By Caitlin Feasby, Statewide Coordinator, Ohio Infant-Toddler Court Team
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Established by President Ronald Reagan in October 1988, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month was enshrined as a national observation of the millions of families each year who experience the loss of a pregnancy or newborn infant under age one. It is difficult to think of a more harrowing topic, as pregnancy and giving birth should be an unmatched time of celebration, joy, and dreams for the future. The inherent injustice associated with life lost too soon is not only devastating, but a form of grief distinct from any other. In setting aside the month of October to bring awareness to this issue, we acknowledge this type of loss exists at a unique intersection of physical health, mental health, and social and environmental conditions.
More than 35 years after its establishment, we continue to observe Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month knowing this experience touches far too many families. Grief resulting from pregnancy and infant loss is often encumbered with powerful feelings of personal failure, guilt, or shame. These ingredients create a recipe for social stigma that leads many women and families to suffer in silence, emotionally alienated from others. This month is an opportunity to recognize the millions of Ohioans who carry this pain that is both invisible and impossible to fully comprehend.
Observance is important and recognition essential. At Groundwork Ohio, we encourage our readers to align recognition for these losses with indignation. In one of the world's wealthiest countries with some of the most advanced medical care available, we must acknowledge the reality that our systems are failing families and babies. Ohio ranks 41st worst of all 50 states and D.C. in infant mortality rates, an abhorrent position telling us that our state infrastructure is falling far short of providing adequate structure for new life.
We also know this issue does not impact all Ohioans equally. Those living in rural or Appalachian areas often have a more difficult time accessing timely prenatal care or well-child visits compared to those who live in healthcare-rich areas of the state. Data shows staggering racial disparities in pregnancy and infant health outcomes, as Black babies under age one are dying at nearly 3 times the rate of white babies in Ohio.
According to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, access to quality healthcare services explains only 20 percent of poor pregnancy and infant health outcomes, and 30 percent are related to behaviors such as smoking or eating poorly. A whopping 50 percent are attributed to infrastructure issues such as housing, transportation, education, and employment. Systemic racism continues to perpetuate higher rates of poverty, substandard housing, and lower educational attainment in Black and other communities of color throughout the state. Pregnant moms and newborn babies need responsive policies and practices that close these gaps, for the health of Ohio's citizens and the future stability of our state.
The health, social, and environmental conditions pregnant mothers and infants face prolong this revolving door of potentially avoidable outcomes. Yet, with such varied causes across a multitude of systems, implementing solutions is incredibly complex. In response to racial disparities in infant mortality rates, Governor Mike DeWine established the Ohio Eliminating Racial Disparities in Infant Mortality Task Force, in which Groundwork Ohio President and CEO, Shannon Jones, was a part. The full summary of the task force findings and recommendations can be found HERE.
Ohio House Bill 7, the Strong Foundations Act, is a current piece of legislation targeting maternal and infant mortality rates among other important issues impacting infants, children, and families. Get up-to-date and learn more about Groundwork Ohio's advocacy on issues addressed by HB 7.
If you or someone you know is experiencing the loss of a pregnancy or an infant, please consider these free resources:
Any hospice organization (whether within or outside your area) is available to provide free 1:1 support and/or resources to any grieving individual, regardless of whether or not you utilized that organizations hospice services.