As an eleventh grader, Shenise was expecting a baby. Her mother, Ebony, encouraged her to learn about pregnancy and parenting by enrolling in Riverside County's Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), part of the California Home Visiting Program.
That was eight years ago, and what the mother and her 16-year-old daughter didn't realize at the time was the profound impact their home visiting nurse, Raychelle, and the NFP program would have on this pregnancy—and the entire family. Looking back, Ebony says, "This program saved my daughter."
Ebony is referring to the last part of Shenise's otherwise uncomplicated pregnancy. Four days before her baby's due date and one day after her regular obstetrician checkup, Shenise met with Raychelle, who immediately knew something was wrong.
"I saw her face looking very puffy," Raychelle recalls. "She said she was feeling okay, but her blood pressure was high and her weight had jumped up three pounds from the previous day." Raychelle suspected a high blood pressure disorder called preeclampsia, and calmly told Ebony that they should call the hospital right away."They admitted her, and sure enough, she had preeclampsia," Raychelle says.
Preeclampsia affects about 3.4 percent of pregnancies in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health. The cause is not completely understood, but it can lead to reduced blood supply in the placenta. This triggers factors that cause high blood pressure in the mother and possible injury to her organs. Since the placenta is involved, it is often necessary to immediately deliver the baby to keep the blood pressure from rising. If the mother's blood pressure gets too high, she can experience seizure, stroke or even death.
Fortunately, Shenise's baby was full term, so the next day, the hospital staff induced labor—and healthy baby boy Jeremiah was born.
"I always think back to that day and wonder what would have happened," Shenise says. "Had it not been for the fact that I had a home visit with Raychelle that day, I don't know what would have happened with my baby because the next day his heart rate was dropping and they had to induce."
When Shenise and Jeremiah went home, Raychelle continued her home visits and monitored the baby's development and milestones through age 2. The nurse also supported the young mom's educational goals and road to self-sufficiency. Shenise finished high school with her classmates, recently graduated from college and is now seeking a master's degree. Jeremiah, now in elementary school, is reading at above-grade level.
Even though Shenise and Jeremiah completed the home visiting program years ago, Raychelle remains connected to them, having since served as the home visitor for Shenise's two sisters.
"All that Raychelle has done for my family, it's amazing," Shenise says, reflecting back on the years. "To be able to have an individual like that in your life—and I feel like she saved mine. The side effects of preeclampsia, that's scary. I used to always think about how I would have just faded and no one would know because I was just sleeping more."
Fighting back tears, she adds, "I get a little emotional sometimes, but I'm just overjoyed because I don't know where I would have been without my home visiting nurse. Raychelle came into our lives—right on time."
Did you know?
According to the CDPH Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review (PAMR):
- Preeclampsia/eclampsia is a leading cause of maternal deaths in California.
- African-American women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than other racial/ethnic groups.