As a nurse with the Camden Coalition’s Camden Delivers program, I am part of the care team that supports women who are experiencing medical and social barriers during and after pregnancy. Most of the women we work with are single mothers who are living in poverty, have a mental health diagnosis, and stories of trauma. Many have, or will have, involvement with the Department of Child Protection and Permanency, and will have to meet specific requirements to regain custody of their children.
As we work with these mothers, we have a unique, up-close look at just how strong, smart, and resilient they really are. To say that they face challenges seems grossly inadequate because they are fighting battles every day — not only are these women working hard to get their children back, but they are managing their own physical, behavioral, and social needs as well. The requirements they have to meet to regain custody are difficult to accomplish, especially because the women are under significant emotional stress due to the combination of losing custody, their own health needs, and their difficult life experiences. Although the Camden Delivers staff know how much they want to be reunited with their children and have a chance at mothering, the women in our program are often seen as “bad mothers” who are selfish, non-compliant, or unwilling to work hard enough to get their kids back. This narrative often means that our clients have lost confidence in their ability to regain custody of their children.
And so, more than giving advice or answering health-related questions, the Camden Delivers care team dispenses hope. We listen closely to the women as they tell us their stories. We encourage them to keep trying, to keep striving for their goals. We help them see that they are good mothers, because their hard work means that they love their children. We celebrate every success, no matter how small, because each win feels like a miracle.
Sometimes, the removal of their children is fresh in our clients’ minds when we meet with them. This means that our conversations often center around this trauma. The women often feel compelled to share the story and their intense feelings around what’s happened. While these conversations are very difficult for us to hear, we know it’s valuable to deeply listen to their pain.
As we talk with them, we express our empathy, acknowledging that they are in a situation that no one wants to be in. Over time, though, we try to help our clients to look ahead. Our primary message becomes “you can do this.” None of us can change what happened, but we can work together going forward to make sure they have what they need to get their families back together.
The women in Camden Delivers are in a very fragile situation: one misstep could prove devastating. But by seeing them as whole people and focusing on their strengths, we can help them regain their sense of hope. We can’t fix their problems, but we can help them see that they have the strength within them to keep trying.