Resuscitating the Birth Defects Foundation

The March of Dimes is a long standing organization. Founded in 1938 by President Roosevelt, the original purpose of the foundation was to address the problem of polio, which can be compared to the AIDS epidemic in severity. Through March of Dimes funding, Jonas Salk researched and developed the killed virus polio vaccine.

March of Dimes claims full credit for development of the vaccine and for the coinciding decline of poliomyelitis (“polio”)

As polio declined, March of Dimes’ focus evolved into the area of birth defects. The mission of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality.  

The locus of March of Dimes research is technology development. Since 1974 March of Dimes has funded the regionalization of neonatal intensive care units. 

This is an understandable phenomenon. Looking at the organizational structure of the March of Dimes offers insight. March of Dimes is a volunteered, nonprofit corporation. What this means is that all decisions made on behalf of the March of Dimes are made through volunteer committees. Each of these committees holds direct responsibility within a chapter and/or nationwide for deciding which direction March of Dimes research and programs should take.

Currently, members of the volunteer committees adhere primarily to the allopathic medical model of perinatal health care. Alas, the nature of the beast  is unleashed! Let the wild rumpus of your imagination begin! Could it be that by changing the constitution of the volunteer network, the core values of the organization might reflect a more holistic model of mama-baby care?

It is notable that identifying, motivating and retaining unpaid volunteers is no simple feat. Committees are ever changing and opportunities for new people to get on board arise regularly.

Let’s see independent childbirth educators, traditional midwives, doulas, naturopathic physicians, herbalists and other holistic-minded practitioners, as well as mothers and fathers come out enforce and claim their places within the March of Dimes. Let’s take the opportunity to influence where the grant money goes–steering it to low-cost, low-tech, hands-on programs that work to prevent birth defects and infant mortality with simple elegance.

As with all creatures, the organization which fails to grow and change to meet the emergent needs of its benefactors is a dying organization. Let us breathe new life into this long-standing corporation! Carpe Diem!

Stacy L. Vandenput is a childbirth educator (Bradley method), childbirth assistant trained by Informed Birth and Parenting), and midwife. First published in “Special Delivery” periodical.

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