On 22 July, Buckingham Palace announced (by a combination of town crier and easel in front of the palace, obviously. I mean, how else?) , “Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a son at 4:24 today.” It is hard to imagine a baby born into this world with a greater head start than the great-grandson of the Queen.
That’s why I love the fact that the Finnish government sent the Duchess the same starter kit that it gives to all expectant mothers. Starting in the 1930’s as part of an effort to combat infant mortality, the Finnish government sent a “maternity box” containing basic items to help a mother begin to raise a child. Even the box itself is useful-many babies end up sleeping in it for their first crib! The choice of the baby box as as a royal baby shower present means that a baby in downtown Oulu (no, I didn’t know any Finnish cities other than Helsinki before now either) could have the exact same clothing, toys, and yes, place to sleep, as the heir to the throne of the United Kingdom.
I know, the Prince’s son won’t sleep in the box, but the point is no baby in Finland has to go without a safe place to sleep or warm clothes to wear. The same can’t be expected in many other places. An infographic by Robert Wood Johnson demonstrates a stark – I would say immoral – reality that babies born just miles apart from one another can expect a difference of life expectancy of up to 25 years.
This happens because of what we in public health called the social determinants of health. One’s state of health is influenced by three things: genetics, personal decision, and social determinants. Even though we have difficulty admitting it in bootstrap-pulling America, the third category has much more impact than the second. In other words, things largely outside of our control have a much bigger impact on our health than things within our control.
This is not to excuse personal responsibility, but it is to say that sending a baby a box to sleep in is a profound acknowledgement that society has a sincere interest in that baby getting off to a good start.
As the parent of a Finnish child puts it:
This [receiving a box] felt to me like evidence that someone cared, someone wanted our baby to have a good start in life. And now when I visit friends with young children it’s nice to see we share some common things. It strengthens that feeling that we are all in this together.
Pretty amazing that a simple box could do all that. But that might just be the point. That young boy will someday rule England and I bet he probably wants a healthy workforce and an educated citizenry. And his rule will be more successful if everyone feels like they are all in it together. Achieving that might not be as simple as napping in a cardboard box, but it would be a nice start.
Cover photo courtesy of flickr user Ochre Jelly