“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself, and once for her child.” Famed actress Sophia Loren made that simple yet profound reflection which all mothers know to be true. Mothering is about balancing the dual roles of self-care and protector of our next generation.
In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day to honor the person who gave us life and looked out for our every need.
Four years later in 1918, the Spanish Flu infected 500 million people around the world. Our public health systems were not equipped to face such a relentless virus. In the turmoil of that pandemic, being a vulnerable mother took on a new dimension as fears mounted and 50 million of all ages died.
Seventy-five years later in 1991, Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles signed a pioneering measure for mothers – creating Healthy Start. It was hallmark legislation designed to support motherhood by screening all pregnant women and babies and providing services for those at risk. The new law, voted unanimously by the Legislature, compelled us to “think twice” and provided universal care for pregnant women and new mothers. Since Healthy Start was enacted, Florida has been home to more than five million newborns. Over the decades since implementation of the model, our state’s infant mortality rate has been reduced by 32%.
Today, a century after the creation of Mother’s Day and nearly 30-years since the implementation of Healthy Start, we find ourselves facing another pandemic. All mothers and babies are at risk. They and our valiant health care providers are treading in uncharted waters. All of us, especially pregnant women, are forced to think twice, in a new age of anxiety, isolation and social distancing.
Healthy Start is learning to adapt to fulfill our vital charge. Through the dedicated leadership of Florida’s 32 regional coalitions, we are working to connect with moms through virtual platforms, video childbirth education, and nutrition access. We are entrusted by law to support the most vulnerable and take that responsibility with great resolve.
As we progress forward in our mission, we are honored to bear witness to the strength and love our mothers share with their young children. It is inspiring to see the view from where we are as helpers, guides and allied advocates. This role makes us think twice…once for our Healthy Start community colleagues and twice for the moms and babies we serve every day.
• The nurse who must stay distant from her own children in order to care for others
• The grocery cashier who is needed at the store, but also has duties at her home kitchen
• The pregnant teen who may not have access to a safe home, a shower, or a loved one to hold her hand
• The restaurant server who is furloughed with minimal access to food, diapers or right-sized clothing for her growing baby
• The teacher who has her children at home and must learn new technologies while she teaches
• The childcare worker who balances the needs of our youngest learners while their parents work
• The elder care attendant who fears of contracting a virus as she attends to someone else’s grandparent
• The mom who serves as an elected official and must set an example of strength while feeling personal stress.
They may seem to be built of steel, but these moms are vulnerable and need us to be strong, sensitive and sustaining.
This Mother’s Day let’s think twice and honor mothers for their important efforts at home and in their role as essential community contributors. They have earned our love, respect, support and dedicated advocacy. For information about Florida’s Healthy Start, please visit www.healthystartflorida.com.
Faye Johnson serves as Statewide President of the Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalitions. Cathy Timuta is the Association’s Executive Director.