Mother’s Day message from Chicago mom who dealt with hardship, now helps others

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Jasmine Stewart was only 16 when she was pregnant with her first child. Now, she helps other expectant and new mothers through tough times. | New Moms

Maternity care has come a long way since I gave birth to my first child nearly 50 years ago.

I was 19, totally unprepared for motherhood.

Prenatal childcare was preached but barely provided at the public health clinic in my neighborhood.

At hospitals serving the poor, care providers were brusque and lacked compassion, especially when it came to unwed expectant mothers.

But, with the help of my mother, I managed to bring my man-child safely into the world.

The thought that I could die or that my baby could die in childbirth never crossed my mind.

Yet an alarming number of black women in the U.S. are dying in childbirth, and black infants are twice as likely to die as white infants.

“Each year in the United States, about 700 to 1,200 women die from pregnancy or childbirth, and black women are about three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy or delivery complications than white women,” according to a report on CNN.

“Women in the U.S. are more likely to die from childbirth or pregnancy-related causes than other women in high-income countries,” according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Evidence now suggests that years of dealing with discrimination — living in poor, segregated neighborhoods, having to move frequently, parenting alone or parenting with an unemployed partner — may lead to chronic stress, which takes a toll on the body and may prompt biological changes in a woman that can affect the health of her children,” Nancy Krieger, a professor of social epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, told The Nation in 2017.

The alarming mortality rate for black women and their babies means the work of New Moms, a social service agency in Austin that serves young mothers, is as critical today as it was a half century ago.

Jasmine Stewart was only 16 when she was pregnant with her first child. She recalls the obstacles she faced trying to be a good mother.

“I wasn’t educated on a lot of different things,” Stewart says. “I faced a lot of issues with my child’s father. There was a lot of stress with knowing someone is depending on you, and I wasn’t allowed to be a kid anymore. I had to grow up fast.”

Stewart joined New Moms’ “Workforce Development” program and eventually became a family-support specialist.

Now married and the mother of three, Stewart, 26, meets with New Moms’ participants at their homes every week for an hour, helping them connect with vital resources.

Stewart can start meeting with an expectant mom as soon as she finds out she’s pregnant and be involved with the family until the child turns 5.

The most common issue she sees? Homelessness.

“They are staying with a domestic partner or a mom or a family member, but it is not permanent. Following that is employment. They need help getting a job.”

New Moms’ headquarters is in Austin. The 35-year-old organization recently broke ground on a new, $7.1 million facility not far from there, in Oak Park.

New Moms touts itself as the only organization in the United States that offers a holistic approach to serving this population — providing housing, job training and family-support services that include home visits, parenting classes and doulas, who are trained to assist during childbirth.

“A lot of my participants have been successful,” Stewart says. “Two of them are moving in to transitional housing, and a few are actually starting jobs. One of my participants started her first job ever, and she was scared about putting her baby in daycare.”

Her advice to other young mothers is “no regrets.”

“There are some things in life I could have done differently, but I am a firm believer in God, and I believe he ordered my steps in the direction he is taking me,” she says.

This Mother’s Day, Stewart hopes people will also honor and support moms who have lost children and have miscarried.

“It is a big deal,” she says. “This is a life, and it means something to that mother. She is still a mom.”

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