by Jan Dumay
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Giving birth in the United States is vastly different than in rural Nepal, where women typically give birth in cow sheds, resulting in high maternal mortality rates.
So on Oct. 1, when Sonu Limbu, a refugee from Nepal now living in Kansas City, Kansas, gave birth to a daughter she named Prana, she was grateful for the support of the Pregnancy Maintenance Initiative (PMI), a program of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.
Not only did Limbu, 35, learn what to expect about giving birth in a hospital, unlike her previous experience giving birth to an older daughter in Nepal, she was also provided life-saving information on topics like safe-sleep practices and car seat safety.
“I have learned so many things that I didn’t know before,” Limbu said through an interpreter. “I learned how to have a baby in the United States. I didn’t have any idea. I am very thankful about this program.”
So is Andrea Duenas, 25, also of Kansas City, Kansas, who went through the PMI program last year and is raising her one-year-old daughter, Alina.
“They provided me with a car seat, with a crib, tons of diapers, wipes, clothes, even toys and books for my baby,” Duenas said.
“Not having the burden of worrying about things like that was amazing!” she added. “I loved the women there. They were so supportive through the whole process.
“I had low moments, and they were just there to uplift me. It was great.”
Because access to prenatal care is not always an option, the program’s goal is to provide a healthy pregnancy and healthy birth each year to about 50 women. The free program is offered to any pregnant woman living in Wyandotte or Johnson counties, and one-time staff visits are available for those living outside those counties.
In addition, the program offers counseling and support for six months after delivery. There are no income eligibility requirements, although most participants have limited financial resources.
In addition to supplying material necessities for the caring of a baby, the program provides individual support on everything from the importance of going to prenatal doctors’ visits and what to expect during labor and delivery, to education about nutrition, bottle hygiene and tummy time.
Sixty-six percent of the 50 women are refugees, said Heather Roberts, coordinator of the program. Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas is the largest resettlement site in Kansas, resettling each year some 400 refugees who have fled their homelands because of persecution.
Many are married with more than one child, and come from many places, such as Burma, the Congo and other African countries that speak Swahili.
Confidential pregnancy counseling is provided in a caring, nonjudgmental way, with honest information provided regarding parenting and adoption options, Roberts said.
“It’s her choice, but we’re able to go through both journeys,” Roberts explained. “We’ve had some ladies that will start to think, ‘I’m going to place a child for adoption’ and she comes to us with that. And throughout the time and counting the cost of adoption for her and her family and that child, it wasn’t the right decision to place that child for adoption. But she’s able to keep that relationship with us because she’s already built it. We’re able to continue to work with her while she parents.
“Other ladies aren’t sure if they’re going to place a child for adoption or parent. Throughout [the] time, they really lean on placing a child for adoption, and so we walk with them through that whole journey of adoption and beyond.”
“Either way,” concluded Roberts, “we’re here for them.”
When a woman contemplates adoption, faith is always part of the conversation, she added.
“It’s just part of why they view adoption as a valuable option,” Roberts said. “The cool part of our program is that we’re able to pray with ladies if they’re going through a difficult time. We might not have the answers, but there’s been more than one time we’ve prayed with the ladies.”
Roberts’ biggest joys include getting to know the women and seeing them grow as a mother and seeing their child grow.
“We truly help people,” Roberts said. “After the program, they reach out and thank us, share pictures. It’s really amazing, just seeing that it does help them; there is that connection.
“We can’t always fix everything, but we can be there. We can give emotional support and that’s very important as they navigate motherhood, whether it’s baby No. 1 or baby No. 4. Each baby has unique challenges.”
For first-time mom Duenas, the comfort of having her hand held through her pregnancy and six months beyond was a godsend.
“I love the program. It was great,” said Duenas. “I wouldn’t have been able to get some of those supplies I needed without them.”
But it was as much the emotional support as the practical assistance that saw her through.
“If I could have stayed longer, I would have,” she said of the program. “I still keep in contact with some of the ladies and they always check to see how we’re doing.”