Hospital program prepares Latinas for motherhood

Anita García is no novice when it comes to motherhood, but thanks to a free workshop offered to expectant Latinas in Northeast Atlanta, the third time mom-to-be is discovering that when it comes to babies, knowledge is power.

“Even though I already have two children I didn’t know a lot of the things they are teaching us in this class,” García said, referring to the Prenatal Program, offered completely free of charge by Mercy Care.

The weekly education course, which brings together expectant Latina mothers in the areas of Norcross, Sandy Springs and Chamblee, began 25 years ago as a means to combat the growing problem of prematurity in Georgia. At that time, the state had the second highest incidence of premature births in the country.

Since the program’s inception in 1990, through Saint Joseph Mercy Care, more than 2,500 healthy babies have been born as a result of women choosing to participate in the classes, which teach a myriad of topics that range from pregnancy and newborn care to family planning.

“I had had other pregnancies but I miscarried. I never knew about this class. It’s very interesting because you learn things you didn’t know,” said Pilar Gallegos, a woman of Mexican origin who is currently in her third trimester and participating in the 12-week course.

“Our purpose is to educate Hispanic women in order to prevent premature births and underweight and sick babies,” said Gloria Baroni, the program’s supervisor. “We educate them, we help those who don’t know where to find prenatal care.”

The course provides much needed help to the women in other capacities as well.

“We help with counseling and with giving referrals, for example, when they need a psychologist or when they have a problem with, say, paying the electric bill,” said Baroni, who is a social worker.

The program also seeks to break down language barriers and improve the channels of communication between doctor and patient.

“It’s a very interesting class because in addition to teaching us about pregnancy, we also have English lessons, which is very important,” said Alejandra Cuellar, a participant who hails from Colombia.

Another key benefit the program offers is camaraderie for the women. They often throw each other small baby showers as a sign of support and affection.

“The purpose of the baby shower is for everyone to get to know each other, become friends and establish a connection because many of them are all alone,” explained Baroni, who added that the only prerequisite to participate is to be pregnant. The majority of the women who attend the classes are referred by clinics.

For Baroni and her dedicated team of volunteers, the work they do through this program brings “satisfaction upon satisfaction” because the main goal of promoting healthy births is achieved.

“The babies are born healthy and at a good weight. Not many cesareans have to be performed,” assured Baroni.

In her more than two decades of service Baroni has seen the children of the women she taught return as students.

“I’m able to see how children who were born 25 years ago are now professionals,” she said. “This program is a blessing.”

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