Valerie Eldridge is an alumnus of the 2013-2014 North Florida Health Corps AmeriCorps program. She currently is a Human Services Counselor with the Florida Department of Health in Nassau County Healthy Start program, where she also completed her AmeriCorps service. She shares her role in preventing infant mortality:
As we move into September, infant mortality awareness month, I have begun to reflect on the past year and my experiences within the North Florida Health Corps and the Florida Department of Health in Nassau County Healthy Start program. After graduating from college I could describe factors impacting the health of communities or summarize the effects of malnutrition during pregnancy. I wouldn’t have been able, however, to tell you how it felt to desperately try and provide a measure of comfort to a mother grieving the loss of her baby and I wouldn’t have been able to describe to you the fear, anxiety, hopefulness and excitement present in the eyes of a newly pregnant woman so hopeful that this pregnancy will be healthy and carried to term. While my education was important, serving and working on the front lines of public health is providing an urgency and reality to academic theories.
Sometimes within the statistics we use to describe the loss of a child before one year of life, we lose sight of the ones closely affected. While serving in the North Florida Health Corps at FDOH Nassau County Healthy Start, I was given the opportunity to contact women and discuss their Healthy Start risk screen, used to determine factors that may put a woman at more risk for having a low birth weight baby or a preterm baby. Women and mothers gave me details, not only proudly speaking of their previous pregnancies that yielded healthy, cooing babies, but also sharing their loss and grief over miscarriages, stillborn babies and infant deaths. Their realities gave faces and names to infant mortality and served as a constant reminder that the work that is being done across the state and nation is crucial and needed for people of all walks of life.
My service helped me to see that although it may seem insurmountable, there are definite ways to combat the many factors contributing to infant mortality, such as education. After determining a woman’s pregnancy or baby may be at an increased risk for future infant mortality, I had the opportunity to provide information and resources to local services tailored to each individual. One mother explained to me that her baby’s death had been attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and that she hadn’t known about all of the recommended safe sleep practices at that time. I will never forget her words, “I wish I would have known then, what I know now.” I seek to provide all mothers I come into contact with the information that they deserve to have. All women have the right to information that can help them to make appropriate, healthy choices for their pregnancies, families and children.
As my AmeriCorps term drew to a close with the North Florida Health Corps, I felt that I still had more to accomplish. I was graciously accepted for a position to continue working towards healthier outcomes for pregnant women and their babies alongside the rest of the dedicated, passionate team of women at FDOH Nassau County Healthy Start. Even though I am officially working now, I hope to continue serving the women and families of Nassau County with a renewed vigor in the fight against infant mortality and for improved maternal and child health.