When Gorety Oceguera-Jimenez became a new mom in September 2016, she had a lot of uncertainty and unanswered questions.
“I had all kinds of emotions,” Oceguera-Jimenez, 30, of Hammond said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Early in her pregnancy, she signed up for Goodwill Industries’ Nurse-Family Partnership, a free program that guides first-time mothers through their initial pregnancy until the child turns 2. Nurses conduct home visits every few weeks to answer questions on having a healthy pregnancy and child development milestones.
Since her first trimester, a home nurse has met with Oceguera-Jimenez every couple of weeks to answer questions, discuss parenting challenges and coordinate doctor visits. A lot of her early questions centered around how to get proper nutrition and how her daughter would grow, she said.
Her daughter Edith, now 19 months was born four weeks premature, but is healthy.
“It was like, a relief for me, I was able to talk with somebody on what I was going through, how my pregnancy started. I didn’t know what was going to happen to my body, how my body was going to change,” she said. “They practically showed me everything.”
The Nurse-Family Partnership program was started in Marion County in 2011 to boost the chance of healthy births and help ensure proper early childhood development. Since then, it has expanded to about 30 counties — including Lake County in 2015.
Since 2011, it has helped to ensure healthy births for about 1,700 children statewide, officials said.
About $1 million in federal grants through Indiana State Department of Health helps fund the program in Lake County where eight nurses conduct home visits with about 160 clients, primarily in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago, said Lisa Crane, Senior Director of Nurse-Family Partnership. It can serve up to 200 clients, she said.
A major reason for the program’s expansion to Lake County in 2015 was due to its high infant morality rates, she said.
According to the Indiana State Department of Health, Lake County had an 8.7 deaths for each 1,000 live births in 2016 and 12.9 per 1,000 for African-American children — compared to 7.5 per 1,000 live births statewide.
Within the NFP program, 91.3 percent of mothers delivered full-term babies, 89.5 percent of children had a healthy weight, 89.9 percent started breastfeeding their children and 69 percent of mothers quit smoking before delivery.
The program requires a woman to be pregnant with her first child, under 29 weeks in her pregnancy and at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — $32,920 for a two-person household or $41,560 for a three-person household.
In addition to parenting guidance, each nurse can connect those in the program to educational or job resources, Crane said.
“The fact that there is a caring professional that can provide guidance and connections to resources, I think is what makes this program so unique and powerful,” Crane said.
Oceguera-Jimenez, an early client, will be one of seven women who stayed with the program through Lake County’s first two years. She will be part of the county’s first full graduating class in December, Crane said.
Oceguera-Jimenez said she is hoping to enroll in a registered nurse program by the end of this year.