Showered With Support : Pregnant Women in Need Find Help in County Program


When Concepcion Carino wakes up in the middle of the night, it is to the sound of her own voice, screaming for her mother.

But her mother is in Mexico, thousands of miles away. She can’t soothe Carino, 22, when her back aches. She can’t rejoice to feel the baby kick in the womb or listen to Carino confide her hopes and fears for the child due this week.

So until a church volunteer handed the young Ventura woman a public health services flyer, Carino felt as if she was going it alone. Sure, she could talk to her boyfriend, the father of the child, whom she lives with, or her brother up in Santa Barbara. “But even if your (boyfriend’s) there,” she explained, “you feel more comfortable with your mother.”


The flyer informed Carino of a “baby shower” held, free of charge, the third Thursday of each month at the Ventura Avenue Adult/Senior Center for pregnant women who are poor, alone or wish they knew more about caring for infants.

At the party, sponsored by the county public health department, the women could make crafts for their homes, participate in a drawing for stuffed animals and attend an educational session related to pregnancy or child care.

The Dec. 15 shower was Carino’s third. Women are urged to attend throughout their pregnancy and until their infant is 3 months old.

The young woman says she now feels more in control. One month, a speaker explained how to tell what a baby wants by listening to the way it wails. Another time, she learned to massage an infant’s legs to calm it when it has colic. On Dec. 15, an energetic “wellness coordinator” from the Pierpont Racquetball Club showed the women exercises to do during pregnancy.

“I didn’t know this before,” Carino said. “But here, I learned.”

Carino also unknowingly tapped into a wellspring of resources--a public health nurse, a community services worker and a marriage and family therapist, each of whom can follow up the shower with free counseling sessions and phone calls. The program has been such a success that the organizers have started two monthly showers in Oxnard, one in La Colonia and another on the city’s southside, near Port Hueneme.

“We track the women afterwards,” said Linda Underwood, the public health nurse. “We make home visits. We try to provide a listening ear.”



At the Ventura shower, the organizers separated the women into two groups--those who speak Spanish and those who speak English. By the entrance, Carino and the other Spanish speakers stood in a circle on rubber mats, giggling as they moved to the wellness instructor’s commands, pop music blaring in the background.

Next to the windows, the English speakers sat at a U-shaped table, gluing clothespins into Christmas tree ornaments and creating candlestick holders from candy canes and cellophane.

Brenda Coleman said she would hang the reindeer on her tree if someone would show her how to string the gold cord through the clothespins.

Coleman, 33, is expecting her second baby in February. This is her first “normal” pregnancy, she explained, because she was too addicted to drugs and alcohol while pregnant with her first baby to notice the changes in her body.

Coleman, who attends community college, was worried about having enough time for two children.

“I had a lot of reservations about having this child,” said Coleman, who said she has been sober since 1992. “But I’m doing OK--better than I thought I would.”


Coleman said she likes coming to the showers because she can chat with other pregnant women about breast feeding or commiserate about having feet so swollen they barely even fit into tennis shoes.

She also relishes the escape. “It’s nice not to be doing anything I have to be doing,” she said.

The crowd at the December shower numbered about 25. A handful of the participants were teen-agers--two cousins, one 14 and one 15; an 18-year-old from a small town near Bakersfield who lives at a Ventura home for unwed mothers because her parents, she says, “are having a hard time dealing with it,” and two other teen-age housemates who also live at the Ventura home.


Of the adults, some are married, some aren’t. Some are expecting their first child. For others, this will be their second or third. As morning turned into afternoon, the room filled with their chatter and the squealing of small children, along for the event because no baby sitter could be found.

Carino labored over her reindeer and candlestick holders. When done, she would put them in places of honor at home, next to the crafts she made at earlier sessions, in spots where visitors could see them.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever done crafts,” she said, her mouth curling into a shy smile. “I really enjoy it.”


She said she remains a little nervous about the impending birth, but mostly she’s fine.

“My mother’s not here to help me through, so I’m being strong for myself,” she said. “If you are not strong for yourself, then you get scared.”