When Danielle King was told her blood pressure was high, she was confused but not incredibly alarmed. She had been preparing to be a mother for almost eight months now and even though she followed through with what all her research told her to do in preparation for her newborn to be, there was not a book or a study in the world that could have prepared her for this.
“The guilt that I felt, like I f***ed up,” King said. “Like there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t keep him safe.”
King’s premature son received what she considered amazing care, and he learned essential skills in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, such as feeding and regulating his body temperature. Her son survived being born six weeks early, but the experience was still frightening for King and her husband.
“He was just hooked up to all of these tubes and monitors and, you know, he’s just this little, tiny thing and I was petrified. It was a really difficult time for me because not only was I not completely prepared— I still thought I had six weeks to go— but I didn’t have time to feel like I bonded with something that was in me and now he’s in this incubator and you can’t touch him and he’s helpless.”
Even though King’s son was born premature and spent 17 days in the NICU, she was fortunate. As a mother with a college education, her child was nearly half as likely to be a victim of infant mortality than the child of a mother who did not graduate high school.
According to a study by Benjamin Sosnaud, a sociologist at Trinity University, babies born to mothers who had less than 12 years of education are, in some states, more than twice as likely to die as infants than those born to mothers with four or more years of college.
“Having a college degree naturally prepares a person to develop one’s cognition, to develop one’s critical thinking, to know how to research, to be exposed to a wider world,” Dr. Angela Campbell, assistant dean of the School of Education at Cabrini University, said.
King, a resident of Abington, Pa., graduated from Temple University with a degree in English. One of the most valuable skills she said she gained from her college experience was the ability to do research.
“I think something that benefited me a lot was my love of research,” King said. “Had I not gone to college, I don’t know if it would have flourished and bloomed into what it is. I research everything.”
Research is an essential part of life. Every time an individual looks up information or Googles a random fact, he or she is doing research.
Jen Hasse, a librarian at Cabrini University, said being able to do research is important in many aspects of life but especially when someone is expecting a baby.
“You do a lot of research when you have a baby,” Hasse said. “You do a lot of reading— too much sometimes. It helps you to seek out answers and it helps you because knowing who you are and knowing what you believe helps you raise a child and know what you want to expose them to and the values that you want them to have.”
It is not just the research element that is an important aspect of education in having a child. A secondary education also can open up doors to resources for the student.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, people with college degrees earned 56 percent more than those with only their GEDs in 2015. Education and its relationship with poverty can affect raising a child and preparing for motherhood.
Campbell explained that poverty is correlated with education and suggested poverty could be one major factor in the issue at large.
“[Mothers without college education] are more likely to have lower wages, less access [and] maybe not even have health care at all,” Campbell said. “A group of women that has less opportunity for prenatal care, less health care access, less education and potentially— but not always— less knowledge” is less likely to detect pregnancy early, which affects lifestyle changes that can put the child at risk.
King agreed that without a college degree, it can be extremely difficult to secure a well-paying job.
“Thanks to America right now and how it’s always been, you need to work three jobs to support one person,” King said. “With less education, you’re less likely to have the same luxuries that other women will have from completing more schooling. It’s about easy access to resources. When you are lower income and you are less educated, you have less access to those resources. It’s disheartening because it shouldn’t be the case but unfortunately, that’s our reality right now.”
Babies of mothers in more impoverished areas are at a higher risk of experiencing infant death.
A study by Save the Children showed that Washington D.C. has the highest infant mortality rate of any city in the developed world. If you look at the poorest area of the city, Ward 8, 1 year olds are 10 times as likely to die than those in Ward 3, the wealthier part of the city. Poverty and education are strongly correlated to the livelihood and health of a baby during pregnancy and after birth.
“There is education in things we take for granted,” Campbell said. “When we’re talking about infant mortality, we’re talking about being able to get to the hospital [and] recognizing the signs of being in labor.”
Campbell added that the effect education has on raising a baby comes before they are born and before recognizing the signs of labor as well.
“I have children and so I had classes. I was on prenatal vitamins. There were things I knew to do. How did I know to do this? I knew because I was educated. I had access to information that assisted me in providing the best prenatal care for my own children,” Campbell said.
Poverty also affects a mother’s ability to find and use resources properly. It influences one’s ability to put quality food on the table, keep a roof over one’s head and further one’s education. These factors tend to be exacerbated by unemployment and low socioeconomic status.
Additionally, being born into poverty compounds poverty and the inability to achieve an education. Without being properly educated, knowing how to raise a child can be immensely challenging.
Hasse said, “You have to know how to read. You have to know how to find that book. You have to be able to come into contact with it.”
Education is integral in employment and access to resources, but beyond that, going to school also provides the student with greater life knowledge.
“I think there is something to be said about being able to at least finish high school because I think it helps you mature a little more and prepares you to be an adult,” King said.
“I’m not surprised by the findings at all. One of the reasons education is so important is not just because of how it prepares one with how to get a job— though that is very important,” Campbell said. “Just the college experience alone is a way to open up the possibilities and the mindset of self-care and care for others.”
Motherhood is a process that Danielle King continues to experience and learn through everyday; however, as she raises her child and remains on the lookout for any complications, such as the increased risk of autism as a result of the prematurity or any other possible unexpected hurdle, she is grateful for her education, her access to resources, her love of knowledge and her college experience.
“I think my education and my knowledge of the things I learned, not only from being in the NICU but then researching, was teaching me what to look for [in caring for him],” King said. “I knew where to look for other resources and other questions that I had. I knew what sites to check out. I’m able to discern what’s good and what’s bad [information]. So I think that is something that helped with trying to figure out the best way to try to, you know, get him to eat new food or the best way to get him to stop using a pacifier or whatever it was, I knew what to look at.”