The headline was shocking: American babies are 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than babies in other rich countries. The United States’ infant mortality rate is the highest in the developed world. That statistic shocked me. It’s a form of American exceptionalism we Americans don’t like to think about. As the Washington Post put it, Our Infant Mortality is a National Embarrassment.
I thought about the parents of those little ones, whose crushing loss–losing a child before their first birthday–is immeasurable. The loss is emotional, financial, and devastates marriages and families. The cost of 23,000 infant deaths on our country is unimaginable.
The loss cuts deeper because infant mortality is a problem we understand pretty clearly. It is not Democrat or Republican, Red State or Blue state. It’s not about who is President. The causes of infant mortality and solutions to it are well known. It is a problem other countries have solved. And it is something we have ignored.
As a visual artist, I believe in the power of art to change hearts, minds, behavior, and the world. Think about the famous AIDS Quilt, a community art project commemorating the loss of more than 80,000 lives. By ‘drawing’ a picture of a problem, we can see and feel the enormity of it. Our country, our leaders, and lawmakers need to see exactly what infant mortality looks like in America.
My vision for TheMourningProject.com is that each of the infants lost in a given year will be remembered with a unique, handmade, heartfelt little elegy. I am asking the fiber art community to come together to make 23,000+ pairs of baby booties. This is the number of American infants who die every year.
Whether sewn, knitted, felted, woven, or crocheted, I am asking for donations of handmade baby shoes in the colors of mourning: black, white, and gray. Gathered together, these small elegies will literally paint a compelling picture too big to ignore: a 38′ by 38′ image of a heart with baby feet inside. This image requires 14,000 pairs of white booties alone. I love the way this installation plan is like the problem of infant mortality itself: we all need to contribute to solve this ‘puzzle.’
I am still collecting booties for the installation. Make them black, white, or gray, and send them to me (click here for a checklist). Tell your friends and ask them to help. Make your booties in memory of a lost child.
Here is where we are to date. Our work will be both a visual reminder of a national tragedy, and what we can do about it.
I can’t do this alone. Are you with me?
Click here for answers to Frequently Asked Questions about TheMourningProject.com.
Click here for links to free baby bootie patterns.
Click here to learn more about the US infant mortality problem and solutions.
Click here for the Baby Bootie Permissions Form and Instructions.
Click here for a Brief Talking Points handout about infant mortality.
Are you a yarn or fabric store owner? Click here.
How many baby booties have we raised to date? Click here.
heart image courtesy of http://worldartsme.com
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