For about a week after giving birth to my daughter, Julia Justicia (JJ), I couldn’t walk without assistance. I was taking pain medication that was making it hard for me to relax, or live in the moment. JJ wasn’t feeding, so I was constantly hooked up to a hospital-grade breast pump, and my husband and I had to quickly learn how to use a feeding syringe. For months after giving birth, I didn’t feel quite right. I was eventually diagnosed with postpartum anxiety.
I was incredibly lucky.
I gave birth at Sibley Hospital, and spent three nights there. It is a world-class facility and I received world-class care. Our hospital bill for those three nights, along with an endless amount of medication and supplies and tests, was about $16,000. Thankfully, my husband has great insurance, so we were only asked to pay $600.
In the days after discharge, my husband and I were regulars at the breastfeeding center on 19th and K Streets, Northwest. They taught us techniques and coached me through feeding. There is no breastfeeding center in or near Ward 6, so going across town was the only option. And, like I said, I could barely walk. We spent hundreds of dollars on these services, which were the only thing giving us a fighting chance at keeping JJ somewhere close to a healthy weight.
In the months after giving birth, I was able to see a therapist who specialized in postpartum anxiety and depression. We identified and worked through the issues I was struggling with. We spent hundreds of dollars on these visits, which were essential in getting me to a place where I could focus on being a happy, healthy new mom.
These services - all of them - were essential. And they cost us thousands of dollars, which means they’re inaccessible to many new mothers in our city. And that’s without mentioning that my employer provided me with 4 months of paid family leave, without which I could not have taken these steps to care for JJ, and for myself.
New moms are not treated equally across this city, and we need to do better. The infant mortality rate in Washington is higher than the national average, and higher than any capital city of any wealthy nation in the world. What’s more, infants in our poorest communities are ten times more likely to die than infants in our wealthiest neighborhoods.
This is more than just a public health crisis. It’s a humanitarian crisis, and a moral crisis. Yet our leadership lacks the experience, credentials and expertise to understand, confront and address this crisis, and the many other health disparities that plague our community and impact our neighbors.
It’s unacceptable, and it’s time for us to do better. Our future depends on it.