May 17, 2021

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Mothers, babies graduate from UT Health Science Center’s Nurse-Family Partnership | Local News

Nathalie Martin walked into a room filled with applause and cheers on the third floor of the Tyler Public Library on Wednesday, to find a celebration being held for her and her 2-year-old son, Mateo Sullivan.

The two graduated from the Nurse-Family Partnership Tyler, a program that shaped Martin into the mother she’d always hoped to be for her son.

When she found out she was pregnant, Martin was scared and confused about what to do. She would be a single mother and thought it would be better if her child was raised by a family that had both parents involved.

Two months into her pregnancy, she heard about the Nurse-Family Partnership Tyler. Almost three years later, Martin is the mother she dreamed of thanks to the resources and support from the program and her nurse.

“I heard about the program through Embrace Grace over at Green Acres, my church. I was in a program there and the Nurse-Family Partnership came in to give all of us mothers, the women who were pregnant, just the resource,” Martin said.

The qualification to enter the program was simply to be a first-time mother. Martin qualified and decided she’d pursue the opportunity.

“It’s been a solid support system from the beginning. Also, they’ve helped me tap into community resources when I’ve needed them. Support, resources, as well as when I needed a voice, someone to advocate for me,” Martin said.

Martin went through many health issues. Pregnant and facing single motherhood in Texas, which is not her home state, she felt afraid.

“I was scared and nervous and I even considered not raising my own child. I considered finding a family to raise him that had a mom and a dad, but that wasn’t the right thing for me, and with the support of the Nurse-Family partnership and other local resources, I have always been able to take care of my child on my own, so I’m glad that I chose to do that,” she said.

The Nurse-Family Partnership provided Martin with one nurse to guide her along her entire journey.

“My nurse came to the hospital with me and advocated for me. None of my blood family is here, so they came right along beside me and acted just like my family,” Martin said.

While her nurse, Shannon Smallwood, handed Martin her graduation certificate, her throat closed and her voice cracked while tears formed in her eyes.

“I’ll tell you, we have been in the trenches. She’s had some serious health problems. And just, ‘What are we going to do with this child?’ She’s had support and it’s been a miracle, miracle after miracle, after miracle, y’all,” Smallwood said as she spoke about Martin. “This baby is a miracle.”

Martin said with the proper support, she learned important mothering skills that she would not have learned with the NFP.

“Just the importance of taking care of yourself early on in pregnancy, reading the whole time aloud to these kids. It’s so important for brain development. I just learned so much that I otherwise wouldn’t have a clue about. It’s worth it,” Martin said.

Mayor Don Warren was in attendance at the graduation ceremony. He has been on the advisory board of the Nurse-Family Partnership for a few years.

“Sometimes these moms have gone through a tough time and have tough issues. Really, they’ve stuck with it and personally, I want to be here to tell them I’m proud of them and tell them, ‘I’m behind you and you’ve got a great looking kid and I wish you the best in the future,’” Warren said.

Warren said when the mothers have an encouraging support system from the beginning, it’s a good start.

“These nurses teach moms not only about nutrition, but about taking care of yourself, and sometimes when you are in a situation when you are in poverty, it’s hard to take care of yourself, and if you’re pregnant, that’s really a time where you need the resources, you need the help, the guidance, and this is what the Nurse-Family Partnership does,” Warren said. “The nurses really nurture and they’re the mentors and they really stick with the moms and you can see the relationships that are created, and for many of them it’s tearful and exciting. What would be cool is if you could take a picture of that little boy, 10 years from now, 15 years from now and just wonder where he’ll be. Hopefully this right here will make a difference in his life.”

The Nurse-Family Partnership is a three-year commitment. When first-time mothers register into the program, they are paired with a nurse until the baby is 2 years old. The mothers meet with their nurse on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. The nurses and mothers primarily focus on healthy pregnancies, building the baby’s brain and goal development.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, mothers and their children attended the graduation ceremony individually throughout the day to follow social distancing and capacity guidelines.

Jasmine Farrish, nursing supervisor for the Nurse-Family Partnership at the UT Health Science Center at Tyler, mentioned a success story from a mother who had just left the graduation ceremony prior to Martin entering.

“The mom that just left, throughout the program, she has completed her bachelor’s degree, she now has a position in her career field and her baby is reading and able to say words. This is really a celebration of over the three years, no matter what’s come up, you’ve met with your nurse consistently and completed the program and now it’s a time to celebrate you and your family,” Farrish said.

Farrish is one of the original nurses that started the program. She said the program came out of poor outcomes for under-resourced mothers. She said Tyler had a high rate of infant and maternal mortality.

“This Nurse-Family Partnership is an evidence-based program proven to decrease preterm labor, increase breastfeeding rates, increase infant brain development, so when we found out that, that was an area of opportunity for us to come in and start the program and really make an impact on our families,” Farrish said.

The program began with four nurses and now has eight, ready to serve up to 200 families.

To enroll in the Nurse-Family Partnership program, call 903-877-8087 or talk to your provider and sign up. The program is free and is primarily for the under-resourced population.

Those who qualify are on Medicaid, enrolled in WIC, have military insurance and are under 21 years of age. Spanish-speaking nurses are available for the Hispanic population in Tyler.

Once the mother is in the program, she will be partnered with a nurse depending on their needs. There are nurses with a mental health background as well as a labor and delivery background. There are specific nurses who are available in the evenings.

Enrollment is available to the mother as long as she is before the 29th week of her pregnancy. The Nurse-Family Partnership has an official page open to anyone who is interested in information about having a healthy pregnancy.

Since the program began, the Nurse-Family Partnership has touched over 170 families.

“Typically, most families do transition over to Parents as Teachers and that is another home-visiting program. They serve families up until the age of 5. So they (parents) go straight from having their nurse to having a parent educator and finish the program there. By the time they graduate that program at 5, children are ready for Pre-K, so there’s a system in place for consistent learning, building baby’s brain and preparing them for school,” Farrish said.

Mothers who attended the graduation ceremony on Wednesday received a greeting from their nurse, as well as a graduation cap, which were made and donated by Champions for Children of Smith County. Parents were also given a book from the Tyler Public Library, the book “A Thousand Books to Read Before Kindergarten,” a goodie bag from the community advisory board, as well as a gift bag filled with materials donated by local community programs.

“I think pregnancy, especially in our population being a first-time mom, it’s scary,” Farrish said. “We know that over 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. I can’t imagine having an unplanned pregnancy and not feeling supported or not knowing what to do. For us, that’s really our mission: to walk beside a mom throughout this time, and we’re affecting health from the beginning, before the baby even gets here. We are teaching mom how to have a healthy diet, exercise, reading to the baby while the baby’s in your belly, bonding with your child. I think that, when moms graduate, they see the importance of their role as a mother. They feel empowered that they’re going to be a good mom.”