Seeing a need in the community for educating teen mothers-to-be, Janet Torres introduced a 12-week pregnancy class at Amigos de Cristo Church last year. The Amigos Teen Mom Program will begin a new series of classe Oct. 21.
Torres is council president at Amigos and is a receptionist at Bothwell OB/GYN Associates.
“I’ve worked for the OB/GYN clinic for about about 10 years,” she said. “When I first started, I noticed that we had so many teenagers pregnant. A lot of them are alone, they don’t have family support. This town has a little bit of everything, but they don’t have something to support these girls.”
Torres and a VISTA volunteer at the church, Lyndsey Hernandez, put their heads together to work out a program to educate the girls on taking care of themselves before giving birth and taking care of a baby after delivery.
“Girls would come in (to the clinic) with their babies and some of them would have no blankets on their babies …,” Torres said. “It’s just little common sense things that these girls just don’t know, because they are 14 and 15, and don’t have family support. I wanted to start a program were we could help them and teach them, if you are cold then your baby is going to be cold.”
Torres added that lack of education and no support for teen mothers often results in harm to the infant.
“I wanted something local where we could help them, and just give them the basics.” she added. “I know in Warrensburg they have something similar, but it’s a little more advanced.”
The program teaches the young mothers what to expect when they are expecting.
“What’s going to happen to you for the next nine months,” Torres noted.
Volunteers teach a wide variety of topics during the program. One teaches self-esteem.
“A lot of the girls don’t have that,” Torres added. “They think ‘I got pregnant, my family is ashamed of me.’ We want to teach them, yes you made a mistake, but God forgives you, we forgive you. You’ve just got to learn from your mistake, and move forward.”
Volunteers from the Pettis County Health Center also present classes for the girls.
“We have the dietitians and the ladies with WIC, who (teach) breastfeeding,” Torres said. “They come and teach a class just to prepare them; do you want to bottle-feed or do you want to breastfeed? What is the safest way, how to do it, how do you clean bottles? Not every (girl) knows that you have to sterilize a (bottle) nipple for their baby.”
Birthright of Sedalia also participates in the program. They teach the girls about transitioning into parenthood.
“They see a lot of the younger ones,” Torres said of Birthright. “They are really good about telling them about our program. They have a couple nurses who come do some teaching too.”
Birthright focuses on teaching the girls how to take care of themselves during and after pregnancy, and they provide tips on good nutrition.
Many of the volunteers in the program are Registered Nurses or Licensed Practical Nurses.
“We have a couple ladies from Bothwell (Regional Health Center’s) labor and delivery,” Torres said. “One of them will teach what to expect during labor, what are the signs of labor.”
CPR is taught as well, along with relaxation techniques for delivery such as the Lamaze method. At the end of the 12 weeks, the group celebrates by presenting each girl with a gift and certificate.
“We give them a certificate saying that you completed this all on your own, not with your parents, you came and you did this,” Torres said. “Our first set of girls, we had four, completed it and when they had their babies they came back and said ‘you know I had the best experience giving birth, because I knew what to expect. I knew how to breastfeed. I wasn’t as scared as I thought I would be.’”
Torres welcomes young fathers to attend with the mothers.
“Our first group that graduated, both fathers were really involved,” Torres said. “They really learned a lot. It supports the girls because a lot of them really feel alone. It’s nice that dads support as much as they can.”
The program offers an incentive: if the girls attend five classes and five doctor’s appointments they have to opportunity to shop in the Baby Closet.
“They can buy little clothing items or blankets,” Torres said. “We also have some diapers. This just gives them a little encouragement.”
Torres has placed fliers and pamphlets about the program at Bothwell OB/GYN Associates, at Birthright and the Pettis County Health Center. She is hoping to soon be able leave the information with local schools in the area.
“Our biggest thing is, we want them to stay in school,” she added. “We want them to know what’s going to happen, and be realistic, saying ‘this is life, your life is going to change, but you need to still stay in school, and do your best.’”
Torres also hopes to break the cycle with preventative education.
“Our last class, the 11th week, is primarily talking to them about birth control, and how important it is to wait and not have babies back-to-back,” she said. “We really try to give them options …”
Amigos’ Teen Mom Program runs from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. beginning Oct. 21; it is a 12-week program presented at the church, located at 3003 W. 11th St. Those interested in attending the classes may call the church at 826-2788; to register, leave a message with a name and phone number and a volunteer will return the call. Amigos’ Teen Mom Program is also seeking donations of infant clothing, coats, blankets and diapers and also volunteers to teach classes.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.