There’s nothing better than being in the presence of a newborn baby. Touching their tiny toes, feeling the softness of their skin, and holding them close as they take a short nap all bring about joy.
I imagine this is what many pregnant women envision as their bellies grow and their due dates approach. But in too many cases, the joy of holding that healthy baby isn’t always a reality.
That’s why the Family Support and Referral Center of Catholic Charities is committed to accompanying expectant mothers on their journeys, empowering them to have a voice so they can thrive.
Although our program has long provided growing families with much-needed supplies, our mission encompasses far more than handing out packs of diapers. More importantly, we are dedicated to the health and wellness of moms-to-be and their babies — and it’s why we’re involved in Healthy Babies Louisville, a collaboration of professionals in different sectors dedicated to improving birth equity and health outcomes for mothers and babies.
During a recent Birth Equity Town Hall hosted by Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, I was shocked to learn that the United States is the only developed country in the world where maternal mortality is on the rise. Kentucky has higher rates than the national average for cesarean deliveries, preterm births, low birth weight and infant mortality, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This makes me wonder: Why is it we live in a country with so much wealth and technologically advanced medical practices, but our women and babies aren’t surviving one of the most natural bodily processes? While doctors are still collecting data to find answers, there is an obvious correlation to social factors such as access to safe housing and healthcare, educational opportunities and adequate income. Another issue that contributes to the quality of care women receive during labor and birth is that their voices may not be heard when they state concerns or ask questions regarding their health.
I hear these stories often. One client in our Mother-Infant Care program shares that during one of her pregnancies, she went to her medical provider and expressed, “I don’t feel right.” She goes on to explain that she was feeling abdominal pain and asked her doctor to do an ultrasound to check that everything was going well.
Her doctor declined her request because she said it was too early for an ultrasound. Our client said she asked to see another doctor. When she expressed the same concerns to the second doctor, an ultrasound was performed and she was found to have cysts on her ovaries.
This mother isn’t alone.
Another client in the same Mother-Infant Care group recalls a time during her pregnancy when she was vomiting and had low blood pressure. This was scary, particularly given it was her first pregnancy, so she made an appointment to see her doctor. When she arrived at the office, just 10 minutes late to the appointment, she was told she could no longer see the doctor and needed to reschedule.
You don’t have to be pregnant, a woman or even a parent to acknowledge that healthy mothers and healthy babies are at the center of having a healthy humanity. So let’s all support initiatives that amplify the voices of those often unheard.
Shalah Bottoms is the director of the Family Support and Referral Center at Catholic Charities. The center offers a variety of resources, including a Mother-Infant Care program, along with parenting support groups and workshops.