Hundreds of walkers, including 2-year-old Isabel Brezinkin and her father, Brad, walked along the Charles River to raise money to support healthy moms and healthy babies during March of Dimes’ annual March for Babies: A Mother’s Movement. (Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)
Leading up to her pregnancy, Jessica Paolino felt confident that she would have the support of nurses and doctors in her hometown of Boston, which she described as a “mecca of health care and education.”
But when she went into preterm labor at 24 weeks, her mind changed, much to her surprise.
Her son Eddie Manuel Arnold was born “extremely premature” weighing one pound and 10 ounces. He lived for 22 days. He died on March 9, 2020 of hydrocephalus, a swelling on the brain.
“I was feeling like something was wrong with my pregnancy, and I wasn’t feeling it,” Paolino told the Herald. “Now, being in this space, I feel it’s more common than we know. I don’t think most people know until they have personal experience.
As the sun shone on the Charles River Esplanade on Saturday, Paolino joined hundreds of families who have lost a child in March of Dimes’ annual March for Children: A Mother’s Movement.
In one year of her mourning journey, around his first blue birthday, Paulino decided to create EMA project To help parents who have lost a pregnancy or child or have had a miscarriage.
The EMA Project provides care packages and local programs for bereaved families in honor of Eddy Manuel Arnold.
“I felt this need to create a support system for myself, like everyone else, because when I was going through the grieving journey, I didn’t see a lot of Latinas talking about this,” Paolino said. “It was important to make sure that blacks and Latinos understood that it’s okay to talk about grief, that it’s okay to deal with their pain in public.”
Paolino is not alone in what she calls a “problem” among black and brown birth mothers.
Statistics support her position. In Massachusetts, black and brown women are two to three times more likely to have preterm births, according to a 2015 study. The latest Dimes report card for the month of March It measures the health status of mothers and children.
Massachusetts received a B on its final report card, down from last year’s B grade. The preterm birth rate was 9 percent and the infant mortality rate rose from 3.7 to 3.8 per 1,000 live births, according to March of Dimes figures.
“We can do better and we must do better because our people are dying and our children are dying,” Paulino said.
Compared to other states, Massachusetts is doing well, but it can do better, said Chloe Schwartz, director of infant and maternal health for the state chapter of the March of Dimes. Vermont is the only state to get an A.
Schwartz said it’s hard to pinpoint the main drivers behind Massachusetts’ worse preterm birth and infant mortality rates.
“It’s a never-ending question,” she said. “A lot of research is being done across the country on this. It could be anything from lack of prenatal care to existing health conditions.
There are a few bills in the State House that address maternal mental health, prenatal and postpartum. Provide funding for grant opportunities to increase the prenatal workforce; and increase Medicaid coverage for a variety of services, including aides, nonclinical caregivers who provide social and emotional support.
“The March of Dimes’ mission has shifted from focusing primarily on reducing prematurity and birth defects to reducing health inequities with a greater focus on healthy mothers and healthy babies,” said Craig Best, Chairman of the Board of Dimes Boston.
“It’s a generational issue that takes time and needs attention,” he said. “It’s a multifaceted approach. There is medicine here, law and education as well.