How many of you have seen the mattresses and couches placed along Capitol Drive and parts of Sherman Boulevard last week?
Thirty-six mattresses and two couches had been set up on the grassy medians of the two main streets of the city in our community. The couches and mattresses had neon-orange outlines of babies painted on them with various messages that warn of the fatal consequences of sleeping with a baby.
The mattresses and couches were part of the city health department’s Safe Sleep Awareness Campaign.
When I saw the mattresses, I was initially more concerned about causing an accident trying to read the messages than what the messages said.
I’m sure people who live and work in the area pulled over and read the messages on the mattresses and couches. If the intent of the display was to get attention, it was successful.
But if the intent of the unusual displays was to scare straight adults into not sleeping with their babies in adult beds and couches—even chairs—the vote is still out.
As I stated before, any strategy that stops one baby from dying is good. However, where are these public officials as we try to save the other 85-90% of Black babies who die each year in ways other than co-sleeping? This type of single-mindedness on co-sleeping sends a disturbing message: that any death of infants other than co-sleeping is an acceptable pathology in the Black community. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If the infant mortality rate for White babies were as high as it is for Black babies, there would be an instantaneous call-to-action. This is a multifaceted problem that requires not only a multi-pronged attack, but also more resources.
It does not take much political capital to stand on a street corner and admonish people for what is seen as an unfortunate—and unintended—accident when sleeping with your baby.
I would like to see some of these same elected officials who stand-up against co-sleeping, stand-up and demand that more is done to save babies from being fatalities.
Would information and education about co-sleeping help? YES! Could the community do more and be more responsible as it relates to co-sleeping? Yes! Will some people see the mattresses and think about the possible dangers of co-sleeping when it is improperly practiced? Yes!
But babies are still dying by means other than co-sleeping. They are dying from being born prematurely. They are dying from questionable pre-natal care. They are dying from the stress of living in unstable conditions. They are dying because of the economic conditions in Milwaukee, especially for Black Milwaukeeans.
These are not excuses. These are real reasons and they go beyond the stereotypical ones people feel more comfortable talking about. It is a lot easier to blame people for their condition; when the person pointing the finger doesn’t have to worry about what part he or she played in creating or perpetuating the conditions.
As you can see, I am very passionate about this subject…and very frustrated. My agency, Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, works with pregnant women and their families every day. I am constantly amazed at the resiliency displayed by these families in the face of unbelievable odds.
These expectant mothers and mothers of babies all want their children to be healthy. My agency spends the majority of its time helping them to access resources or advocate for them to get the care they and their infants need.
Are their pregnant women who care more about themselves than about they lives they carry in their wombs? Sure there are. But these women, whether they be Black or White; rich or poor, are the exception, not the rule.
I chose to believe that people will do the right thing for themselves and their families when given the right information and instruction with the appropriate respect and caring.
I know, because I see it work every day. For those people who have never made a mistake or are so judgmental of others, all I can say is…that’s a lot of perfection to be carrying around!