DETROIT -- Five years ago, Sierra Barber, was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal imbalance that causes problems in the reproductive organs.
Her doctors, she said, told her that if she ever was able to conceive she would always have problems trying to carry a baby to full-term. At the time, Barber was just 27 years old.
And in 2018, two years after her diagnosis, Barber's worst nightmare happened.
"I had a miscarriage when I was six-weeks pregnant," she said. "And it was really hard because I really wanted to have a baby."
In 2020, Barber became pregnant again. But this time she decided to join a support group so she could make sure she had all the resources she needed so she could see her little bundle of joy come into the world.
SisterFriends is a program provided by the City of Detroit for mothers who are expecting for the first time. It's primary goal is to help reduce the infant mortality and morbidity rate for African American babies in the city, the project coordinator, Tahira Khalid, said.
"We have found that it is not just the financial issue that causes babies to die or be born ill," said Khalid, who also serves as the program's social worker. "It is the stress and structural racism and so many other things that operate against our families to have a good birth outcome. And so we have decided to add an element of support with the SisterFriends program."
In addition to reducing infant deaths in the city, SisterFriends also helps address any lack of resources the expecting mom and/or family may have, in addition to providing expecting moms with a volunteer mentor to help guide them through their pregnancy, as well as assisting new moms after the baby is born, up until the child turns 1 year old.
Barber's mentor, Rebecca Margavich, 36, joined the program last year and says it was one of the best decisions she ever made. She refers to her little sister/mentee as a mom who has super powers.
"She is a wonder woman," Margavich said. "I've learned a lot just knowing that she does a lot of the things that she does on her own, and I think that's just unbelievable ... it's incredible. And It just shows the strength of a woman and a mother."
Margavich, who is a mother of a 2-year old boy, says she joined the program because she understands that motherhood is a community, and you need that support, especially as a new mom. In the beginning, Margavich said she checked in on Barber at least once a week by phone because COVID-19 precautions meant the two were not able to meet in person. But since the mentee/mentorship began, she and her little sister's relationship organically developed and now they talk almost every other day.
"We are now lifelong friends," Margavich said.
The program's coordinator says that Margavich and Barber's friendship is just one of the many that have been cultivated during the four years the program has been operating. And that with the way things are going in the program, Khalid said she expects to see many more of these relationships develop.
SisterFriends is funded by the Michigan Department of Human Services, as well as some city funds, and grant dollars according to the city. The program also works in conjunction with other city programs such as Safe Sleep, Father's Forward and 961 Baby. And while the program does not have a specific budget because each case is different, the funds are put to good use, Khalid says. Besides the mentoring and guidance and moral support for expectant and new mothers, the program also celebrates the new moms and babies with baby showers and birthday parties once the child turns 1 year old.
In May, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced that the infant mortality rate in the city in 2019 was the lowest it had been in more than 20 years. According to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Detroit's infant mortality rate dove from 16.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018 to 11 per 1,000 live births in 2019, a one-third rate reduction.
And while 2020's numbers on the city's infant mortality rate have not yet been released, Barber, who is now 32, is hoping that her new baby girl will only add to a further decline in those numbers. And, for her, she attributes part of that success to SisterFriends.
"I call her my rainbow baby," Barber said, referring to the phrase created to refer to a baby born after a miscarriage, stillbirth or loss from natural causes. The word rainbow, specifically, is metaphoric, speaking to the beauty that can appear after the darkness of a storm. "I look at her as the spirit that lived in me before. And Thursday, she turned 9 months old."