For many women, new motherhood is one of the most joy-filled and exciting times of their lives. But what about the new moms who lack the familial, social and community support systems that are so necessary in ensuring physical, emotional and mental wellbeing for both mother and baby?
Through her research, Linda Maldonado, PhD, RN an assistant professor at the Villanova University College of Nursing, discovered that among all subsets of Latina women, Puerto Rican mothers in particular have the poorest maternal health and infant mortality outcomes. Maldonado, who herself is Puerto Rican, assembled a group of 20 nursing students at Villanova to find out why new Puerto Rican mothers are struggling. The group, Team Latina, has partnered with Dr. Arleen Ayala-Crespo, MD, at Temple University Hospital’s OB-GYN clinic to run focus groups of pregnant Puerto Rican women from Philadelphia to better understand the challenges they’re facing and devise interventions improved outcomes.
For the women involved, these focus groups provide an outlet where they can discuss their deepest fears, secrets and daily challenges in an environment that is safe and free of judgment. The Villanova students truly became their confidantes, with some women even voicing deeply-held secrets out-loud for the first time.
Team Latina’s biggest takeaway from these initial focus groups has been that the women experience a profound loneliness stemming from a lack of familial and community support for single mothers due to several factors including: living in neighborhoods with high rates of drug use and associated criminal activity, including frequent gun related violence; a heavy “machismo” culture in Puerto Rican families; overtaxing of new moms who are frequently spending as much time caring for elderly family members as they are their babies ;and a strong sense of pride and suspicion toward “outsiders” that prevents them from asking for help. All this prevents women from getting the prenatal care they need.
Team Latina student team leader Antonio Garcia, a sophomore at Villanova, recognized the vital service the focus groups were providing for these women. He wanted to create a space where these new moms would be able to connect with each other and Team Latina for support anytime. Antonio created a private Facebook page where the women could reach out at any time to share good news, bad news or even just a chance to remember that none of them are alone. Antonio has applied for the Davis Scholarship based on his work with Team Latina.
After the final focus group is held, Team Latina will use the data from the interviews to explore which interventions would be most helpful in improving prenatal care among Puerto Rican women to decrease preterm birth and poor maternal/fetal outcomes.