Trineka Hardrick graduated last Thursday (June 11), but there was no robe to don or a hat to toss in the air. She completed an eight-week course and now feels better prepared for her baby boy’s due date on Sept. 22.
“This will be my sixth baby,” said Hardrick. “I have five girls, and now I am having a boy. Although I have been a mother several times, I did learn a lot from the classes we attended. I feel better prepared for my baby now.”
She was one of five women who earned certificates of completion from Stork’s Nest, an incentive-based, prenatal health program for low-income, pregnant women that aims to prevent infant mortality.
Infant mortality refers to any baby who dies before his or her first birthday. The rate is the number of children out of every 1,000 live births who pass away before turning one. According to the United Health Foundation, Tennessee ranked number 39 for infant mortality rates among the 50 states in 2018 and Shelby County specifically had a high infant mortality rate of 8.2.
In response to an inquiry from The New Tri-State Defender, the Shelby County Health Department noted that historically the infant mortality rate has been much higher in Shelby County than in the rest of the United States.
“Infant mortality is complex and results from a variety of contributing health and environmental factors throughout the mother’s life – before, during, and between pregnancies,” the health department pointed out in a written response.
Stats from the local health department show that Shelby County’s infant mortality rate fell to a historic low in 2015 (8.2 deaths per 1,000 live births), but the rate has increased since then, to 9.3 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016, and 10 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017 – the most recent year that statistics are available.
“While these increases are concerning, the Shelby County Health Department has put in 10 years of sustained effort to address this complicated public health issue,” the department’s response emphasized. “We are continuing to develop community partnerships and new initiatives to reduce infant mortality in our county.
Whitehaven’s New Horizon Park Apartments is ground zero for the Memphis site of Stork’s Nest, which is a national partnership between the Zeta Phi Beta sorority and March of Dimes.
Enrollees are given points for attending classes, completing assignments and maintaining their prenatal appointments. These points can be redeemed for clothing, bedding and other necessary items for newborns.
“One in nine babies in the state of Tennessee are born prematurely,” said Rosa Potts, executive director of market development for the March of Dimes. “Shelby County gets an ‘F’ for its premature rate, which is 13.1 percent. This is certainly a contributing factor when we talk about the issue of infant mortality. The work that these Zetas do is very important, and they are making a difference, not only in Shelby County, but throughout the nation.”
Sixty-seven percent of women in Tennessee receive prenatal care in their first trimester, but only 50 percent of African-American women do. Mothers who do not seek prenatal care are twice as likely to lose their babies in the first year. An estimated 15 percent of pregnant women in Tennessee smoke during their pregnancy, a critical risk factor for high infant mortality.
“Our infant mortality rate is still extremely high,” said Beverly Anderson, one of the Stork’s Nest facilitators. “Black babies are dying much too young and coming too early in the mother’s pregnancy. We know that our nine-week program is helping to educate young mothers by providing them with information no one has ever shared with them about infant safety. Maintaining a safe and healthy environment in the home so that babies can thrive is vital.”
There are a number of causes of high infant mortality, according to both national and local statistics, including birth defects; premature delivery (generally before 37 weeks); pregnancy complications; Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID); and serious injuries, such as suffocation, which can result from improper bedding or co-sleeping.
Also, certain issues have been identified as risk factors pertaining to infant mortality, such as socioeconomic status; sleep habits of the baby; characteristics of the mother, including age, prenatal care, smoking and general health; and lack of information, or misinformation usually passed down through generations which could be unhealthy.
Stork’s Nest Memphis community relations chair Candice Williams says the Alpha Eta Zeta chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority is firmly committed to improving birth rate statistics in Shelby County.
“The national Stork’s Nest program began in 1971,” Williams said. “Our chapter established the local program nearly 40 years ago. We relocated to the New Horizon Apartments five years ago.
“The incentives we offer pregnant mothers encourage them to keep doctor’s appointments, attend our prenatal education classes and engage in other healthy pregnancy behaviors, such as eating right and getting exercise.”
The Stork’s Nest conducts eight educational sessions. The ninth session is graduation from the program. The classes deal with the importance of good prenatal care, healthy eating, managing stress, avoiding obstacles to a healthy pregnancy, labor and delivery, and, finally, postpartum care.
The program is available to pregnant women in Memphis and Shelby County, no matter how far along they are in their pregnancy.
For more information on how to sign up for the Stork’s Nest, call (901) 348-9254 or email [email protected].