Imagine gaining a few pounds and suddenly suspecting you might be pregnant. Then just two weeks later you’re giving birth to a baby– all before you even had your first sonogram.
That’s exactly what happened to Allie and her partner Kyle a few years ago. The stress of realizing she was pregnant despite her IUD was enough to kick her into early labor. And with just a matter of days to process the idea of becoming parents and prepare their home, she gave birth to Willow at Women and Infants Hospital at just 8 months along.
“When I had my daughter, it was actually very unexpected because all I’d noticed was weight gain. But Portuguese families are very good when you’re in a crisis,” she joked. “They made a room for the baby in three days so she could come home.”
Luckily before coming home, a hospital social worker had recommended they contact the First Connections program for additional support.
“We needed help,” she said. “We needed someone to tell us how to be parents.”
Though FSRI’s First Connections program is referred to about 5,000 moms like Allie after birth each year whose babies face one of a list of 13 at-risk categories– some as simple as being a first-time mom. Not all mothers follow through on the offer or make an appointment to receive free support services that First Connections provides. But when Allie heard about it, she was immediately willing to accept any and all help she could get during the huge life shift she was going through.
“Motherhood hit me hard,” she said. “I didn’t want to fail. This program is good at letting you know that no one is ready for parenthood—everyone learns as they go. No parent is perfect and you can always ask for help.”
The confidence and trust she built having First Connections nurses visit her and Willow at home helped to ease her into this new, unexpected role, and all the new worries it came with.
“They come to your home, they’re very respectful about contact. They bring a scale to weigh the baby,” she said. “If you’re a breastfeeding mom like I was, Deb was very informative with tips and tricks to help. She and Swannie had lots of resources and walked me through it on the computer. I was also able to sign up for WIC effortlessly with their help.”
Because of the support she received from First Connections over the course of the next year, Allie and her family are now thriving.
“I still stay in touch with [First Connections] staff to this day,” she said.
As for Willow, she just turned 2 and she’d doing great.
“She’s so smart and now her obsession is with animals, especially giraffes,” she said. “She’s getting really into verbal communicating.”
Moms and babies like Allie and Willow are able to receive this level of newborn support through First Connections at no cost to them, but the state reimburses First Connections staff at just $14 per hour, well below the current average hourly wage of $20. The reimbursement rate hasn’t been raised in 22 years. (Read more about the nonprofit workforce crisis in the Boston Globe here.)
Since the pandemic, staff are facing crushing caseloads of 300+ per person and working up to 60 hours a week, even going into homes at the height of the pandemic in full PPE to weigh babies.
“People need [First Connections] now more than ever,” Allie said. “Aside from that, every mother has a unique situation and not everyone has a family to be there for you when you go through this. These people and this [First Connections] program became like my family. I love them and send them updates about the baby all the time.”
Please join us in asking the Rhode Island legislature to raise the reimbursement rate for these vital support staff serving moms and babies when they need it most so that our social service providers don’t have to leave this important caregiving role to make a living.
A Change.org petition has been set up to deliver a message to the legislature on behalf of all nonprofit human service providers.