Never underestimate a mother

This photograph brings the kind of smile to my face that lifts my ears up several millimeters and presses the tops of my cheeks into my bottom lashes. The athletes are so expressive, I almost squeal in excitement as if I’ve just witnessed their victory. 

The story behind the photo is summarized by Ann-Derrick Gaillot in 10 Women’s Sports Stories That Would Make Great Films:

“When the winners of the women’s 4x100m relay at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona were announced, no one was more thrilled to win than the bronze medalist team from Nigeria. Teammates Beatrice Utondu, Christy Opara-Thompson, Mary Onyali, and Faith Idehen were relative outsiders in the international running scene and were not expected to stack up against powerhouses like France and the United States. Though injury and traditional cultural gender norms would threaten their chances of competing in those Olympics at all, they would leave Barcelona that summer as the first Nigerian women to win Olympic medals. Onyali eventually went on to become one of Nigeria’s most successful runners, appearing at the Olympics four more times.”  

Underdog stories are always inspiring, and they’re happening every day when a woman becomes a mother. 

That’s Nurse-Family Partnership supervisor in Buffalo, N.Y. Daynell Rowell-Stephens’s MS, RN message.

“Stay open no matter what the circumstances the mother may be going through,” Rowell-Stephens offers. “[Mothers] have the ability and the capability to be the best moms, to flourish. Never underestimate a mother because motherhood drives women to be the best.”

Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

She continues, “Support moms no matter what; whether it’s drug use or homelessness– I’ve seen it– motherhood really launches them into directions they never imagined they could go into.” 

Rowell-Stephens and her colleague’s agency is just over a year old, and in that short time, they’ve managed to make a great impact on the lives of mothers and their new families. 

“We are so excited about all that we are doing,” Rowell-Stephens says. 

It’s well-documented that people of color have less access to health care resources and are faced with structural barriers that inhibit good health outcomes. Amani Echols points out some of those barriers in The Challenges of Breastfeeding as a Black Person:

  • “Many Black people work, and breastfeeding at work is hard…
  • Black neighborhoods are also lacking in hospital practices supporting breastfeeding…
  • The societal stigma of breastfeeding is heightened for Black and brown people.” 

These are big gaps to fill, but Rowell-Stephens and her team readily take on the challenge.

They make sure their clients receive proper prenatal care by connecting them with various health care providers including midwives and doulas. They provide nutrition counseling. They help them secure housing and jobs and continued education. They impact decisions about cigarette and drug use. They support them through mental health crises. They educate on how to navigate different stressors. They support healthy infant feeding and bonding.

“All of the nurses on the team are very passionate about breastfeeding  so we love to see so many of our moms interested in learning to be successful at breastfeeding,” Rowell-Stephens comments. 

She’s the most recent member on her team to complete the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC). She says the experience was “quite eye-opening.” 

“It is really going to change my practice overall,” she says. 

Maybe most importantly, the team teaches their clients how to healthfully engage with their children. 

“It makes me so excited to see these girls change their whole outlook on life,” Rowell-Stephens says of her clients when they become mothers. 

She celebrates the story of one of her clients who set a personal goal to complete a rehabilitation program and acquire a living place before the birth of her baby. 

“She accomplished that!” Rowell-Stephens reports.

Not long after, the mother’s roommate was using drugs in the home. 

“Her motherly instinct kicked in and she knew she needed to get out of that environment,” Rowell-Stephens begins. “She recently found another apartment and she’s providing for her child.”

Rowell-Stephens goes on, “She’s taken what might seem like very small steps, but for her, as we look back at just this past 9 months, she has done so many things. She has changed the world around her.”