About twenty months ago I was asked to join the first ever team of nurses for Nurse Family Partnership in Manhattan. I accepted, so thankful to able to leave the job I was miserable in at the time, and go to a job that seemed to really help the target people I longed to serve. Ever since nursing school – even before that I guess – I knew there was something special about moms and babies, and I wanted to be involved in their lives. I should back up for those of you who don’t know what NFP (Nurse Family Partnership) is all about. The program is over thirty years old started by a social worker in upstate New York to help first time under-served moms. Our goal is to help our mothers get off of government assistance and to be positive members of society as well as to be the best parents they can be, which will hopefully break the cycle of poverty. We, the nurses, wear many hats: social worker, therapist, mother, guidance counselor, friend, family mediator, realtor, nurse and much more.
I love working as an NFP nurse because it has allowed me to learn so very much. This learning process has come with a lot of sadness and growth on my part. I was raised in a pretty normal middle class family and don’t remember interacting much with the impoverished or the overly wealthy. Although I am sure my parents did interact with different socio-economic levels I do not remember ever being involved with the extreme poor; maybe it’s because I tried to block it out, but I don’t know. Anyway, I have seen more sadness because of poverty than I thought was possible. Obviously there is sadness found on every rung of the latter, but there is something about these young girls that makes my heart sink. Maybe it is because many of them don’t see the poverty they live in, or maybe it’s because some of them do see how badly they have it but life keeps throwing them into difficult situations over and over again making it almost impossible for them to get out. Or maybe I am sad simply because I take my own wonderful and abundant life for granted and seeing how little these girls have makes me feel guilty. I think – no, I know – it is a little of all of the above.
I have come to realize that my own hard work and discipline is very important but even more important are the people who raised me, supported me, encouraged me, and pushed me to become the woman I am today. A lot of the women I work with don’t have any support at all. None. Zero. It is hard for me to accept being a semi-accomplished member of society when I feel as though a lot of it has to do with the luck of the draw, so to speak. Why was I so very blessed to be born to my amazing parents? What would have become of me if I was born in the projects? Would I be a 16 year old mom and highschool drop out too? Many of these girls don’t have good examples, most of the people around them were born in the projects, raised in the projects and will die in the projects. How does one get out of a slump if they have no idea they are in it? And, if they finally figure out the situation they are in, who do they look to for a road map out? Bottom line is that breaking the cycle of poverty is exhausting and at times seems impossible.
I could share some sad stories of the girls I have come in contact with like the cocaine and heroine addict who got to this point because of being raped by her addict father, or the young girl who was raising money to get out of the projects and go to college but on the day she was to move found all the money was stolen by her own mother, or the beautiful girl who just had a perfect little baby while another woman in the Bronx is getting pregnant by the same father, or perhaps the saddest story is that of a nine year old girl made pregnant by her own father. Some of my patients struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, even more have struggled with emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and all of my girls seem to have some kind of drama in their life every time I come to visit them. I often go home drained and emotionally exhausted. All of these things make me sad beyond belief because bad things have been done to innocent girls.
But you know what really makes me sad? It’s what these girls have done to themselves – their lack of judgement and motivation. I have been placed in their lives as a sort of road map to how to get out and be a better mother and woman. In theory it is an ingenious idea. In practice, it doesn’t often work out. We the nurses do so very much to try to figure out what we can do differently in order to motivate these girls to get off their bums and finish high school, to see what she can do if she goes on to college, to use birth control in order to not be that twenty year old woman with two kids and one on the way (all by different fathers). It seems impossible to “change” these girls when most of their peers are also getting pregnant and dropping out of school, even worse when their own mothers had them when they were just sixteen and are now thirty-one still acting like she’s a teenager.
What do I do from here? If I sound discouraged or down, it’s because I am!! I long for these girls to see in themselves the amazing potential I see in them. I pray that they will be a better parent and break the cycle of abuse and poverty. But after almost two years I realize that only a small change is necessary. I cannot and will not change these girls as I once thought possible. Today, I try to live and talk in a way that is an example for these girls, I try to share my knowledge about medicine, parenting, love, money, etc. And then I go home. I love my husband and yorkie to the best of my ability and pray that it is enough. It is not my job to save these girls. I wish I could, but thank goodness I know that I have a God that is not only in control but knows every aspect of these precious women’s lives. He knows and that is enough for me.