At four months pregnant, Alexandria Saddler wasn’t sure whether she was going to have a baby shower.
But after attending prenatal classes through a national initiative called the Stork’s Nest, Saddler, a Carbondale resident, was asked to be an honoree at a community baby shower.
The Southern Illinois University Carbondale undergraduate chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. held its first-ever ‘Shower Me Blue,’ a baby shower funded by donations from the sorority and members of the Carbondale Community, Sunday at the Recreation Center. The event honored three women with gifts such as diapers, wipes and other necessities for new mothers.
“When I found out they were giving us a baby shower, I actually started to cry. For them to think that much of their program and to give us a baby shower is a big deal,” Saddler said.
The sorority, along with nonprofit organization March of Dimes, started the Stork’s Nest in 1972 to encourage women to seek prenatal care within the first trimester to help prevent birth defects, premature births and infant mortality.
Each year, nearly 12.8 percent of babies, or more than half a million, are born prematurely in the U.S., according to the March of Dimes website. With the premature birth rates up by 36 percent since the 1980′s, many mothers are in financial need and assistance, the website states.
Delores King, a graduate student in rehabilitation counseling from Carbondale and chair coordinator for the Stork’s Nest, said part of the initiative is to encourage mothers to attend classes on prenatal care and pregnancy education.
She said the women are given incentives for keeping up with hospital visits, ultrasounds and attending classes.
“It’s about getting them to maintain their health,” she said. “I was not a young mother, but I could imagine it would have been difficult to have a baby at young age, because there are a lot of things you don’t know.”
The earlier a baby is born, the greater the risk for complications such as mental retardation, learning and behavioral problems, and vision and hearing loss. According to the March of Dimes website, studies suggest babies born prematurely may be at increased risk of certain adult health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Marsha Perfetti, executive director of Pregnancy Matters, a safe heaven for expectant mothers that offers free pregnancy tests, emotional support and access to area resources, said she refers her clients to the Stork’s Nest for practical support.
“Most of these girls are pregnant for the first time and do not have the proper knowledge base, and the only way for them to get information is through organizations that deal with maternal health and unplanned pregnancy,” she said.
Daroncia Sheppard, a graduate student in social work from Chicago and co-chair of the baby shower, said the sorority wanted to step away from a typical march and incorporate an opportunity for mothers to feel supported.
Sheppard, mother of a 4-year-old son, said her experience as a young mother was not a struggle because of the support she and her boyfriend received from their families. She said her biggest concern was maintaining her coursework and providing for her child.
It’s important for the women who are a part of the program or find themselves pregnant to be able to seek help when they need it, she said. Being able to maintain help while focusing on school during a pregnancy can be difficult, she said, but it must be done for the health of the baby.
Saddler said the classes have helped her distinguish myths and become more aware of what a pregnancy actually consists of. The program has helped her to gain resources and has kept her motivated as she looks for an apartment and continues to navigate through the rest of her pregnancy.
Perfetti said finding resources for the mothers is difficult because of financial pressures that most organizations are under, but programs such as the Stork’s Nest and Pregnancy Matters are key in not only the short-term, but also the long-term success of the mothers.
“It’s about providing continual support to these women through repetition and dispersement of knowledge, so they can make healthy choices and have better pregnancies,” she said.