Hey Mama Coalition tackles infant mortality

Pregnant woman representing life. Photo courtesy: Adobe Stock Images (FAMU)

It can be a great joy to bring a new life into the world. Pregnancy is a period of time that is very sacred and can have life altering effects if a mother and baby are put into jeopardy. The topic of infant mortality is the last thing an expecting mother would want to think about, but unfortunately, it disproportionately plagues many women of color and socioeconomic status.

Infant mortality is defined as the death of an infant before their first birthday. According to the United States Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans experience 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites. African American mothers are twice as likely to receive late or no prenatal care as compared to non-Hispanic white mothers.

The Hey Mama Coalition is a non-profit agency that is dedicated to connecting mothers to resources for themselves and their children. The mission of this coalition is to provide services so babies can make it past their first birthday. In certain areas of Jacksonville, FL, mothers are at a dangerous risk of facing infant mortality due to the socioeconomic dynamic of their area. This coalition is a sector of The Healthy Start Coalition, which was enacted to provide services for mothers in at risk positions.

The Healthy Start Coalition was put into place by the late Gov. of Florida, Lawton Chiles, who was faced with an alarmingly high infant mortality rate in 1991. Ms. Faye Johnson is the current Chief Executive Officer of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, and gave an insight of Governor Chiles’ decision to enact this program. “In 1991, he [Chiles] was faced with a very high rate of infant mortality in certain underprivileged areas,” Johnson stated. “Once it was seen as a problem that needed to be addressed, Chiles put into legislation that all women would be offered healthy start services.” The legislation that Chiles enacted was a landmark decision, and catalyzed the community to build and offer care services to women with high risk pregnancies.

Darnell Smith is a colleague of the Hey Mama Coalition and a standing member of the Zero Preventable Infant Mortality Leadership Council. “A zip code should never be the reason or driver of health,” said Smith. “Our goal is to make a difference to the children that are going to be impacted by it because all it takes is a little advocacy.”

Pregnancy education and aid, counseling services, nutrition, infant safety and sleep, home visiting programs and breastfeeding education/ support are very popular services among the people who utilize them. A mother, who wishes to remain anonymous, spoke about her experience with the Hey Mama Campaign. “I have nine kids, so the coalition is me,” she stated. “ At first I didn’t think it was going to work out, but they started contacting me about all this different information and they even helped me get my education right so I can have better opportunities for myself and my kids.”

Johnson also stated that Hey Mama was able to reach a lot of families through a specific radio advertisement that was created by Hey Mama’s marketing and communications campaign. “So we set up this commercial, aired it on the radio as well, but we wanted to try a new approach to make an impactful statement,” said Johnson.

The poem that was given included three women who were known as Betsy, Anarca and Lucy. To many, these three women would probably be seen as just pseudonyms. These three women were among the plethora of Black women that Dr. J. Marion Sims, “The father of modern gynecology” enacted his cruel and inhumane practices on. Johnson stated that was very moved when many women began to come forward and inquire about services because they heard the commercial.

Women who have at risk pregnancies and need extra resources, or assistance can go to Hey Mama’s website and click CONNECT to be properly assisted with a myriad of services. This coalition has assisted over 20,000 families in its span and plans to cover more racially and socioeconomic disparate counties and areas to continue the cycle of providing services.