June 9, 2013
Providing pregnant women access to health care is one way local health officials are battling central Virginia’s infant mortality rate, but it’s a challenge for many women – especially teen moms – to get the care they need.
Lexus Belle is one teen who received proper care during her pregnancy thanks to some local nonprofits, and now she’s helping those groups help others.
“It was my senior year, so everybody's looking at you like, ‘You're going to have a baby and you're a senior. I doubt that you're going to graduate,’” Belle, a recent graduate of Charlottesville High School, said.
Belle silenced her critics. She and her 7-month-old son Aiden are both happy and healthy, and are now taking part in groups to help Jefferson Area CHiP – the Children’s Health Improvement Program – make sure other teen moms get the care they need.
“We sort of help them both think in advance before they get pregnant what they need to do, and if they are pregnant, what can we do to make sure they have a healthy pregnancy,” said Judy Smith, CHiP’s executive director.
Access to pre-natal and pre-conception care are just some ways local health officials are trying to fight central Virginia’s infant mortality rate. It’s higher than the national average, and giving moms access to information and care is one way to bring it down.
That, though, still proves to be a challenge.
“Those are some of the reasons people don't get the care that they need sometimes. It's just a lot of personal things in their lives that are really hard,” Smith said.
Personal things like depression and other health or emotional barriers that can prevent women from wanting to get care.
“It was kind of hard because I felt embarrassed a little bit because I had the big picture, babies after school or college,” Belle said.
“It can sometimes be health barriers, health issues that they’ve had before they got pregnant to begin with that were never really treated that creates barriers for healthy outcomes,” Smith said.
Those are the reasons why CHiP develops personal relationships with its clients, and the work pay off, according to statistics. Pregnancies in girls 15 to 17 years old in the Thomas Jefferson Health District have dropped since 2002 from 27.6 per 1,000 births down to 13.3 per 1,000.
“[It’s] just being able to build on that level of trust so there's an open relationship and open communication where an expectant mother feels comfortable asking questions and then in turn can trust the answers she's going to get,” said Elizabeth Beasley, the senior health promotions consultant for the Thomas Jefferson Health District.
However, there’s still a disparity. African-American women are still nearly twice as likely to become pregnant in their teenage years than white women. But through continual education, community leaders hope that number drops, too.
“There is a coordinated effort to make sure that layers of service are applied so that we get the best outcome possible,” said Barbara Hutchinson, director of community initiatives for the United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area.
The layers are developed through a number of nonprofits, like CHiP, that have helped Belle look toward the future. She plans to go to college in the fall and enter the medical field.
“As long as I can be financially stable, be able to do what I feel like I want to do,” she said, “hopefully I can do that and support [Aiden].”