Health for Two: A beacon of hope for new and expecting mothers

Becca Willson

Pregnancy and motherhood are full-time jobs that many may struggle with during the best of times. When dealing with circumstances like mental or physical health complications, addictions, and financial instability, just to name a few, the job of motherhood becomes even more challenging. 

Add in COVID-19 pandemic stress, socialization restrictions and uncertain medical support and the motherhood journey can seem impossible. 

Fortunately, there are support systems in place for mothers who find themselves in need during their pregnancy and when dealing with various postpartum difficulties One such program is Health for Two, a collaboration between Alberta Health Services (AHS) and several Edmonton community agencies. A struggling mother or family can access dietary advice, mental or physical health care, and referrals to other community services. 

Health for Two offers support to mothers in need during their pregnancy and up to two months postpartum.

Jenna Smyth is a support worker with Health for Two. Smyth has a background in social work and she is passionate about women’s health and working with babies and young children. The goals of Health for Two align with Smyth’s education and her personal values.

Jenna Smyth discusses her passion for women’s and children’s health and her background in social work. (Jenna Smyth, Health for Two support worker)

One vital support that Health for Two offers is housing aid. Having a stable home in which to raise children comes in as a very high priority for all families, even those experiencing a multitude of difficulties at once. A home base where a family feels safe and supported is key. 

“Obtaining housing comes with many barriers, a large one being long wait-lists for housing programs and subsidized housing. Because we are a pregnancy program, women have a limited time frame to obtain housing before their due date, which is an additional stressor,” Smyth says. 

Health for Two helps mothers and families find adequate housing if they are experiencing homelessness, looking for more affordable housing to better their financial situations, or are otherwise in a precarious housing situation. A woman or a family looking to access these supports might be helped into a shelter or other transitional housing, or supported in applying for independent housing, subsidized housing, or supported housing programs. 

“Things have been especially difficult for mothers and families during the pandemic, due to increased layoffs, difficulty finding employment, and worries about the risks associated with COVID-19 and pregnancy,” Smyth says. 

Health for Two ensures that all financial realities that families may be facing are taken into consideration and that all kinds of different benefits and support systems that are available to people are fully utilized.

Some of the Health for Two workers also work closely with individual families and ensure that they have the physical items necessary for pregnancy and for raising a new baby. These things can include day-to-day necessities, like formula and breastfeeding equipment, diapers, and infant and maternity clothes. 

As well, bigger items that families can quickly grow out of, like cribs and car seats, are sometimes donated – a car seat is essential because it is the first thing needed when bringing a new baby home from the hospital, something that people may not even think about the logistics of.  

“All the moms in our program have limited access to financial resources,” Smyth says. “It’s an important time in their life to have that extra support. A big part of that is getting baby supplies because that adds up very quickly, the cost of that.” 

Health for Two also offers milk coupons, prenatal vitamins and bus tickets to mothers, more things that make life easier when navigating new parenthood. 

There is also an environmental benefit, as donations are greatly appreciated, and then families don’t need to hang onto clutter or potentially throw away outgrown baby items.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made these kinds of in-person community support services less than ideally accessible. Isolation and uncertainty surrounding physical and mental health care have surely made the already momentous task of motherhood a seemingly impossible task at times. 

“Agencies and programs, including Health for Two, have been finding creative ways to connect with mothers and families safely,” Smyth says.

 Virtual and phone consultations, as well as outdoor events and a commitment to the utmost safety standards, have allowed Health for Two to continue helping new and expecting women feel supported in their journey into motherhood.

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