Wisconsin faces a black infant and maternal mortality public health crisis. As community-based doulas with Harambee Village Doulas, we support families during a unique time period, and we are on a mission to bring greater attention to the issue and to promote socio-ecologically sound solutions.
Black babies in Wisconsin are three times more likely than white babies to die before their first year of life. Moreover, Black mothers are five times more likely to die than white women while giving birth in Wisconsin. These rates represent the stolen lives of family, friends and neighbors, as their deaths should have been the exception and not the rule.
These aren’t just statistics — there is a story behind these numbers. We do not accept these outcomes, because we know Wisconsin can do better. We demand that our state elected officials work to address health inequities in Wisconsin.
The word "Harambee" means "let's pull together." With the health and lives of Wisconsin mothers and babies at stake, each and every one of us must pull together to combat these man-made disparities. The hope lies in the idea that we can create man-made solutions to address man-made problems. Together, we need to promote ecologically sound legislation to reduce health inequities, and paid family leave legislation is a critical part of the solution.
We must work across the socio-ecological spectrum in respect to supporting families and overall health in Wisconsin. Few policy initiatives hold such potential to directly improve maternal and child health while promoting economic security for all workers. So many workers in Wisconsin are forced to make the unfair choice between job security and their own health needs or those of their family.
Availability of paid family medical leave would have profound, long-lasting effects on the well-being of women and families. Parental leave has been shown to lead to an increased duration of breastfeeding (having lasting positive effects on infant mortality and maternal and infant long-term health, and serving as a preventative measure against chronic illnesses known to disproportionately affect Black people), enhanced social and emotional development and a reduction in postpartum depression in mothers. It also supports partner involvement with child rearing.
In addition, we are pushing for all workers in Wisconsin to benefit from not having to choose between job security and family health. At some point, nearly everyone will need to take time away from work to deal with a serious personal or family illness, or to care for a new child. Yet, only 15% of workers in the U.S. have access to paid leave through their employers.
Many people are familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act, which does not offer workers what they need. FMLA is unpaid leave, and ensures that qualifying workers have a job to return to. But it only covers 60% of the workforce and many workers cannot afford to take unpaid time off. All Wisconsin workers deserve access to paid time off from work, and that is what paid family leave insurance programs provide.
Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, and Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mount Horeb, recently introduced legislation that would bring paid family leave to Wisconsin. This legislation would allow workers to receive paid time off to care for a new child, a sick family member, or for themselves during an illness. We have closely followed this issue, and appreciate that this legislation has been modeled after successful legislation coming out of states that have already enacted paid family leave for their residents.
On behalf of the women and families we work with, we feel compelled to help move paid family leave legislation forward and ensure effective and ecologically sound policy is developed, in partnership with women and communities of color. Paid family leave can be a necessary ingredient to help reduce Wisconsin’s black infant and maternal mortality crisis and provide much needed economic security to families across our state. Wisconsin, let’s all pull together.
Tia Murray is founder and CEO of Harambee Village Doulas and Micaela Berry is executive director of Harambee Village Doulas.
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