“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” ~ Frederick Douglass.
We all have secrets. There may be those who declare that their life is an open book, but for the most part some things are best left to the imagination. My siblings and I were amazed, when we were probably over the age of 40, that there was a family secret. It was inadvertently ‘spilled’ by my mother’s cousin who asked one of my sisters a question about the baby that my mother lost. My sister’s confusion at the question made poor cousin Nancy feel terrible! So then she had to call my mother to apologize for unwittingly revealing the ‘secret’. And then my mother had to call my eldest sister to ask her to come visit so she could tell her ‘in person’ the fact that her third pregnancy had ended in a premature birth, but the child had not survived.
Of course, for my parents’ generation, things like stillbirths and miscarriages were a part of life. The technology did not exist to support premature babies in high tech incubators and nourish them to safety. And because sharing and airing your feelings was not encouraged (particularly in stiff upper-lipped Britain), you put adversity behind you, locked any feelings you had about it in a padlocked chest, and got on with your life. So when I called from Florida to console my mother, who I thought might be emotional and grieving about the baby (apparently a boy), she was more interested in discussing the weather and her garden and such. My father, who had answered the phone, had reminded me that it was his loss too (I started by saying I was calling to talk to Mum, who might be feeling upset), but then he remarked that the old ‘are very resilient, you know.’
I heard this week about a Harvard study which was reported on earlier this year. Were you aware that babies born to African American mothers are more than twice as likely to die in their first year of life than those born to white mothers? In fact, the number is even higher in urban areas. But although those statistics have been around for a while, the Harvard study uncovered something more alarming. The biggest factor which accounted for this alarming infant mortality rate was not poverty, or nutrition, obesity, smoking, or poor prenatal care. The biggest identified factor was chronic stress, induced by racial discrimination.
The researchers had compared the infant mortality rate to those of African mothers, to see if there was some genetic component. The rate was lower for the babies of African mothers. However, when they looked at second-generation African immigrants, the mortality rate was comparable. Apparently, if you are African American, living in America is bad for your health (in so many ways).
Infant mortality rates are an indicator of the overall health of our population. If we cannot take care of the least of these (my brethren), what does it say about how we respect life? It is ironic (substitute ‘sinful’, ‘shameful’, ‘a crime’) that those who have the ability to enact legislation to do a better job of protecting the health of the vulnerable; the poor; the disadvantaged in our society, would rather rush legislation through Congress that protects the rights of the wealthy, the corporations, to make more money. While the superwealthy count their projected savings in the new tax plan, the 9 million low- and middle-income children who need health insurance face uncertainty and loss of coverage.
The same (mostly) white males that shout the loudest about the rights of a fetus, who make it difficult for a woman to exercise her right to choose, do not show the same interest in children who are already born, in the mothers who care for them, and in correcting the terrible imbalances in our society. Thank goodness for the activists, those who, instead of going out Christmas shopping in search of that perfect gift, line up in the cold with placards, protesting the obscene disparities in our society; calling out the politicians for their misplaced priorities.
There is much to be concerned about today; it is hard to know which particular injustice or reprehensible act to be offended by. But, while waiting for our leaders to find their consciences (or the courage to be honest) again, it is time for we the people to demonstrate our own conscience. To say ‘enough is enough’ and demonstrate our desire for a country where all infants can be born with a reasonable expectation of living a long, healthy life.
Charity, compassion, treating others with respect and dignity, acknowledging that the US is not a place where anyone can achieve their dream until everyone can achieve their dream, is what we need. I write as a white woman with a unique perspective because of growing up in Jamaica, but it should not take that particular perspective for the concept of white privilege to be understood and acknowledged. Too many White Americans permit the status quo to continue to create an unhealthy environment for those ‘other’, those whose skin color, or accent, or ethnic background is different from their own. It should not be about ‘you’, ‘me’ and ‘them’, but about us.
We are entering a special time, the time between the Winter Solstice and the New Year, a time when (pagans believed) the veil between this world and the next is thinner, a holy time, a time when it is possible to communicate with the spirits. For me it is special because my birthday falls in this holy time. Mind you, if my mother had not lost that third baby, perhaps my other siblings and I would not have been born! So I celebrate my lost brother, and all of those spirits who are no longer with us.
May you and your family have a wonderful weekend, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! And may you find some way to make this world a better, more peaceful place.