RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As state leaders try to negotiate a new budget, families who lost their children during pregnancy or in the months following birth, urged them on Tuesday to take steps to try to drive down North Carolina’s infant mortality rate and to improve health care for parents.

Ana Vick, who experienced two miscarriages, had a stillborn son named Owen in 2015.

“Too many times I just wanted to kiss and hug Owen, but I had to become used to holding this weighted bear instead,” she said. “Every family deserves the best care available, but sadly that can depend on what is covered by insurance, your provider and even your race.”

In North Carolina, about 830 babies are lost to stillbirth on average each year, according to the program Count the Kicks.

Vick joined other advocates in calling for state leaders to fund education programs for parents, improve health care access and authorize a tax credit for families to help cover the cost of funeral expenses when they lose a child.

Heather Greene is an ambassador for Count the Kicks, which is a program aimed at teaching expectant mothers to time and count their baby’s kicks as part of an overall strategy to monitor their wellbeing. She said it would take about $60,000 to implement the program in North Carolina.

She lost her baby, Addison, and works to try to help families have the information they need.

“We had to say hello and goodbye in a matter of hours. Nobody should have to go through that,” she said. “All the baby shower gifts were just waiting to be used. Instead of enjoying those days after birth, we had to plan a funeral service.”

Advocates also have asked lawmakers to increase funding for the Safe Sleep Campaign from $45,000 to $85,000.

The CDC’s most recent data, which is from 2019, showed North Carolina has an infant mortality rate of 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births. That’s higher than the U.S. as a whole, which is 5.6 per 1,000 live births.

North Carolina had the 12th highest infant mortality rate among states that year.

Sen. Sydney Batch (D-Wake) has advocated for the state to expand Medicaid coverage for more lower-income families. North Carolina is among 12 states that have not done that under the Affordable Care Act.

“There are a number of places as we know in rural North Carolina where hospitals are closing and women have to travel over an hour even to see a doctor or to give birth,” she said.

Republicans in the state Senate proposed a limited expansion of Medicaid to provide coverage for up to 12 months postpartum.

Though some Republicans have supported full expansion, leaders in the General Assembly say they remain concerned about the long-term costs and want to see whether Congress acts to provide a coverage option to those who would otherwise qualify if the state did expand Medicaid.

“As I’m standing here today, I do not see the support in the caucus to expand Medicaid,” House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) recently said.