Arryl Addison is worried about the rising cost of infant products for her son, Aydin.
The 29-year-old Garfield Heights mother gave birth in July 2022 at the peak of the nation’s baby formula shortage, which was triggered by the shutdown of a major formula manufacturer.
“It was really frustrating,” said Addison. “I would call stores and they would tell me it wasn’t available. I would go online to order it, but they would tell me they don’t have it because their website wasn’t up to date.”
Addison’s son was born three months before his due date; pediatricians recommended that he drink Similac Neosure, a high calorie formula with nutrients to help him grow and develop faster.
Addison struggled to find it. She would drive from store to store to find the right formula and preemie diapers for her son.
Addison turned to Pregnant with Possibilities, a sexual health education and prenatal support resource center. Located in Maple Heights, the organization serves a number of clients, predominantly Black mothers who live on Cleveland’s East Side and elsewhere in Cuyahoga County.
The organization began a bi-monthly distribution last year of diapers, wipes, food and clothing. It was an effort to minimize the financial strains on new mothers.
Since the baby formula shortage began, Takiyah Durham, director of Programs and Operations, said the organization has been serving a diverse population of clients, including mothers.
“The ability or inability to be able to provide for a child is impacting the entire scope of families no matter their socioeconomic status,” said Durham. “We are seeing all ZIP codes throughout Cuyahoga County now.”
The National Diaper Bank Network estimates that one out of three U.S. families with young children is unable to afford diapers. The advocacy organization, which gives away diapers, also found that diapers can cost a household $70 to $80 per month and are one of a family’s biggest expenses after housing, utilities and food.
Diapers cannot be purchased through federal assistance programs such as SNAP and WIC. They can only be purchased through TANF, a government program that provides temporary grants to families in need.
Durham said the registration list for the last distribution filled up within four days, and many clients are on the waitlist. However, if a client is experiencing an emergency, the organization works to support and secure resources for the family.
“It is a crisis in the community right now,” said Durham. “We’re just trying to remove any type of toxic stress for our moms.”
“A Community for New Moms”
The M.O.M (Making Opportunities Matter) program offers expecting and new mothers the opportunity to learn new skills and connect with other mothers.
Over 13 weeks, Addison met with first-time moms like herself and got tips on maintaining her finances, managing mental health and stress, breastfeeding, and how to self-advocate or speak up about her symptoms and concerns in hospital settings.
“I wanted to be around other moms,” said Addison. “I wanted to find different resources needed to help me become better as a new mom.”
Durham is a veteran social worker deeply familiar with the challenges that pregnant and new mothers face. The program is aimed at improving the health of Black mothers and infants by providing education, support and resources to decrease health disparities. Financial stressors, like whether a mother will be able to provide and care for the baby, often go ignored.
“We find ways to reduce the barriers and stressors,” Durham said. “[The mothers we serve] have to choose between, am I going to be able to pay my light bill? Can I buy food? Can I buy baby formula or clothes or diapers?”
Black babies in Cuyahoga County are four times more likely to die before their first birthday than white babies, according to First Year Cleveland (FYC), an advocacy organization focused on reducing disparities in infant deaths. Factors such as economic status or education level did not contribute to the issue, rather it is stress that affects the overall health of mothers while pregnant.
Angela Newman-White, executive director of FYC, says racism plays a huge role in Black babies dying before their first birthday. Elevated stress levels in Black mothers are the leading risk factor for infant mortality or prematurity. The goal is to address racism in healthcare systems and understand how it impacts patients.
“Black women are reporting low stress levels because we’re conditioned to believe that, you know, life is like that,” said White. “We’re trying to raise awareness of how stress can impact not only your health, but your ability to carry a child to full term, and then, also, of course, care for your child.”
FYC partners with community-based nonprofits such as Pregnant with Possibilities to support mothers during pregnancy and postpartum. These groups help provide health education and links to services such as doulas, therapists and lactation specialists. The organization’s hope is to reduce shortfalls within the larger system that create strains for mothers and their infants.
“What we’re trying to do is to remove all of the stressors, right?” White said. “How do we address the system deficiencies so families don’t have to experience these unwarranted, unwanted stressors?”
“I don’t worry and for that I am thankful”
Since joining the organization, Addison has completed the M.O.M program and has recruited her sister-in-law to join the organization. She continues to volunteer and share what she has learned with other mothers.
“I love being a mom,” said Addison. “Even though there are challenges financially sometimes, having your support system with your family and with Pregnant with Possibilities, I don’t worry. And for that I am thankful.”
Need baby products? To register for the next Diaper Distribution, visit pregnantwithpossibilities.com to sign up for e-newsletters.
Want to support? The organization accepts monetary donations and various baby items, including diapers, baby formula and food, lotion, wipes and carseats. You can contribute to the organization’s Amazon Wish List or donate products at the center in Maple Heights.