Yes, on the one hand, I’m very glad to see legislators on both sides of the aisle working to lower our abysmal infant mortality rates. But on the other hand, if it’s already come down to “Well, we’ve done all we can do; it’s just that Tennessee women are fucking up so bad!” we’re really still screwed.
Here’s the deal as I see it.
1.) There is always going to be some level of infant mortality. Especially as medical technology advances and we have more capability to deliver live very premature babies and keep them living. In some happy cases, we are able to keep them living long wonderful lives. In unhappy cases, pregnancies that would have ended in miscarriages or still births end in dead infants. This is terrible. But it’s a terribleness that comes as a result of us being able to save some babies who would have, in the past, not made it. I don’t think this is the largest factor, but it’s an important factor to keep in mind.
2.) The absolute biggest thing we can do to prevent infant mortality is to teach young girls and women how to keep from getting pregnant in the first place. Our infant mortality rates are high in Tennessee as a whole. But our infant mortality rates are very strongly linked to the age of the mother, the younger she is, the more likely her baby is to die.
News stories in which we talk about “women” and “mothers” give people the impression that we are talking about a problem that mostly happens to adults. I don’t think this is intentional but it helps to keep the problems we’re facing obscured. It is very difficult for teenagers to get proper prenatal care. They’re very often dependent on having a parent who can facilitate that and most of the girls in our state who get pregnant don’t have that, either because their parents can’t take them to the doctor or won’t.
And they have the same issues with follow-up visits after the babies are born.
But we, as a state, act like we need the fainting couch if ever anyone tries anything that is not construed as taking every possible opportunity to punish girls for having sex. So, have we talked about finding ways to put daycare in high schools, complete with opportunities to visit with pediatricians? Or does that instantly make us thing “But that will be encouraging girls to have children?!” Do we hear that the Planned Parenthood in Memphis is going to be within walking distance of a high school and think “Okay, good, cheap and easy access to gynecological services and birth control and pre-natal care?” or do we think “Oh my god! I have to fan myself in shock that Planned Parenthood hasn’t jumped into the river and drown since we all hate them?!” Are we still, officially or not, teaching abstinence-only in schools?
Because that’s the deal, people. If you want to keep babies from dying you have to provide cheap, easy, and accessible ways for their mothers, regardless of her age, to keep from getting pregnant if she doesn’t want to be, to get to a doctor if she does want to be, and to follow up with a doctor once the kid is born.
We have to provide enough knowledge to the girls and women in this state so that they know what’s happening with their own bodies and can act on it.
It means that you’re going to have to back off the demonization of Planned Parenthood, because that’s where poor young women go for a host of reproductive health concerns, not just abortion, and when you try to run them out of communities, YOU are contributing to the infant mortality rate.
But I know, it’s more fun to showboat and claim indignation about our infant mortality rate than it is to actually face up to what attitudes of yours you’d have to change.
3.) Stop fucking poisoning us. Seriously, we’re sitting here talking about how 40% of rural women smoke like that’s an actual statistic? Not all women are mothers. Not all women, even smokers, smoke during their pregnancies. That tells us nothing. But how many of our rural women are living near dumps like the dump on Eno road and don’t know it? How many women in this state sucked down coal ash after the disaster? How many women are working hazardous jobs for shitty pay because at least they have a job? How many women eat fish out of streams your party has tried to reclassify out of “waterway” so that businesses can dump whatever they want into them without repercussions?
When those chemicals go into our bodies, they go into the bodies of our fetuses, if we are pregnant. If it can make a grown person sick, what do you think it does to a developing organism?
4.) Step up, Dad. If you have a baby with a woman, that baby is also your responsibility. Are you finding a way to take her to her prenatal appointments? Are you taking the baby to its pediatrician if she can’t or won’t go? Are you shelling out money for food and clothing and medicine for the baby? Or did you leave that whole burden on her and her family?
Listen, all over this great land, women are jackasses. We do stuff to put our fetuses at risk, we don’t take care of our health, and we do a piss poor job of following up with doctor visits. Not every woman, of course. Most of us have our acts together. But a sizeable minority of women all across this land are like a sizeable minority of women in the state of Tennessee.
And yet, other states do not have this problem. Their infants make it to their first birthdays at much higher rates than ours do.
So, clearly, the problem isn’t just that women are jackasses and passing the problem off like women are jackasses does nothing to solve it.
But the solutions that work are solutions that are very unpopular in our state–dealing with sex ed, stopping treating Planned Parenthood like it’s evil incarnate, dealing with environmental factors beyond individual women’s control, and getting fathers to do what mothers can’t or won’t do.
So, we’re going to have to decide whether it’s more important to grandstand or solve this.
Sadly, I think you know where I’m putting my money.