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Remembering My Cousin Carol’s Daughter at the Kellogg Foundation Roundtable in Detroit

I’m in a Detroit hotel room. Besides for enjoying a rare night of uninterrupted sleep without the kiddies, I was invited here by the Kellogg Foundation to participate in a national roundtable discussion on improving birth outcomes. There are many national experts here and I am honored to be representing Mocha Manual moms and our perspective in this critical issue. But traveling here (through multiple delays due to east coast snow storms) with this weighty issue on my mind, brought back a personal memory I’d nearly forgotten.

When I was a young girl I remember going to a funeral with my family. After the trip to Brooklyn and walking into the funeral home I distinctly recall a particularly strange vibe in the room. As I entered the chapel I remember seeing a very small closed coffin at the front and wondering how it was possible for someone so small to die. It never dawned on me at the time that babies die. I saw my tall, thin, dark skinned cousin Carol, sobbing uncontrollably with my aunt. Later, when she was talking with my parents after the service her face looked more shamed than sad, more confused than grief-stricken, and I was left wondering. And as it often is in our communities, nobody talked about why her baby died. Nobody answered my questions (I was a vigorous question asker from a very young age) and my parents, who typically obliged my inquisitiveness, simply kept repeating, “I don’t know.”

Years later, as I began my dive into understanding our journey in motherhood and how our babies fare as they start life in this world, I’ve thought a lot about Carol and what could have happened to her baby girl. I will think about her as I participate in the Kellogg Foundation’s workgroup today. I’ll remember the family silence over the baby’s passing and ask why that continues. Perhaps talking about it could help change us reverse course. I’ve lamented that I lost a little cousin who never got to experience our family reunions, New Year’s Day dinners, and our family version of the Electric Slide (which I call “The Electrocuted!!”) and a young black girl who could have made a major contribution to the world. Even a world of one.

Earlier this week, there was a story in the Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/25/AR2009012502641.html?wpisrc=newsletter highlighting a new report published today in the journal Pediatrics http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/123/2/533 showing that once again our infant risks of death are nearly three times that of the general population. This time the cause is accidental suffocation and strangulation—the kind that comes when a sleeping parent rolls on top of a baby, a pillow falls on an infant’s face, a blanket gets wrapped around the child’s neck or when the baby gets wedged between a mattress and a wall. The study by a CDC researcher showed that infant black boys were the most vulnerable.

Just like SIDS, these kinds of tragedies are preventable. We have to alert our sisters and caregivers about safe sleeping. This is especially true of our mothers, grandmothers and older caregivers—whom we may rely on for much-needed help, who have an old school mentality that putting a baby to sleep on her stomach makes her sleep longer or stay full longer. I know my grandmother told me that many times. Being modern moms means helping to educate those older than us and those younger than us so we can break the tide. Please join me in doing our part.

Please check out story on safe sleeping, SIDS and the new report from the CDC. http://mochamanual.com/mochamanual/index.php?/Baby-s-First-Year/Take-Back-our-Babies.html

In motherhood,

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