When Emily Smith became a new mom at age 20, her circumstances were less than ideal. Both Emily and the baby’s father, William, had a history of substance abuse, and neither of them were employed. They were living with extended family members who also had problems of their own, and the household was not set-up to accommodate a baby. Emily lacked basic necessities for her baby, such as a car seat and other supplies.
And yet, for Emily, baby Leia was a miracle child. Emily was told as a teenager that she would probably be unable to have children.
“When I got pregnant with Leia, it changed my whole life,” says Emily. “It changed my whole outlook, my decisions. I felt like I had a future.”
Her daughter’s miracle birth gave Emily the motivation to reach out to Aspira’s Welcome Home Baby program. As thrilled as she was to be a mother, she was nervous and lacked confidence in caring for her new baby. Family Support Specialist Aaqilah met with Emily in her home regularly to provide mentoring and education. Emily reflects on their relationship. “It wasn’t like Aaqilah was part of a company that was set up to help people,” she says. “It was more that she was coming over as my friend.”
Over a two-year period, Aaqilah helped Emily and the baby’s father with a variety of child development skills, beginning with breast feeding techniques and comforting the baby, to using non-verbal cues for responsive care-giving, to choosing appropriate toys and encouraging appropriate play activities. In addition, Aaqilah helped her to resolve family issues in order to provide a safe and nurturing environment for Leia. She also provided practical support, helping Emily get baby supplies, food stamps and other government aid.
Providing for her daughter is very important to Emily. She had grown up with role models of women who were dependent on men as the breadwinners, and she was determined to model a different kind of life for her daughter.
“I want to show her by example that she needs to work for herself, and not focus on having a man there necessarily,” says Emily. “It’s important that she’s able to provide for herself.”
Even though she was motivated, Emily lacked the confidence and skills necessary to find a good job. Aaqilah helped Emily research colleges and job prospects.
“Aaqilah helped me to realize that it was okay not to go to college right now,” Emily recalls. “She encouraged me that if I needed to spend time with my daughter, it was okay to work instead.”
Now two years old, Leia is a happy, healthy toddler. Emily enjoys a close bond with her daughter, and even though the baby’s father doesn’t live with them, he is closely involved in their lives. Emily works full time, and her daycare provider lives just a few doors down.
“The daycare is absolutely amazed with her, she’s extremely accelerated for her age,” says the proud mother.
Emily is determined to build a stable future for her daughter. “I’m putting away money to get our own place,” she says. “I want to move into a community that is safe, where Leia can go all through elementary school with the same class.”
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