BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Maternal deaths across the nation have surged to the highest rates in nearly 60 years and black mothers are the most affected, according to recent data.

According to the Black Infant Maternal Health Initiative, Kern County has one of the worst rates of Black pregnancy-related deaths and preterm births, with Black women dying nearly four times more from maternal complications than other races.

Kern County resident Dr. Arleana Waller experienced it firsthand nearly two decades ago, giving birth to her son.

“The doctor left me to die, turned off his phone, they could not give me care because they had to get permission from the doctor, I laid in that bed going out of my mind in pain […] I almost died, and that provider did not care,” Waller said.

Her story is not uncommon. It is shared by Black women all over, according to the California Black Infant Health Program statistics that show that Black women are more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related complications.

“It is time for medical providers to understand we ache, and hurt, the same way as every other woman, we’re not this strong ironed woman that can tolerate high levels of pain that other women cannot, it is time for them to be sensitive across the board,” said Waller.

Waller founded She Power, an organization hosting the Kern County Black Maternal Festival to bring community members, local organizations, and health care providers to address health disparities and create system changes that provide equitable and safe care for all mothers.

Waller says without efforts like this, we cannot address this Black maternal mortality and morbidity crisis in Kern County.

“It is so heavy, and the disparity is so wide that it is literally going to take all of us doing this work together because any disparity costs everybody,” said Waller.

The Kern County Black Maternal Festival will take place on Saturday, March 25, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 201 New Stine Road, Ste 300, Bakersfield, CA 93309