A new program at Oshkosh, Wisconsin’s Bella Medical Clinic brought women together to create friendships, and despite COVID-19, the women continue growing their fellowship and strengthening their bond.
“It was all about them, and we made it about them,” said Sue Kraus, Bella’s family services director.
Baby and Me begins
She and a newly hired nurse started the program, called Baby and Me, at Bella in late 2018. A similar program was conducted at the local hospital, and the nurse had referred women to it. Then, the hospital cut back on the number of meetings.
“Our nurse, who is also a midwife, wanted this (program) started at the clinic because she felt it was a very good program at the hospital,” Kraus said. “Our hospital cut the program to once a month so we couldn’t refer people to it. We thought, ‘Why don’t we start our own?’”
The program provided opportunity for the women to talk, socialize, and develop social skills.
The meetings were held weekly, on Wednesdays from 10:30 am to Noon. The Baby and Me program was geared for clinic clients.
“Then we started advertising it more on Facebook,” Kraus said. “Our criteria was they had to have an infant, 0 to 12 months. Fathers were welcome to come as well. Occasionally we’d get a father that would come in. We started it as more of a get-together, just talking. We always provided coffee and a snack. Our director wanted us to include a teaching component to it, so when we began to get more people, we’d have themes that we would do.”
For example, during Valentine’s week they made a craft and incorporated Bible verses on the topic of ‘love.’
“At Christmas, we opened it up to everyone – we didn’t do the criteria,” Kraus said. “We let anyone who had come into our clinic and were parents (attend).”
Kraus and the nurse, Deanna Schmidt, co-led the gatherings. Sometimes a Bella volunteer assisted. They began bringing in speakers once a month. The presentations would coincide with an educational topic, such as budgeting, nutrition, and safety.
“We began to see the same people showing up, which was nice in the fact they were also developing relationships outside of our clinic, which is what we wanted to happen because eventually they weren’t going to be allowed to participate after their baby turned a year,” Kraus said. “When the babies turned a year, we brought in a little treat and sang ‘happy birthday!’ to end that relationship.”
Then came March 2020 and the Coronavirus pandemic. Bella had to halt group gatherings, including Baby and Me.
“We were all very sad. The women wanted to continue getting together, but we couldn’t,” Kraus said.
Bella remains closed to group gatherings. However, a few of the women took initiative and began meeting at a local park during the summer.
“We had one mom who kind of took over and had groups outside the clinic,” Kraus said. “She sent us pictures of their get-togethers at the park. They had birthday parties for those (babies) that turned one during the time we’ve been closed (to group gatherings). So, that’s a success in our eyes. The purpose of the group was to develop relationships outside of here. We’re happy about that.”
The connection developed from Baby & Me helps all the women. However, Kraus recalled one particular client who blossomed because of the group.
Tweet This: The connection developed from Bella Medical Clinic's Baby & Me has helped women to bond and develop social skills.
“She was so quiet and shy. She’s part of this group of ladies that get together,” Kraus said. “I saw her recently, and I said, ‘You seem different.’ She interacts more with people and talks more. It’s so wonderful!”
In addition to fellowship and friendship, Baby and Me offers opportunity to plant Gospel seeds. While meeting at Bella, prayers were spoken over meals and the true meaning of Christmas was shared during the holiday-time gatherings. A few of the women who continue to meet are Christians, Kraus said.
“So, I’m hoping that more seeds are planted,” she said.
Although the group cannot meet in person at Bella, Kraus and the nurse have found ways to stay connected with the women.
“We’ve done a few Facebook Live presentations, and we’re talking about doing a Zoom (meeting) and seeing how that goes,” Kraus said.
The Baby and Me program is separate from Bella’s regular parenting program, which consists of individual sessions. Those continue, Kraus said. The community where Bella is located, Oshkosh, mandates face coverings in public, therefore, Bella requires clients and staff to wear masks during appointments, including the parenting sessions. Kraus still meets with women and men who plan to parent their baby.
Not everyone who took part in Baby and Me participated in the individualized parenting classes.
“They could do the individual as well as the group if they wanted to. Some just came to the group because that’s what they enjoyed,” Kraus said.
Kraus, who has been on staff with Bella for nearly 20 years, looks forward to when Bella can again host Baby and Me gatherings.
“I want to be able to offer it again to moms and dads – one day,” she said. “We’re going to start back up when we get the green light.”