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June 22, 2016

By Emma Vonder Haar, Communications Coordinator

Often, we get the question of “what do you do?” in regards to the services that Good Shepherd provides. In my role as Communications Coordinator, it’s my job to be able to explain this clearly and succinctly. It’s easy to convey what adoption is, what our maternity shelter does, and what foster care is, but sometimes it’s difficult to understand exactly what our Expectant Parent Program does.

Our Expectant Parent (EP) program supports expectant and new moms (and dads) in our community. We provide counseling, support, education, and assistance. But what does this really look like day to day? It’s hard to wrap your head around this program and the incredible work that our EP workers do every day.

At any given time, our three EP workers, (two for St. Louis, one for Jefferson County) have a number of expectant or new moms on their caseload. These women are typically young, ranging in age from 19 to 24, who live on an income 200% below the Federal Poverty Level. While every new baby needs the obvious essentials like diapers, clothes, and a carseat, the services that our EP workers provide do a great deal for pregnant moms and moms with babies, which can be essential for the physical and emotional health of both mom and baby.

One of the main aspects of our EP program is the counseling services that Good Shepherd provides to moms in crisis. One of our former clients, Ashley*, was kind and gracious enough to invite us into her home to meet her and her adorable son Kingston. Kingston is a happy, bouncing (literally – he spent the entire meeting bouncing up and down in his bouncer) baby boy and is thriving. We sat down to hear Ashley’s story and how counseling through the EP program impacted her life, her babies, and her relationship with her baby’s father.

Ashley first got connected to our services when she was pregnant with her second of three sons, in January of 2014, with a baby due in February. A friend had told her about Catholic Charities, so she got in contact with the Midtown office. They referred her to Good Shepherd’s Expectant Parent program, through which Ashley was connected with Denise, one of our Expectant Parent Workers. She went through the intake process, and Denise met with Ashley for the first time just to talk. At the time, Ashley was pregnant with her second son, and was going through a separation with her husband. They started working through the stress that Ashley was under, especially in regards to her strained relationship with her husband.

In Ashley’s words:

“Some of the goals that we talked about were co-parenting, with my husband. We did spiritual counseling. I didn’t need help with education, because I already had a degree. It was more spiritual support, counseling in terms of family, since the dynamic was a little tense and hectic. Prenatal care, and development class. Those are the things that we had covered.”

Ashley was able to work through these issues and meet regularly with Denise throughout her pregnancy. Ashley gave birth to baby Kendall, and a few months later, she was pregnant with her third child. Ashley called Denise right away: “Guess what, there’s another baby”.

Ashley was understandably going through a lot of stress and reached out to Denise for more counseling. They talked about how she was going to have two kids so close together, how they would live in a divided household, and how they could still be a cohesive family in a different environment. Ashley talks about her counseling:  “More  spiritual counseling, more developmental counseling for Kingston, post-natal care. Over the course of two years, I’ve learned, through counseling, how to talk to my husband. Of course, when I talk to him, I’m angry, I’m upset, I’m mad, and this kind of thing, so Miss Denise would tell me the different ways to talk to him and I know that when I talk to him from spiritual context, he’s more receptive and open to listening to what I have to say”.

Ashley got involved in other parenting support groups and community outreach to help other moms. “I have joined a lot of parent support groups because I need that, so I got in touch with Crisis Nursery, Bright Beginnings for Babies, we have a parent support group meeting once a month and we talk about whatever. We also do community outreach, where the mothers go out in the community and pass out pamphlets.”

Ashley spoke of the high infant mortality rate in St. Louis (some of the worst in the nation) and how her efforts with community groups are working to reduce the rate, especially in the African American community. Ashley works to educate and empower other mothers through different organizations and agencies:  “There’s an agency that we work with called the maternity coalition for the women, and their core value is getting women, regardless of what color or your race, religion, to embrace each other and help each other so that more babies can make it to one year old. That’s our project, we try to go out into the community and give information. A lot of these women do not know about WIC, and I always tell them about Good Shepherd.”

Ashley has become an advocate for the counseling services that she has received through Good Shepherd, and is spreading the word about the value of counseling and the comfort level she experienced with our services: “A lot of people aren’t comfortable with people being in their business, in their house, but I tell them that you can have meetings at the office or somewhere not in your home. I said I’m sure, to make you comfortable, they can meet in your house or the office. I’ve referred women to Good Shepherd, if you need counseling, if you need services, Good Shepherd can do that and it’s free. I let girls know about Good Shepherd, about the services, and about me personally. They ask how it’s benefited me, and I say, well, counseling helps. People don’t understand that counseling allows you to express yourself, allows you to think, and then, the counselors, if they’re good, they tell you, this is the way to go to get more communication out. Through counseling, I realized, that good communication is important. And not just for yourself, but for people that you’re in the house with, in community with. Counseling helped me to deal with my husband, which I couldn’t do without counseling. Now the kids can see their father. Through counseling, I was able to see a different perspective how my actions of not letting the kids see their father can influence the kids to be bitter, resentful, or whatever the case may be. I didn’t need life changing counseling. There are some women that need helping with GEDS, other help, I kind of got that. My situation was more that I was going through a separation with my husband, and I had two kids back to back. I had a lot going on. I think that if I didn’t have counseling, that my kids might not be here. I may be in a different situation. I think Good Shepherd came in at just the right time.

To learn more about our Expectant Parent Program, please click here.

*names have been changed to protect the identity of our clients