Housing pregnant women experiencing homelessness is critical to maternal and infant health. Research shows that adverse environmental conditions such as being unhoused cause negative impacts to the mother and child. According to a recent study, women experiencing homelessness are more than twice as likely to have a complication that impacts their health during birth. They are also almost twice as likely to have early or threatened labor during pregnancy.
Given that vulnerability, places such as Marisol Homes have stepped up to serve more expectant women than ever. In 2022 alone, Marisol Homes, a longer-term shelter of Catholic Charities of Denver, gave nine women experiencing homelessness a haven during their pregnancies and a place to return post-partum for critical bonding with their newborns.
The line of defense doesn’t just stop at offering a roof over their heads. To reinforce the ongoing safety of both the woman and child, staff at Marisol Homes create birth plans and offer programming specifically targeted to help pregnant women. Programs such as prenatal, postpartum and parenting classes give essential tools to first- time parents, and to women with other children.
“It is vital that we offer stability to support new life,” shared program manager Vin Glover. “We have successfully given more women a protective net this year than ever before. Right now, we have six women in house who are expecting.”
Genevieve is one of the nine women who entered Marisol Homes program with a pregnant belly this year. She has used the tools and space provided to nurture her newborn, Carson.
“The security and safety have given me the courage to take on motherhood,” said Genevieve, who has three other children that aren’t currently in her custody. “To have a place to call home after I left the hospital with my baby was life changing.” Two years ago, the 34-year-old gave birth to a baby girl who was taken into foster care soon after delivery.
Many of the women at Marisol have been exposed to generational trauma and didn’t experience healthy childhoods where they felt safe and loved. While mothers instinctively want a better life for their children, they may not have the tools to foster healthy relationships. The goal at Marisol Homes is to empower mothers to believe they are capable parents through self-reflection, mental health awareness, wellness and a supportive environment.
“There is no such thing as ‘perfect parenting,’” said Lara O’Shaughnessy, LCSW, Marisol Services specialist. “Relieving all mothers of the pressure to be perfect releases some of the shame and guilt they carry from past experiences. At Marisol, we encourage our parents to focus on the present/future relationship with their children, reassuring mothers that it is never too late to strengthen the loving bond with their little ones. We strive to nurture connection between mother and child so that their family unit can thrive.”
Tiffany and Dianna are two of the mothers who safely carried their babies at Marisol Homes until their third trimester.