For Waylon Schaefer, there would be no baby shower and no nursery.
“I couldn’t come home to a house with a nursery and no baby,” said Amanda Schaefer, a sixth-grade teacher at Emporia Middle School who found out when she was 25 weeks’ pregnant that her son, Waylon, had a congenital abnormality that kept his diaphragm from developing properly. His chances of survival were about 50-50.
“I held off completely once I found out how sick he was,” Schaefer said.
“I hate to say it was mother’s intuition, but I knew something wasn’t right. With my daughter, everything was done. The bedroom was finished and ready to go.”
At 32 weeks, she went into pre-term labor and was transported from Emporia to Kansas City with her husband, Hoyt, to have their son.
Waylon was born on March 3, weighing just 3 pounds, 11 ounces. Doctors tried for 30 minutes to stabilize him, but he died.
In Kansas, infants die at higher rates than the national average. And the infant mortality rates in Kansas are higher for babies born to women who live in rural and densely settled rural areas compared to infants born to women who live in frontier (less than six people per square mile), urban and semi-urban areas, according to state vital statistics data from 2008 to 2012.
The Schaefers live in Lyon County, which is considered a densely settled rural area, with 20 to 39.9 people per square mile.
Although the rates are higher for those rural areas, about 70 percent of the state’s infant deaths last year occurred in semi-urban and urban areas.
Kansas has struggled to improve infant mortality rates over the past couple of decades. Although the state’s rate of infant deaths has improved over that time, as has the country’s in general, Kansas still exceeds the national averages for infant deaths.
In rural counties, where there may be relatively few births, even small increases in the number of deaths year to year can look drastic because of the smaller population. To help combat that, public health officials often look at numbers on a five-year rolling average to find trends.
“In a small county like in western Kansas, 12 infant deaths can be a really high rate,” said Greg Crawford, Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s director of vital statistics data analysis.
For instance, Rawlins County in northwest Kansas, which has a population of about 2,500, had the highest infant death rate on average from 2008 to 2012, but it had a total of three infant deaths during those years.
Women in rural areas often don’t have the same access to care as women in more urban areas.
Of the roughly 40,000 live births in Kansas last year, nearly 18 percent of pregnant women received “inadequate” or “intermediate” prenatal care, according to state data. Lower levels of care were more likely to occur in rural areas than in urban areas.
Among the counties with the highest rates of “inadequate” prenatal care, according to state data, were Chautauqua, Comanche, Edwards, Finney, Grant, Greeley, Hamilton, Kearny, Meade, Seward, Stanton, Trego and Wichita – most of which are in western Kansas.
Three of the five counties with the highest birth rates in the state are in southwest Kansas: Finney, Ford and Seward. The other two are Wyandotte and Geary counties.
Statewide, more than 2,100 women who gave birth in 2012 didn’t seek prenatal care until they were at least six months’ pregnant, according to the KDHE report. More than 350 women never sought prenatal care before birth.