The Brooklyn Park Library will host its annual community baby shower for expecting moms in the area Saturday.
The event lasts from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and offers food, supplies and a chance to get connected with services in the county. Maternal and infant mortality is a major issue across the country and in Anne Arundel County, Acting Health Officer Tonii Gedin said at the county’s biannual board of health meeting Wednesday, adding she’s in the beginning stages of forming a county maternal health task force.
The Brooklyn Park Library has been hosting the baby shower annually since 2018 (aside from 2020 due to the pandemic) in partnership with the Community of Hope, which links Brooklyn Park residents with resources, and the Judy Center, which works on early learning, said Kt Zawodny, the library’s manager. For about a year, the library has also offered a baby pantry with supplies for mothers, she said. Mothers can visit it once a month on a Monday or Wednesday.
“We’re just trying to get diapers, formulas, resources to our families so that they can be successful and if we can help connect people with those resources and different organizations and county agencies, I think that’s a big win for everybody involved,” Zawodny said.
Nearly 90 people came to the event last year, she added, including Brooklyn Park residents Maria Ruth Gonzales and Ines Flores who secured some much-needed baby supplies. Both women only speak Spanish fluently.
Gonzales, who lived in El Salvador for much of her life, had three kids and a fourth on the way in May 2022 when she attended last year’s event. She knew she’d have a lot of expenses ahead of her, despite her Medicaid assistance, and was excited for the baby shower. Her family frequently enjoys checking out the library’s Spanish-language book section.
“It was a really beautiful experience, the way that everyone helped me,” Gonzales said through a translator. “I received a lot of things that I didn’t already have at home.”
Both Gonzales and Flores worked with translators at the MedStar locations in Annapolis and Baltimore, respectively, to help them through the birthing process.
Flores, who is originally from Puebla, Mexico, had four kids last year when she attended the shower and another on the way who was born in January. After finding out about the baby shower at a health class, she said she was grateful for the opportunity, particularly with hefty medical expenses soon to come while having no health insurance coverage.
“It was really good help with clothes, wipes, food and everything you need,” Flores said through a translator. “It was a beautiful experience.”
For women with medical barriers such as being underinsured or having no insurance at all and having children to take care of, any help is valuable, they said.
“The program that they have every year is really important to many families. To not have to buy everything, that’s a really good resource. It could be an important event for many years,” Gonzales said.
A recent report produced by the county health department showed Brooklyn Park has some of the worst health outcomes in the county, including the lowest life expectancy at around 71 years of age. The community has a roughly 61% minority population, the second highest in the county after Laurel at 68%. Recent data indicates it has the highest percentage of low-birth-weight babies of the county neighborhoods assessed in the study at around 11%. About 29% of the neighborhood is on government food assistance and a quarter of its residents are living in poverty.
“I do think that Brooklyn Park is a great opportunity for this kind of work,” Zawodny said. “You think about the underinvestment in this area and to show that resources are willing to travel and come here and be available is not insignificant.”
According to data released in May 2020 by the Maryland Vital Statistics Administration, the six leading causes of infant death in Anne Arundel County are prematurity, which causes 21% of infant deaths, sudden infant death syndrome at 10%, premature rupture of membranes at 4%, congenital malformation of heart at 4%, incompetent cervix at 3% and bacterial sepsis at 3%.
A large swath of the northern part of the county, including Brooklyn Park, had an above-average percentage of low-birth-weight babies born in recent years, Gedin said. It was an issue faced disproportionately by Black and Hispanic moms.
“New national data shows Black mothers are three times more likely than white mothers to die from pregnancy-related causes,” Gedin said in a statement. “We have to align our services and our supports to acknowledge the danger of racism, and its impact on people’s health.”
The recently confirmed acting health officer has already begun working on new ways to address the issue including a maternal health task force composed of community members and local health care providers who can help the department better understand the issue.
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“I’ve been in conversations with our hospital leadership about how to do that and what we want that to look like,” Gedin said Wednesday at the board of health meeting. “We are exploring ways to address this and fix it.”
The department is also hosting meetings with other health departments and listening sessions with local doulas, birthing assistants without medical expertise.
“Research shows [doulas] actually really change outcomes, particularly in minority communities, having that advocate and understanding,” Gedin said.
While women of color experience worse maternal and infant health outcomes across the nation, it’s something Gedin said she and her team are devoted to tackling on the local level as she takes on the new leadership role within the department.
“Nothing’s really changed about the way that we do things. There’s definitely a need for us to look into it, talk to community members, talk to health care providers and get down to what the problem is and how we can address it,” said Megan Pringle, the county health department spokesperson.
While something like a community baby shower is only one small step in addressing a large national and local issue, anything to close the socioeconomic gap for expecting moms helps, even if it’s just providing them a starter pack of diapers or wipes. It’s also useful for new moms to get connected with local nonprofits and each other to form a community.
“Increased awareness and attention to maternal and infant health is a start to improve health outcomes in these areas and reduce disparities,” Gedin said in a statement. “Working to solve a generation-long crisis caused by many factors is going to take some time, but it is possible, and we are dedicated to it.”