health: County's Maternal Infant Health Program can help women escape domestic violence
My name is Martha, and I am a social worker with Washtenaw County's Public Health department's Maternal Infant Health Program (MIHP). Most of the work in the MIHP is with families that have the ongoing stresses of tight finances, serious illness, (both physical and mental), unemployment and homelessness. It’s a challenging job, but it has its rewards.
When I first meet these families, mothers often present with additional stressors such as domestic violence and depression. Some women are so paralyzed by fear and depression, they can barely problem solve.
While we support and guide families with problem solving, we are also monitoring for safety, health, pregnancy development, maternal identity development, attachment to fetus, attendance to doctor visits, currency of vaccines, safe sleep and infant’s development — to name just a few. Accomplishing this while balancing a respectful relationship with the family is not always easy to do.
After establishing a rapport and a working relationship with these families, we begin to determine which resources and services families may qualify for and referrals are made. Our Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program is one that we refer a lot of families to.
WIC is a health and nutrition program that helps pregnant women, new mothers, and young children eat well and stay healthy. Another public health program that we refer a lot of clients to is our immunizations program . (Did you know vaccines are available for children 6 weeks through 18 years?)
One client I worked with a couple of years ago, Susan (not her real name), was a victim of domestic violence.
She agreed to share her story:
I met what seemed to be the man of my dreams at 19 years of age — he was 23. He was so loving and attentive, and he seemed to genuinely care about me; I fell in love and couldn’t have been happier. We got married and everything seemed fine.
When he would come home from work he would rub my feet (how nice, I thought), if the phone rang, he would always jump to answer it (how considerate), and he always wanted to know what I did during the day and who I talked to (he’s so interested in my life). He didn’t want me to work, so I became a stay-at-home mom to our son.
I began to notice his controlling and jealous behaviors within the first year of our marriage. He would constantly accuse me of cheating whenever I was out with my friends. It got so bad that I simply stopped going out.
I remember one time my husband and I were grocery shopping, and I bumped into a guy I used to go to school with. I spoke to him for just a few minutes, but when we got home my husband went into a rage and punched me in the face. He accused me of having an affair with this guy. I was shocked and terrified.
This first act of violence against me led to many others. I was ashamed, felt alone, and had no money of my own. My husband threatened to kick me out of our house many times; I was trapped.
I became pregnant again and fell into a deep depression. I didn’t know who to talk to for help, I was petrified, and I sat for months, not talking to anyone. Fortunately for me, I became aware of the Maternal Infant Health Program.
Martha was my caseworker and she helped me connect with the Pediatric Advocacy Initiative at the University of Michigan. She also connected me with Safe House, and they were a tremendous help. I can’t thank Martha enough for support and encouragement along the way. I feel like a ‘real person’ again.”
I am happy to report that ‘Susan’ is doing well. She received counseling and financial support from the Department of Human Services, and she has stopped the cycle of domestic violence in her life.
This work is often hard, but the rewards come in the form of a simple ‘thank you.’ This case example is very similar to many others.
Our interventions are tailored to each family and always with the same dedication and respect, giving us, the Maternal Infant Health Program and Washtenaw County Public Health, a feeling that what we do change families, and their children’s lives.
It's a challenging job, but it sure is rewarding.
Martha Luna-Crespo is a social worker for the WCPHD and can be reached at 734-544-3073.