a stark racial disparity still exists.

Citywide, the infant mortality rate is down to about 4.5 per 1,000 births. But for Black babies, the number is closer to 7 per 1,000, said D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, as she stood outside what will be the new home of the Mamatoto Village, which offers help and care for new and expecting mothers east of the river.

“We know that these disparities exist even when we adjust for the mom’s education, or we adjust for the mom’s income, or we adjust even in some cases for some of the health conditions,” Nesbitt said.

“Some of these things have to do with the experience of implicit, and I’d even venture to say explicit bias, structural racism, etc.,” she added.

In most cases, a child who doesn’t live to see their first birthday dies within the first month of life, with premature birth, low birth weight or birth defects among the most common reasons why.

“While pregnancy and childbirth is such a remarkable and joyful experience for so many people in our world and in our country, it also can be a time of great anxiety and also a great time of frustration, unfortunately, for black women in our country and here in our city,” said Nesbitt.

This week is National Black Maternal Health Week, and the mayor’s office says about $3.4 million in the budget being proposed this year will help fund programs that aim to reduce the disparities that exist now and offer help in neighborhoods where it’s needed the most.

Mamatoto Village, which is set to open its new office on Sheriff Road in Deanwood, aims to help provide mothers with the care, awareness and support mothers need when complicated births can turn things upside down.

Kaiara Massey, who now works at Mamatoto Village, says her experience giving birth to her first child, rife with complications, was so dispiriting that it led to postpartum depression.

“The hospital staff were rude, cold and didn’t listen to any of my concerns,” said Massey.

She said when her second child was born four years later, the support offered at Mamatoto was drastically different, and better, to the point she decided to begin working with the group too.

“For almost two years now, I’ve been able to provide physical and emotional support, as well as guidance to birthing people, women, children, and victims of domestic violence, through childbirth education, housing support, connecting to community resources, and most importantly, being an advocate for birthing people’s reproductive rights and their ability to parent in the way that they desire,” said Massey.

Mamatoto Village helps with postpartum support, breastfeeding assistance and mental health support to hundreds of families around the city. Its new facility is set to open later this spring.

“I’m so excited about the work that they’re doing to center birthing people, to center Black women, and to center their care … in this area of our city where it’s needed and where it should be celebrated,” said Jennifer Porter, executive director of the Mayor’s Office on Women’s Policy and Initiatives.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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