Tennessee's High Infant Death Rate

"It's so risky. I don't care about curly hair or blue eyes, green eyes, as long as she's healthy, that's all my main concern is, a healthy baby, 'cause you see so much nowadays, yep, so much," she said.

At the "Oasis of Hope," Durham tries to create what she calls a "safe house," where young people can escape, if only for awhile, some of the dangers that define their everyday lives. At the house, there's always running water, electricity, snacks and something to do.

Mothers-to-be like Simpson are told to avoid the physical and emotional strain that can damage an unborn child: Studies show that people living in crime-ridden inner cities actually suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder similar to veterans of war.

"The inner city is like the most stressful place, I think. The crime rate is too high. You see too much things goes on in the neighborhood," said Simpson. "Stress plays a major role in pregnancy. If you're stressed out a lot, you can easily have a miscarriage. I know several people who have lost their child due to a miscarriage. My friend Tonya, she lost her child, like a couple of weeks ago she lost her child."

Tonya Conley, who lives with her grandmother and babysits her brother's children, was 17 when she got pregnant. She went into labor four months early.

"When he came out he was already ... dead," said Conley. "They gave me, like, two pictures of my baby and stuff, and they let me hold my baby. I really wanted my baby."

"Words can't explain, I guess," said Simpson. "It's something that you live with forever, the loss of your unborn child."

Living Without Resources, or Entitlement

Drumwright said that since Memphis' infant mortality rate had been publicized, many churches around the city have said the problem would have been avoided if only these young women had chosen abstinence.

"And yes, that's important," Drumwright said. "But still we have the pregnancies, we have the babies, so we need to take care of them, we need to talk to them. And we need to educate the young moms about taking care of their child, and also about birth control and about abstinence."

Wendi Thomas, a local reporter who grew up in Memphis, often asks in her weekly column why poor people don't get more attention from elected officials.

"I think that there are a lot of assumptions that you make, we make about people who are poor -- and unless you have spent time and interacted with people who are poor, you have no idea what their lives are like," Thomas said.

"People who are poor in my experience don't have that same feeling of entitlement to quality housing, to buses that run near where they live, to a grocery store that even has produce that you would want to eat," she added. "And all these things compound upon each other to create a cycle and a system of poverty that seems, it can seem inescapable."

Buying birth control and visiting health care clinics isn't easy when you're without insurance, and you don't own a car. And many of these young mothers are raising babies alone. Nearly 65 percent of black children nationwide grow up with only one parent according to the 2006 U.S. Census American Community Survey.

Simpson hasn't spoken to her father since the day she told him she was pregnant.

"I try not to let it get to me so much, but it's not a day go by that I don't think about where he's at and why would he walk out on me now. You know, this is a big time when you need your father the most to help support you," Simpson said.

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