Local Group Fights Against Infant Mortality, Plans Vigil
By Sarah Steele Wilson
Sep 14, 2012, 11:12
The death of an infant is something people don’t want to talk about, but one local woman thinks bringing the issue to light is the only way to decrease the number of infant deaths and help people who experience such a loss. “Infant death is something that people don’t want to talk about,” said Tracey Diehl, a Hopewell resident and chairperson for the Petersburg Community Action Team, a group of volunteers dedicated to reducing instances of fetal and infant mortality and improving outcomes for the families who experience such losses.
Diehl knows what it’s like to lose an infant. Her own son died two years ago as a result of prematurity. Her experience losing an infant and moving through the grieving process has informed the work she does now, leading the Community Action Team.
She said that infant death is an issue that few people are aware of, something she hopes to change.
“People hear of an infant death and they immediately frown,” she said. “When I tell people about my son, I’m smiling and I can tell them about my wonderful son who was born at 22 months gestation and died because he suffocated six hours into my labor. Their face turns...into a frown, but for me, he’s still my son and I love him and I want his life to bring joy.”
Although the team has been around for several years, it was revamped in February and has been extremely active since then.
Petersburg has a rate of 17.2 infants deaths per 1,000 live births. That figure is well above the statewide rate of 6.8. Hopewell’s rate is also high at 13.
“We look at that data and we determine what it is that we can do to change the outcome,” Diehl said, describing the work of the Community Action Team.
One accomplishment already under the team’s belt is the implementation of a program at Southside Regional Medical Center to ensure that mothers of stillborn babies receive certificates of life signed by the hospital staff. The staff also instructs mothers on how to receive an official certificate of delivery from the state, which is required by law.
“One thing we found is was that birth certificates and certificates of delivery are important, whether the baby is born dead or alive,” Diehl said, describing what the team learned from reviewing information about the experiences of women whose infants have died. “We found that can change the outcome, because it shows them that the community cares, It show that the healthcare professionals care. That’s very important because people need to know that their baby existed so they can begin to heal.”
In the future, the team will be working to distribute cribs, purchased with a mini-grant from the All Baby and Child, Inc. and a match from the Cameron Foundation, along with crib sheets with information about the Back to Sleep Campaign, the name of which was recently changed to the Safe to Sleep Campaign.
The campaign is an initiative of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and describes its aim as the education of parents, caregivers and health providers about ways to reduce the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and other sleep related causes of infant death.
Diehl said they will use their grant funding to purchase 77 cribs and sheets that they will give to community organizations to give to needy families in need of cribs. The hope is that providing cribs to families that might otherwise have their children sleep in the family bed will reduce death rates.
“Babies die from co-sleeping every day,” Diehl said. “It’s not safe to co-sleep.”
Along similar lines, the team is also planning to educate older members of the community about the importance of putting babies to sleep on their backs, rather than their stomachs.
Diehl said that parents used to be instructed to put children on their stomachs. New research has revealed that if babies vomit while sleeping on their backs, they swallow their spit-up rather than choking on it. When babies sleep on their stomachs, their diaphragms can’t move properly, which makes breathing more difficult. Babies sleeping on their stomachs also face the risk of being smothered or aspirating on vomit.
“No one is telling the elders of the community, ‘yeah, that’s the way be used to do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right way,’” Diehl said. “What we’re trying to do is reach out to churches, because we figure that’s where we’re going to reach most of the elders in the Petersburg community.”
The team also plans to communicate with fathers in the community by distributing literature about safe sleeping at barber shops and other locations where men congregate.
On Sept. 27 and Oct. 3, at 7 p.m., the team is partnering with Crater Community Hospice, located on South Crater Road in Petersburg, to host a pregnancy and infancy loss support group. There will be a Spanish language interpreter on hand for the meetings.
“The support group is supposed to be a way to say we support you in your loss and we support your family in your loss,” Diehl said. “If we can make a difference by saying to one person in one meeting, ‘here’s the grief process, this is what you can expect,’ and they allow themselves to heal, then we’ve done it’s job.”
The team is also busy gearing up for October, which is SIDS, pregnancy and infant loss awareness month.
On October 15, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, the team will be organizing a candle light vigil at Southside Regional Medical Center.
During the “Remembering Our Babies” vigil, Diehl and the hospital director will speak and attendees will say their children’s names while lighting their candles.
“It’s to help people heal,” Diehl said. “One of the first steps to healing is to acknowledge the loss.”
Diehl said that anyone in the local community can join the Community Action Team to help decrease the rate of infant death and support those who have experienced it, whether they are amongst that group or not.
“On the group, I’m the only one whose had a loss,” Diehl said, describing the membership of the group that includes people who work for local churches, community organization, health related groups and funeral directors. “People would think that to be interested in something like this, you would have to have been affected by it in some way. That’s not true.
The Community Action Team has a facebook page and Diehl is happy to speak to any members of the community who want to join or who need help. She can be reached, by phone, at (804) 541-0808.