And why should she? Unemployed herself, she was walking into a room full of productive, gainfully employed people. Her mothering skills were thought to be so marginal that she had to have Protective Services check her out before she could take her baby home. Everyone in the NICU knew that, and she knew they knew it. It was no wonder she felt insecure.
As I talked to her about normal baby things - feedings, car seats, and so on - she began to open up and talk more. She seemed very nice and concerned about her baby and asked appropriate questions. I also noticed that her hair, with the coarse texture typical of many African Americans, was beautifully woven into fine braids, something that took no small amount of time and effort to do. Could this attention to her appearance be a sign that she was now going to take better care of herself and her baby?
A little later I talked to another mother, a 17 year old first time mother. Her own mother had lost custody of her long before because of incompetence, and for the last three years she had lived with her aunt and uncle. Now, though, just after delivering her baby, they had kicked her out of the home, because they had one rule: she couldn't have any kids. The uncle might have been swayed to take her back, but according to our social worker the aunt had nothing good to say about her. Protective Services was in the process of trying to find a placement where she and her baby could go together. She, too, had body language that almost said "Kick me, I have low self esteem," which is hardly a surprise, given her history.
Two mothers, both with sad histories. I couldn't help but feel a little cautious optimism about the first one, because it seemed that maybe, just maybe, she had put her problems behind her. But the second one was just discouraging. With role models like hers, it would take a near miracle for her and her child to turn out better than the rest of her family.