Posted by: NCC Poverty Initiative Director | January 3, 2011

Beyond the Manger

Christmas has come and the New Year is here! This time of year, I get ready to celebrate  Dia de los Reyes on January 6.  In my husband’s family tradition (Mexican-American),  we bake a sweet bread (rosca) and hide a baby inside the cake.  Along with fun cultural traditions, this time of year reminds me that Jesus came into this world not in a royal palace, but in a humble and precarious condition.  What a struggle it must have been for Mary and Joseph to create a healthy home for a new baby in a stable.

Expecting mothers, babies, and young children need to be safe from toxic chemicals.

Like the Holy Family, many young families today put forth a resilient effort at healthy living in precarious situations:

  • seeking nourishing family meals in food deserts
  • organizing to get dangerous landfills, freeways, factories, and trash incinerators out of  neighborhoods
  • learning about and avoiding toxic products – especially at dollar and thrift stores
  • earning livelihoods in beauty, agriculture, manufacturing, mining, or cleaning industries where workers exposed to dangerous chemicals are often neither informed nor safeguarded.

Young families are at high risk for many health troubles when they are exposed to hormone-disrupting pesticides, toxic wastes, chemicals in household products, and workplace hazards.  Chemicals seep through skin and food into the bloodstream, the womb, and breast milk. Chemical damage in the body leads to…

1. Pregnancy troubles:

  • Preeclampsia (hypertension) &  intra-uterine growth restriction – linked to low birth weight.
  • Miscarriage – affects 21 percent of known pregnancies
  • Stillbirth
  • Pre-term delivery – primary cause of death in the first month of life.

2. Trouble with baby, starting in the womb:

  • Abnormal number of chromosomes (Aneuploidy)
  • Developmental disorders, learning disabilities, & predisposition to diabetes/obesity

3. Trouble with mom:

  • Shortened lactation & chemical-laden breastmilk
  • Uterine fibroids (painful tumors on the uterus)
  • Endometriosis (uterus tissue lining growth outside the uterus)

The new year and the approach of epiphany cause me to reflect on the gift and the miracle of parenthood, as well as the holiness of every new life.  As I look ahead to my work in the new year, I am preparing an Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) workshop “Maternal Health and Environmental Justice: Development and Security Start in the Womb.” The theme of EAD this year is “Development, Security, and Economic Justice: What’s Gender Got to Do with It?”  I hope you will join me March 25-28, 2011 in Washington, DC at EAD, and learn more about protecting the gift of parenthood and new life.



  1. Recent study came out about how pollutants pass from mother to child:

  2. A new study finds for the first time that the bodies of virtually all U.S. pregnant women – and possibly their unborn children – carry multiple chemicals, including some banned since the 1970s and others used in common products such as non-stick cookware, processed foods and personal care products.

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