Think Babies Michigan Parent Leader Spotlight – Jessica Bratt Carle

Jessica Bratt Carle has worked in the healthcare field for years, but when her second child was born with a cleft lip and palate, even she found navigating the bureaucracy of state medical care challenging.

“I kind of knew some of the challenges we might anticipate, but experiencing them as a parent felt very different,” she said.

Formerly a pediatric chaplain and now a medical ethicist, Jessica has been involved with Think Babies Michigan for over two years. She’s a Grand Rapids resident with two sons, ages six and three. When her second son was born, Jessica had to learn how to navigate Michigan’s Children’s Special Health Care Services Program (CSHCS), a form of secondary insurance that the state provides to children with certain healthcare needs. In addition to the usual stressors and challenges of caring for a new child, Jessica had to educate healthcare providers about the CSHCS program, and advocate for specialists to accept the insurance.

The experience of navigating state bureaucracy while trying to care for her youngest son led Jessica to Think Babies Michigan, where she became an advocate for paid family leave, positive health outcomes for children, and safe, affordable child care.

“As a clergyperson already invested in the needs of those who are vulnerable and marginalized by society, […] seeing the way constraints of our society impact [families’] ability to cope and support each other and their child, and just knowing that it could be different—we don’t stop and think about that enough,” said Jessica. “These are the things we’ve just accepted as how it works, and it doesn’t have to be that way.”

As a Think Babies Michigan parent leader, Jessica focuses on how systemic issues impact families. She has seen families struggle to care for their premature babies in the NICU due to lack of paid family leave, the impact of insurance being tied to employment as parents try to meet their child’s healthcare needs while balancing work, and shared how specific instances of childhood injuries, accidents, and maltreatment are often tied to lack of safe and affordable child care. All these issues, she said, are the result of systemic problems that come to bear on individual families.

“There’s a lot of populations that are marginalized who can speak for themselves, but little kids are always going to be reliant on adults to speak for them,” Jessica stated. “It’s hard to zoom out and look at the bigger picture when you’re just focused on figuring out your own family’s needs. But when you’re in the thick of it is when you are best positioned to speak to the actual experience of that need.”

Interested in joining Think Babies Michigan as a parent leader? Learn more.