health: The Maternal Infant Health Program is becoming the face of pregnancy prevention
Recently, the importance of access to affordable family planning services has gained national recognition. Not only is access to affordable birth control a national concern, it is also a concern for residents of Washtenaw County.
A recent study indicated that 28.2 percent of births in Washtenaw County were to mothers who were not married at the time of delivery (The Right Start in Michigan). Research has shown that unmarried women who are pregnant are more likely to report that the pregnancy was unintended with "almost seven [unintended pregnancies] of every 10 among unmarried women" (Right Start in Michigan and Its Counties - 2012).
Each unintended pregnancy is preventable, and it is important to do so, since "studies have shown that children born in these circumstances often suffer from poor comes in health, education, and employment" (Right Start in Michigan and Its Counties - 2012).
While advocating for health insurance coverage of birth control methods is important, often, encouraging women to access family planning services involves more than just a financial component. Social and psychological factors, such as embarrassment or lack of knowledge regarding resources, are also barriers that can inhibit women from accessing even free or low cost birth control services.
The Maternal Infant Health Program works with at-risk women who are pregnant or parenting a child under one year. At each visit, MIHP staff meets with women and, among other things, address their willingness to use a method of birth control in order to prevent future unintended pregnancies.
A social worker in the Maternal Infant Health Program had been working with a single mother with three children, all of whom were unintended and the result of unprotected sexual activity. This mother stated that she wanted to use condoms as her primary form of birth control but was uncomfortable with the idea of being seen purchasing them at the store. At each visit the MIHP social worker would stress the importance of using birth control and would provide her with free condoms from the Adult Health Clinic at Washtenaw County Public Health. Together, the social worker and the mother created a plan for how to access condoms free of charge and free of stigma.
At one visit, the mother indicated that she had run out of condoms and had been about to engage in unprotected sex with a partner when all of a sudden the social worker's face popped into her head. She stated that she knew the social worker would be disappointed when she learned that the woman had risked another unintended pregnancy. The woman was proud to tell the MIHP social worker that she decided not to engage in sexual activity again until she could do so safely.
So, what is Public Health doing to address this issue? Apparently, the MIHP staff are becoming the actual faces of safer-sex practices and pregnancy prevention in Washtenaw County.