Sapphire Garcia-Lies founded the Wichita Birth Justice Society in 2020 and plans to open the organization’s brick-and-mortar location this week. (Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)
Sapphire Garcia-Lies founded the Wichita Birth Justice Society in 2020 and plans to open the organization’s brick-and-mortar location this week. (Fernando Salazar/The Beacon)

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Sapphire Garcia-Lies wants new and expecting mothers in Wichita — especially in Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities — to feel nurtured. 

That’s what she had in mind when crafting a new facility for the Wichita Birth Justice Society, a nonprofit led by Garcia-Lies that’s dedicated to reducing racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality. In Kansas, the mortality rate for Black infants is 2.5 times higher than for white infants. 

The Wichita Birth Justice Society’s new facility will have a meditation room, a lactation lounge and a baby boutique with free supplies for new mothers. The center, located at 1540 N. Broadway, is set to open on Saturday.

“While some folks would say, that’s not needed, that’s extra — we feel that our community deserves to be nurtured,” Garcia-Lies said. 

The new facility is just the most recent step in the Wichita Birth Justice Society’s work, which began in 2020. Since then, the organization also formed a team of doulas — who act as professional companions for mothers throughout pregnancy and birth — who are entirely women of color. 

The Wichita Beacon caught up with Sapphire Garcia-Lies to learn more about why she started the Wichita Birth Justice Society, what the organization has done so far and what will be offered at the new facility. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Why did you start the Wichita Birth Justice Society? What was the inspiration behind it?

I started the Wichita Birth Justice Society almost exactly two years ago. We incorporated in 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic. And I started it after having thought about starting this for a long time. I’ve been in this work since 2013. And the reason I started it mainly is because we have awful racial disparities in rates of moms and babies dying throughout the state. It needs to be addressed first and foremost from the community level. The community knows what the community needs. The dynamic of top-down public health interventions, where we don’t ask people what they need, and we don’t care about their lived experience — those things need to go away. The community has always been capable of healing the community’s wounds. 

Are you a doula? How did you get into that work?

I am a doula. I’m a childbirth and lactation educator. Going all the way back to 2013, I was pregnant with my second daughter. I was a premed student at WSU. In my ninth month of pregnancy, she died. And it was because I had a doctor who didn’t listen to my concerns. And brushed me off, sent me out of the office that day. I was the last patient on a Friday before Fourth of July. I’ll never forget what that felt like — your doctor who you count on, who you trust, fails you. It made me lose trust in the system. It was hard. 

After going through that experience, I began working with some of the folks here in Sedgwick County who were working to reduce infant mortality. And I really saw a deficit at the local level of people who looked like me. It didn’t make sense to me that these problems were occurring in the Black and brown community, but we didn’t have the representation at the table that you would think that we would have.

What sort of impact have you seen since starting in 2020?

We ran a successful doula pilot program called Sacred Days Doula Service. We were really excited about that because we were able to drastically decrease rates of preterm birth and C-sections. (Doulas) are like a skilled labor companion. They don’t provide medical care, but they provide health education, social support, connecting to resources and advocacy in real time. So they’re actually in the delivery room as the babies are being born. 

We also have built Wichita’s first doula team of color. And it’s a team of 10 doulas who serve within their neighborhoods here in Wichita. We took the data from the pilot program to inform how we would build the larger-scale doula program, and then we recruited doulas from the community. 

We also championed and helped draft a billHB 2108, and the companion bill on the Senate side is SB 42. That would have made changes to the ways Kansas reviews maternal mortality. The bill itself did not go through, but it did pressure the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to go ahead and make some of the changes. 

How are the public-facing services you’re providing different from doula services that were in the community prior to Wichita Birth Justice Society?

Prior to my own work in this community, there were no doulas of color. I was the first one in the Wichita area to begin working. I actually began as a doula later on, in 2016. Doulas hadn’t really become a cultural norm in the Black and brown communities here. Also, I found when I began working as a doula that there were financial barriers for people getting the care that they needed. Doula services aren’t cheap. The average going rate in Wichita is $1,200 for one pregnancy — for the doula to companion you through the pregnancy, the birth and postpartum. In some cases it’s higher than that. With doula services being a private hire service, nobody was willing to put themselves out and donate services to the folks that needed them the most. I made that my mission. 

You all are opening this brick-and-mortar location. What is going to be located here, and how is it new and different from other options in Wichita?

We have our immersive meditation room, which is aimed at reducing preterm labor rates and chronic stress — the physical impacts of that. The reason that that’s important is we know that a lot of maternal deaths are occurring because of cardiovascular issues — high blood pressure. It’s really important that people have a safe space that they can come and decompress and learn how to meditate, and be able to do that in some place removed from their own home.

We have a lactation clinic room called the Milky Way lactation lounge. It is the first of its kind in this area that is going to offer culturally affirming lactation support for people of color.

We also are offering childbirth education and breastfeeding classes.

And we have a baby boutique that has maternity clothes, baby items and hygiene items for anybody in the community who needs them. They can come in, no questions asked, and get those things. They don’t have to provide proof of income or jump through any hoops. 

We also have a community fridge and pantry that is a collaboration with the ICT Community Fridge Project. 

And the last thing is we’re going to have parent circles, which are gatherings of parents with young children and babies. It’s a culturally affirming space specifically for Black and brown parents.

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Hack covers local government for The Wichita Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @CeliaHack.