Kimberly De La Pena
At 17 and a junior in high school, Kimberly de la Pena did not know what career she wanted to pursue in the future. But when she found out she was pregnant, all time stopped. Shocked and upset, she didn’t know her next move.
“The first time I met Kimberly was when House of Hope referred her to me,” said Johanna Gallardo, RN, Nurse Home Visitor for Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) Program at University Medical Center. “I went to her home and met her there with the father of the baby. She was in shock. Lots of emotions were going through her that first day I met her,” said Gallardo. “Little by little she started to assimilate.”
Through its most recent grant of $76,000 from the Meadows Foundation, the NFP Program at the University Medical Center is able to pair a vulnerable new mom early in her pregnancy with a UMC registered nurse. Each new mother receives continuous nurse home visits until the child reaches age 2. It is a life-transitioning partnership, for the mom and her child.
“When I first met her, it was good,” said de la Pena. “I was really happy for her to come and I can share anything with her. I personally feel like I am going up to a family member and asking for anything. It’s not awkward. I actually get to vent a lot and I appreciate that.”
NFP helps new mothers – especially teen mothers who are low-income and have little or no support systems. The program emphasizes adherence to pre-natal care, provides parenting education and other support to promote healthy birth outcomes and prevent child abuse and neglect.
“One of the main things of the program,” said Gallardo, “is to help them get to be independent, self-sufficient and to where they can do things for themselves; not depending on the parents, not depending on the father of the baby, not depending on me, so one thing I always do is make sure that I don’t do things for them. I’m always guiding them…more like a brace,” she adds, “reminding her, ‘You need to look for a job; okay, these are the places you can look. Let’s review your resume. Let’s see your interview skills.’ So, I’m more like a guide.”
As de la Pena grew in her pregnancy, her confidence also took root. “It kind of gave me the push telling me I need to do something,” she said. “I decided to study criminal justice. And I feel like the baby has been my motivation for everything: For going to school, getting a job, even for me to be healthy and to look good. I want to be a mom that looks good.”
NFP focuses on three phases: the pregnancy phase, labor and birth, and the infancy phase. At two years of age, there is a graduation for mother and child. “It’s a bittersweet moment,” said Gallardo, “because you see the mother has grown so much as a person. As a mom, you know it’s time for them to be on their own. It feels good,” she adds, “but sad.”
Today, de la Pena plans to continue with college and eventually become a Border Patrol Agent. “A lot of people did doubt that I was going to keep on going to school and they didn’t think that I was going to make it,” she said. “Some of my friends and family do get surprised when I tell them I’m almost done with school. I would totally recommend other teen moms join the program,” adds de la Pena. “We learn about what we don’t even know and sometimes our parents who have experience don’t even know as well. It’s a very good program. It guides you through until your baby is two years old. The baby gets along with the nurse who is coming and they learn as well as they start growing up. They start talking and are quick to learn.”