June 11, 2022…

5th District Supervisor Leticia Perez said she was embarrassed to acknowledge how little she knew about maternal health care during her own pregnancies.

Perez recognized that she was blessed to have access to resources and lots of information, but she still endured three miscarriages and, to this day, she’s grateful to the nurses who took care of her son Noah while he was in the NICU for six weeks.

“Those nurses worked on (NICU babies) and loved them like they were their own and it was so beautiful for me to see,” Perez said about her newborn's experience. “You know, this is not the case when it comes to Latino moms, African-American moms, in general … in the maternal health care world. And until we talk about it, we can’t address it.”

She said there are also systemic problems with outreach in the region.

The California Department of Public Health released a report in September 2021 showing the southern Central Valley in California has the highest pregnancy-related mortality rate in the state.

“The system itself needs to have a reckoning,” Perez said. “That's across the board.

“This issue of Latino maternal health is really problematic for its impact on public health, public safety and the future of Kern County,” Perez said Friday. She added African-Americans and minorities face “callousness” from their doctors, which she said is heartbreaking.

Her awareness of the problems with outreach, particularly in Black and Latina populations in her district, are what prompted her to declare May as Latina Maternal Health Awareness Month.

This message was central to the inaugural Maternal Health Fair held Saturday at Bethany Ministries. It was organized by Tracy Dominguez, the mother of Demi Dominguez, and others, in order to raise awareness for pregnancy-related health problems. Demi Dominguez and her son Malakhi died after alleged medical negligence in April 2019, which sparked outrage over concerns that the minority community was receiving disproportionate health care.

Saturday’s event allows doctors to understand mothers' concerns and the need for equitable care, while allowing residents to be educated.

The message from Tracy Dominguez: Residents should advocate for their own health care.

“It’s unacceptable to pass away from having a baby,” Tracy Dominguez said in a phone interview.

Tracy Dominguez said she first started looking into creating the health fair after realizing there weren’t any programs for Latina mothers who may be unaware of how to advocate for their own health care. She has heard younger couples saying “nobody listened” when they voiced their complaints to their doctors.

Michele Monserratt-Ramos, a patient advocate with Consumer Watchdog and organizer of Saturday’s event, added patients need to either advocate for their own health care, bring an advocate with them or engage with their doctors. Requesting MRIs, lab reports and ultrasounds are ways to ensure patients receive the best care, and can work alongside their providers, she noted.

“It absolutely should be a common practice,” Monserratt-Ramos said.

There are many doctors and nurses involved in maternal health care. By asking the right questions, patients can clear up any miscommunication, Monserratt-Ramos added.

Saturday’s vendors included My Ultrasound Health Center, which offered ultrasounds, as well as midwives, doulas, lactation specialists and representatives from the Bakersfield Pregnancy Center, Kern County Behavioral Health & Recovery Services and many more.

Their goal, Monserratt-Ramos said, was to draw every resource a mother needs to one place.

Nikki Avila, a certified childbirth educator and birth doula and a vendor at Saturday’s event, said providing resources allows those giving birth to understand there are options for themselves. Many soon-to-be-mothers may be fearful about labor based on outside influences. Some women have faced traumatic experiences while giving birth, which leads to them seeking more holistic care, she added.

Easing these emotions happens when speaking with experts directly about concerns, she noted.

“When they think they don’t have a voice, they can reach out to the resources provided,” Avila said, who owns her own business In the Waiting Doula Services. “There is no fear.”