Last October my boyfriend and I had our small wedding ceremony at City Hall. We already had a baby girl, Emma, and I was close to delivering number two. My mother came to stay with us for the weekend, and at one point she went out to the store and didn’t return until about three hours later. It was clear that she’d been drinking, and I could smell the booze on her breath.
I didn’t want her drinking around my child, so I tried to talk things over with my mother, but she started to get all crazy. She held me tight around my waist, causing me to feel pressure. I worried that I was having contractions. As she was holding me, I slowly started moving myself over to the phone and called the police. “I am seven months pregnant, with a 1-year-old, and alone with my drunken mother who is out of control. I’m scared for my life,” I told them.
By the time the police came, my mother was gone but I was still frantic. I have a mental illness, a borderline personality disorder that makes it difficult for me to soothe myself, and I could not calm down.
‘Thank God for Services’
The police wanted me to go to the hospital because of the pressure I felt and because I was so frantic, but the baby had no one to attend to her. My husband, Michael, was working, and babies are not allowed to enter the psychiatric emergency room.
At that moment, I thought, “Thank God I have preventive services, because otherwise the police would call child protective services to take the baby.” So I gave the police my social worker’s number, and they called her. She insisted that they let my daughter stay with me at the hospital until her father got released from his duties at work. Later, my husband came to get us at the hospital because the workers didn’t want me to go home alone with the baby.
On Monday morning, my worker from Good Shepherd Services came early to develop a plan in case another emergency comes up. With my mental illness, it’s important that
I can feel safe going to the hospital, even if there is no one near to help. We decided that after I deliver my second baby, the homemaker would stay longer hours. I felt good knowing I had people who support me and services in place in case I get into another crisis.
Searching for Support
I got preventive services soon after finding out I was pregnant with my first child, Emma. From the start of my pregnancy, I was scared—I wasn’t sure how to be a mother. I didn’t grow up with my mother as a role model. Like me, my mother has a mental illness, but unlike me, she was into the party life more than into being a mother. The foster care system took care of me.
Since I never had my mother take care of me, I thought, “How am I going to take care of my own child?” I had heard it was important to attend prenatal care, so I did. When I told staff at the hospital about my past history of being in foster care and being hospitalized on and off during those years, and my fear of having my child taken from me and placed in foster care, just like me, they gave me information about preventive services.
Preventive services are supports for parents designed to prevent a child’s placement in foster care. I got set up with the closest preventive organization to my apartment in the Bronx, Good Shepherd. Good Shepherd helped ease my fear of having my daughter taken away from me. They gave me a team that includes a social worker who I meet with once a week, a case manager I meet with monthly, a therapist I see weekly, and a homemaker.
I also have a phone number I can call anytime of the day or night if I need extra help.
My team enrolled me in anger management classes and parenting classes, and put me in day treatment, where I learn skills like how to find a job and handle depression. I attend day treatment five days a week for three hours each day.
A Homemaker Helps Me
The most important help I’ve gotten is the homemaking service. A homemaker comes to my home five days a week to help me with the normal day-to-day tasks of being a mother. She not only gives me practical information about feeding, playing with and soothing my daughter, but gives me emotional support the way close family might.
When Emma was a few months old, I decided I needed more help dealing with my emotions so my up-and-down feelings would not affect my daughter. I knew I had to go to my day treatment center more often, but my husband worked during the program’s hours, so there was no one to attend to baby Emma while I went. I felt overwhelmed and was concerned that I’d lose it completely if I didn’t get the treatment I needed. The homemaker was nice enough to come early to look after the baby until one of us came home.
Remembering My Child’s Needs
The homemaker also notices when I’m having trouble and she helps me resolve problems I’m facing before I feel out of control. One day I was talking to a friend on the phone when the homemaker came in. When she asked how I was, I said, “Everything’s fine,” but she could tell I was upset.
Instead of just forgetting about me and attending to the baby, she took the time to sit down and talk to me. She explained that every time I talk to my friend from the program I am not myself. She was right on point. I do start getting headaches and feeling a little down after speaking to my friend, but I had never seen it as a problem.
The homemaker warned me not to help out anyone but baby Emma. She was right. My friend is grown and doesn’t need me to look after her; my child needs love, guidance and knowledge from her mother. By trying to be helpful to my friend, I was forgetting my daughter’s needs and my own.
A Team for Me
I am so thankful for the program and especially my homemaker. She helps make sure that I’m not competing with my daughter for attention, or letting friends or my family overshadow my daughter’s needs and my own.
It can be tough for me to have to turn to these services for help. I would love for my family to help me out with the baby instead of strangers, but that’s not realistic, so my husband and I look toward these services as our support system. My team helps me to not abandon my own child just because that happened to me.