“He shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah)

Mother and child from "egg on stilts"

This isn’t the easiest subject to talk about, but here’s something that got my attention recently and I hope it gets yours: Michigan is ranked 37th in the U.S. in terms of its infant mortality rate. Then consider that the U.S. is ranked 33rd in the world. Ouch! In the 1960’s the U.S. was ranked 19th in the world in infant mortality and then-President Lyndon Johnson called this appalling.

Of course, this isn’t about performing better than other states or other countries. It’s about doing better and better until a rate of zero is achieved. It’s about saving lives.

Christian Science has taught me that God loves everyone, and His will for all children, for new and expectant mothers – indeed, for all of us – is always good, always health and life.

Look at this comforting Scripture from Isaiah that conveys God’s mothering love:
Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the Lord”  (66:9)
As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you”  (66:13)
…he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” (40:11)

I heard two very informative presentations on infant mortality in a committee hearing in Lansing this past week. It was made clear that this is a complex problem without any easy solutions. For example, 43% of pregnancies are unintended, rates differ according to cultural and social backgrounds, drug abuse is a contributing factor, there are 17 contiguous counties in Michigan in the Lower Peninsula without obstetric care in their hospitals, and high medical malpractice insurance costs (e.g. $145,000/year in Detroit) drive caregivers out of this field.

Amy Zaagman, Executive Director of the Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health, said that the need is for access to appropriate care, and not just for medical care but also for support services. And Valeri Parisi, Dean of Wayne State University Medical School, said it’s not just economics, but education and support that are needed. The common word here: support.

It was pointed out that in some cultural backgrounds, there is more family present to provide support. In France mothers get paid time off of work during the last 20 weeks of pregnancy and the first year after the birth of their child. But what about expectant mothers and new mothers who don’t have much support? What can our government do?

How about this: support support! From 1990 to 2004 pre-term births increased despite funding being at its highest. So it’s not more money that’s needed, in and of itself, but more support, more love. And so the trick here for state government is to find how to use government funds and policies to support new and expectant mothers and their children and to support those who provide support to them.

And consider this too. Our new MIDashboard shows metrics for obesity and infant mortality to measure health in our state. Michigan’s infant mortality rate (infant deaths before age 1 per 1000) is higher than that of the U.S. as a whole and Michigan’s rate increased last year. It is helpful to be made aware of this to spur us on to action. But how do we show a metric to indicate the degree of compassion in the state, or a metric to show the level of willingness to provide loving support to new and expectant mothers and their children? We know love when we feel it, and we can see its good effects. But how can you quantify love?

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