As a middle and high school guidance counselor, Wanda Williams has worked with young students who have found themselves pregnant and in need of support. She had learned about the Milwaukee County Healthy Start when staff from the program made a presentation at her school. She had filed it away as a helpful resource for future reference for her students.
Wanda became pregnant with her third child during the pandemic. She was busy with work and raising her daughters: 18-year-old McKalynn and 3-year-old Giavaughni. In addition, Wanda was in the midst of working on a post master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She was excited to have secured an internship at the same place where she had been seeing a therapist. Unfortunately, due to privacy rules, this meant she was not able see that therapist any longer. She was very close to her therapist, so this was a big loss of support in her life. She was feeling more than overwhelmed.
“I am someone who wants to do it all myself, but my mental health was not in a good place,” said Wanda. “I don’t like to show weakness, but I also knew I needed help.”
With a good job and private insurance, Wanda found she was not eligible for some community programs.
“Just because I have a steady income does not mean I can afford everything and have all of the resources at my fingertips,” she said.
Wanda recalled that Healthy Start presentation at her school and decided to connect.
Healthy Start is a national program. Locally, Children's Wisconsin administers the grant in partnership with the City of Milwaukee Health Department, Black Child Development Institute-Milwaukee, Easter Seals Southeast Wisconsin and MyNP Professional LLC. The goal of Healthy Start is to eliminate perinatal health disparities for African American women, their children and male partners in Milwaukee County. Women who are pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant, parenting an infant younger than 18 months or a father of a child younger than 18 months are eligible to participate.
Wanda completed the online form on milwaukeehealthystart.org. Within a few days, Tina Klos, a maternal child-health navigator with Healthy Start, reached out to her.
“I really appreciate that Healthy Start is open to all pregnant women in Milwaukee County and that all resources and support are free,” said Wanda.
Tina’s role is to connect with participants and determine where they are at and what resources they need. Healthy Start offers access to preventative service, health insurance help, pregnancy support and education, family care resources, baby care basics and new parent education. Healthy Start also supports fathers who are expecting a baby or parenting children younger than 18 months. Once needs are assessed and determined, the maternal child-health navigators develop relationships with participants to provide one-on-one support and guidance as needed — for as long as needed.
"The turnaround was fast, and we took off running,” said Wanda. “Tina was warm and welcoming and a good fit for my personality. She worked to understand my needs and help me where I was at.”
One area that was causing Wanda undue stress was that she was unhappy with her medical care. She was reluctant and nervous to switch providers during her third trimester and feeling overwhelmed with that entire process. Tina coached her to be her own medical advocate and encouraged Wanda to make a change so she would be comfortable and feel less stressed when delivery time came.
Tina recognized Wanda was feeling isolated and in need of some individualized support — but that she would also benefit from connecting with other moms who were at a similar stage in their lives. Wanda was in need of a community outside of work with whom to connect and share. Tina suggested Wanda join an Arts and Crafts Support Group that Healthy Start was hosting. The group met once a week virtually, and Tina and other navigators dropped off the arts and crafts supplies needed at participants’ homes in advance.
“Wanda was always so genuinely interested to share her experiences with the other moms in this group,” said Tina. “It was really cool to see how the art helped them come together and talk about difficult topics while they drew or painted.”
Every week, the group worked on a different project. Wanda’s daughter Mckaylinn enjoyed joining in on a project one week as well.
“With my busy schedule, I feel like I never have time for myself, so it was great to take a break and connect with other women while being creative,” said Wanda. “It was really therapeutic.”
Wanda’s baby girl, Nahariyah, was born in spring of 2021. Tina continued to check in with Wanda to see how she and the baby were doing. Together, they celebrated developmental milestones and continued to connect.
Nahariya is now 10 months old. Wanda and her girls are thriving. Wanda has “graduated” from the Healthy Start program but is welcome to reconnect at any time.
“I really appreciate how Tina looked out for me and followed up,” said Wanda. “She gave me so much support.”
Tina says it’s hard to let participants go after they have made those connections, but it’s also so rewarding to see them happy and doing well.
Wanda says taking a seat on the other side of the counseling desk was a humbling experience and one that has helped her better understand how her students feel. She can counsel them confidently knowing from firsthand experience that everyone needs help and support sometimes, and it’s important to ask for it.
“I knew I needed to be a better me so I could take care of the baby inside of me,” said Wanda. “She needed that, and I needed that. Tina and Healthy Start were a lifeline for me when I needed it most.”
This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Healthy Start Initiative. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.