- Associated Press - Saturday, May 14, 2016

LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) - London Jackson celebrated her first Mother’s Day this year with her son, Taven McClure, who was born April 2.

It’s a special day for Jayna Bohling, too, who is Jackson’s mentor in a local program that helps new moms. Bohling is helping Jackson and about 20 other local mothers with advice on everything from breastfeeding to building job skills.

“It’s like having a best friend on call,” Jackson told the Daily News (https://bit.ly/1OidkMv).

The Nurse Family Partnership managed by the Cowlitz County Health Department pairs nurses with low-income expectant women. A nurse starts visiting the mothers while they’re pregnant and keeps coming every few weeks until the child is 2 years old.

The goal of the federally funded program, which costs $374,000 per year, is to improve the health of both mothers and babies and help the moms set employment and educational goals. National studies have shown that such programs help reduce child abuse, emergency room visits and behavioral and intellectual problems in the kids when they get older.

For Jackson, 23, and her fiancé, 28-year-old Kyle McClure, the program is like having a new friend who’s an expert on childbirth and parenting.

McClure, who’s originally from Kentucky, has lived here for 10 years.

“I was an environmentalist,” said McClure, who is Taven’s father. “I just traveled and volunteered.” London moved here from Kentucky six months ago, lured by “mountains and friends.” The couple, who are unemployed, lives in Longview.

With no extended family here, the mentorship program filled a gap. “If you don’t have any support, it’s nice to have this program,” said Jackson, who heard about it at the PeaceHealth Women’s Health Pavilion.

The expectant parents were paired with Bohling, who is one of two visiting nurses in the Nurse Family Partnership.

Bohling started meeting with Jackson and McClure last November.

“It’s very much a relationship-based program,” Bohling said. “It’s all-encompassing, especially when you don’t have family around.”

Knowing what to expect as her due date neared “was a lot for me to take in,” Jackson said. “Some people mentally and emotionally can’t handle it on their own. They need to know there’s nothing to fear about it.”

“She’s very motivated, so we talked about a lot of stuff,” Bohling said: “Everything from life goals to the physical part of pregnancy - just what to expect.”

“It’s just mom stuff,” Jackson said. “I could just text her about breastfeeding or even bathing him. It’s nice when you have that second opinion.

“When you have a child you’re in a vulnerable state,” Jackson said. “It’s nice to have someone who can advocate for you. You’re just totally out of it.”

With most expectant moms, “there are a lot of questions about ‘How will I feel after I have my baby and what will I be like,’” Bohling said. “Sometimes it’s, ‘What’s going to happen when I give birth?’ Those are the dirty things that people don’t like to talk about. A lot of girls are worried that they’ll poop when they give birth. But those are normal things. It’s very normal that you talk about them and get those fears out of their heads.”

Bea Rush, a county health department nurse in charge of the program, said the workers help moms enlist family and friends for support during pregnancy, and they also refer them to other health services that are available.

“We want mom to have the skills to take care of her baby and be healthy,” Rush said. “We help them with their self-sufficiency, help them with their goals like finishing school.” The program currently includes 12 mothers who were referred by local high schools.

Grandmothers can participate

The program can fill a gap of knowledge in the mother’s family.

Even well-intentioned older relatives may offer poor advice, Bohling said. “We find that a lot of the things they did 30 years ago with babies are not the current practice. It does not take the place of having your mom or your grandmother there to help you - but it helps to connect the two.”

Sometimes the new grandmother sits in, too, Bohling said. “They’re just as interested in learning these things as the girl is because it’s something they never were taught,” she said.

Rush said some mothers decide they no longer need the program or are too busy for it after a baby is born. There’s no requirement that nurse visits continue until the baby is 2, the upper age limit. “It’s never forced on them,” Rush said. “That’s what makes it work.”

Nurses meet expectant moms at their homes or at the health department. “A lot of times I’ll meet girls at (high) school,” Bohling said. “Sometimes we’ll meet at the park or in a coffee shop.”

One topic that often comes up is smoking and drug use. More than one-quarter of the mothers entering the program are smokers. Last year, 13 percent of the women were using drugs or alcohol when they were registered for the Nurse Family Partnership.

“Where there’s a lot of stress and low income, those folks tend to smoke,” Rush said, though many of the women in program quit or cut back by the time their babies are born.

During her visits, Bohling weighs babies and checks that circumcisions and umbilical cords are healing well, though babies still need to see pediatricians for full checkups.

“We can help mom communicate what the doctor is telling them and communicate with the doctor,” Rush said. “They may feel intimidated by the provider.”

A new mom may get only five or 10 minutes with a doctor and not absorb everything, Bohling said. “The doctors are in and out so fast that the amount of time you have to ask questions is very little,” and medical language can be hard to understand.

McClure agreed the mentorship program is “completely different” from doctor visits. “It’s like your friend is coming over and you’re just talking,” he said.

Some of the program’s clients have limited reading abilities and are slow learners, Rush said. “We can tailor the teaching to the client,” she said.

Nurses in the program take a week-long specialized training in Denver and get continued training in assessment skills.

Dads welcome, too

Though the program advertises itself mostly to women, it helps new fathers, too.

“He’s just as much a part of the picture as she is,” Bohling said. “We love to have the dads involved. It doesn’t always happen that way, but when they are, it’s great.”

“We work with dads to help them understand what mom is going through,” Rush said. “She’s going through a lot of emotional changes and physical changes and her hormones are going crazy. Sometimes dad needs to be reassured that what he’s seeing is normal.”

McClure, for one, is a dad who’s been closely involved in the visits.

“I’m the second mom,” McClure said. “I just can’t breast-feed,” he said, though he’s a big proponent of his girlfriend doing so for their baby.

“Nowadays it’s cool that the father can be more nurturing and it’s acceptable,” McClure said.

McClure is more than willing to help with diaper changes and other parenting skills he’s nurtured through the program to help little Taven. “We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure he loves it here,” McClure said.

He and Jackson are delighted that their baby is thriving at five weeks.

“I cherish him,” Jackson said. “I cherish him every day.”


Information from: The News Tribune, https://www.thenewstribune.com

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