Being pregnant and then bringing home a baby for the first time can be one of the most wonderful – and scary – experiences in a woman’s life. Becoming a new mom can be particularly overwhelming for young women facing financial hardship and other challenges.
The Nurse Family Partnership, a program of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is free and provides information and support to low-income, first-time mothers. Ann Irvin is among several specially trained nurses who work with eligible mothers and mothers-to-be in Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties. “Parenting is one of the biggest responsibilities we have and one of the things we educate people the least about,” said Irvin, who has been with the Nurse-Family Partnership program since it began in Northwest Colorado 12 years ago.
Nurses meet with clients regularly during pregnancy and the first two years of their child’s life. Meetings occur weekly to monthly depending on where a client is in the process. Ideally, clients join the program early in their pregnancies, “when they have a million questions,” Irvin said, adding that the program will enroll a client at any point in their pregnancy and also after the baby is born. Visits, which typically last about an hour and take place in a client’s home, are opportunities for the nurse and client to delve deeper into topics – such as nausea, nutrition and sleeping schedules – which clients may not have the time to discuss with their doctor.
At first, the idea of regular visits from a nurse can be uncomfortable, but nurses work hard to establish trusting relationships with clients, bolstering their confidence with up-to-date information, practical emotional support and links to community resources. “We are not coming in to monitor the cleanliness of your home or focus on what you are doing wrong,” Irvin said. “We are there to focus on the mom’s strengths and help mom and baby have a healthy relationship.” Fathers are encouraged to be involved in visits and other family members are also welcome to join meetings.
Megan Walker of Clark and her 2-year-old son are among 118 families that have graduated from the Nurse-Family Partnership in Northwest Colorado. When she joined the program, she was relatively new to the community and didn’t have family support nearby. Struck by how quickly her son grew and changed, Walker particularly appreciated regular opportunities to talk to her nurse about developmental milestones. “It’s almost like getting a visit from a friend who also happens to have this great medical and developmental knowledge to share,” Walker said.
In addition to advising moms on issues of pregnancy and child-rearing, nurses also empower them to continue thinking about and pursuing their goals. Walker has been attending classes at Colorado Mountain College since her son was six months old and is pursuing a four-year degree in Sustainability Studies. She also works as a trail guide at a local ranch. “We help parents explore and decide what they want out of life for themselves and their children,” Irvin said. “We teach that parenting is learning new ideas to add to your own, using common sense, being flexible and having a sense of humor and hope for the future.”
The Nurse-Family Partnership program has openings for new clients. Eligibility is based on income. If you or someone you know is interested in enrolling in the program, call 970-871-7686. To view client stories and learn more about the program, visit https://www.blog.northwestcoloradohealth.org/nfp.php.
By Tamera Manzanares