SisterFriends is used as a tool to ensure moms and babies have a healthy first year

It’s a story repeated time after time again: Women of color dying during or after childbirth, or their infants not living long enough to see their first birthday. Here in Detroit, Black and Latino babies are twice as likely to die before turning one compared to their white counterparts, but a local program is fighting to lower the infant mortality rate.

SisterFriends, a program offered from the City of Detroit’s Health Department, was formed in partnership with Make Your Date, a local due-date tracking service, to ensure that Detroit women have adequate access to prenatal and postpartum healthcare for both mommy and baby.  The volunteer program pairs moms with resources with pregnant women in need to ensure they make it to doctors’ appointments and anything else they may need through the child’s first birthday.

Through workshops and community events, mentors and mentees are able to connect with each other and successfully plan a healthy pregnancy for mom and baby as well as a healthy first year of life. SisterFriends also offers access to Lyft transportation services and a free or low-cost Detroit-ID, which can be used to access certain city services and receive discounts at dozens of local businesses in Detroit.

Shonise Powell joined the program at the beginning of her second pregnancy. She heard of the program through a breastfeeding course she was taking.

It didn’t quite go as well as expected due to a scheduling conflict. “I was assigned a big sister, but we never met,” she said. “The timing was always off.”

But she kept at it. Powell attended a community baby shower hosted by SisterFriends where she met her future Big Sister, Cynthia Williams. Williams was very open and helpful with Powell’s first daughter so she felt Williams was the perfect match. At the time, Powell was seven to eight months into a high-risk pregnancy.

“In February, I went to the doctor and found out my baby had fluid around her heart and lungs,” Powell said. She was five months pregnant. Doctors at University of Michigan were able to remove the fluid but it returned, prompting Powell to undergo surgery to place a device in utero to help keep the fluid off.

After meeting Williams, Powell said she felt a lot more at ease about her pregnancy. “I felt like I was alone and doing it all by myself,” Powell said. “I didn’t even tell my family but Cynthia was someone I could open up to and trust.”

After pairing with Williams, Powell said her Big Sister was always there for her no matter the request. After the surgery to put a shunt in her unborn daughter’s chest, Powell said Williams assisted with her eldest daughter, helped keep things in order around the house and made sure she made it to all her appointments.

“It’s not just something you do part-time,” Williams said. “I didn’t just give her advice on what to do with the baby; you almost get involved with her entire life.”

Powell delivered her second child, Faith in July 2017. At three-days-old, Faith had to have surgery. Today, Faith is a healthy baby girl and both Powell and Williams are excited to celebrate her fist birthday.

“We’ll probably go beyond the program because we connected,” Powell said. She said the pair enjoys going out to eat and shopping. They even attend each other’s family events.

“I think it’ll be a lifelong thing because I really connected to her,” said Williams. “It’s a lot of young moms out there that need a sister-friend like that.”

Expecting mothers or women interested in mentoring expecting mothers can find more information on SisterFriends by calling 313-961-BABY or visiting www.sisterfriendsdetroit.com. 

By Jamilah Jackson – Originally Published in The Neighborhoods.