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Chicago Community Baby Shower Aims at Lower Rate of Infant Mortality

Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson ministered to mothers during the Chicago Citywide Community Baby Shower held at the end of 2022. About 400 new and expectant mothers attended this event, held at the Imani Village community center on the city’s South Side.

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New mothers had the opportunity to hear from and meet Heidi Murkoff, author and creator of the What to Expect Project. “I’m just here for the hugs,” said Murkoff of the time she spent greeting new moms and their babies and handing out free copies of her books. Picture taken by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
New mothers had the opportunity to hear from and meet Heidi Murkoff, author and creator of the What to Expect Project. “I’m just here for the hugs,” said Murkoff of the time she spent greeting new moms and their babies and handing out free copies of her books. Picture taken by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

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Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson ministered to mothers during the Chicago Citywide Community Baby Shower held at the end of 2022.

About 400 new and expectant mothers attended this event, held at the Imani Village community center on the city’s South Side.

Hustle Mommies and the Urban Mom Collective organized the event in collaboration with the Rev. Dr. Que English, director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I felt that sense of sisterhood,” Johnson said. “People were looking out for each other, getting to know one another [and] recognizing that they are in it together, and our desire is to raise successful and happy children.”

Event organizers connected mothers with the local community and government resources, including prenatal care and mental health services. A panel of guest speakers provided information on the importance of self-care during and after childbirth and support services offered by doulas and midwives. At the end, mothers received any of various items they needed — diapers, baby strollers, clothing, baby bottles, car seats and other essentials donated by the Church of Jesus Christ.

“It was a blessing for me. I saw it [advertised on social media], and it was last minute, but it was amazing! I came and I had nothing, but I have so much now. I think it’s great for us expectant mothers to look forward to something,” said LaShawn Thomas, an expectant mother.

“To be able to do that with you guys has been amazing,” expressed Ariel DeNey Rainey, founder of Hustle Mommies and co-founder of the Urban Mom Collective.

“And not only that, it takes a team, it takes a village. The Church [of Jesus Christ] was part of our village. They provided us with volunteers as well as support and help for the moms,” said Ebony Wrenn, co-founder of the Urban Mom Collective.

New mothers had the opportunity to hear from and meet Heidi Murkoff, author of the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” series of pregnancy guides and creator of the What to Expect Project Foundation.

“I’m just here for the hugs,” said Murkoff of the time she spent greeting new moms and their babies and handing out free copies of her books. “It doesn’t matter where you go in the world. … We are all connected by being moms. We all share an emotional bond.”

“The whole purpose was to bring them together to connect them with needed resources as well as their children, [but] the community shower was just a drop in the bucket,” said the Rev. Dr. English. The event is part of a wider effort by English and the Church of Jesus Christ to address maternal health issues afflicting Black and Native American communities in the United States.

“These opportunities to work with our friends in government and community are so important for us to touch the lives of [individuals],” Johnson said. “We look at things globally, but we must also look at the needs of the one. Today was a sweet opportunity to minister one by one.”

“What is so beautiful about it is that this is not a start-and-stop project. This is not one time. This is an investment into the lives of people,” said the Rev. Dr. English.

Many of the women who attended the event live in underserved communities and represent a demographic in the United States that is plagued by maternal health complications and the loss of newborns.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infant mortality rate for babies born to African American women (10.6 per 1,000 live births) is more than twice that of infants born to white mothers (4.5 per 1,000 live births) and the U.S. Native American (7.9 per 1,000 live births) and Pacific Islander (8.2 per 1,000 live births) communities face comparable circumstances.

The Church of Jesus Christ is supporting similar efforts in other U.S. cities. In New York City, for example, the Church is providing funding to train doulas for mothers in vulnerable communities.

“It isn’t just about today,” said Sharon Eubank, director of Humanitarian Services for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who attended the event with President Johnson. “There is a trained person that will be with every mom — prenatal, at the birth and post-natal — to help her navigate the change in her life.”

These efforts, said Johnson, are especially aligned with the mission of the Church’s Relief Society, which provides opportunities for Latter-day Saint women to expand their influence and to bless their families, wards, stakes, communities, and nations.

“In 1921 [maternal and newborn care] became a focus of the Relief Society. … We’re just doing what we’ve always done, expressing an interest and love for our sisters around the world. Wherever we serve, wherever we are, we can bless and lift. We’re all mothers. Women need each other.”

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