HMHB in April Issue of Health Affairs

By Community Support, Maternal Mental Health, Native American Initiatives, Native Cultural Connections, Parenting

Behind the Scenes: A Strategy to Support Perinatal Mental Health By Collaborating With Tribal Communities in Montana (A note from our Executive Director, Stephanie Morton)

Hello HMHB Supporters,

I am elated to share that staff at HMHB authored an article that will be featured in Health Affairs, April issue on Perinatal Mental Health and Wellbeing.  You can link directly to the article and full April Issue (both are open access).

Led by Dr. Amy Stiffarm, PhD, MPH, Director of Native American Initiatives at HMHB, HMHB staff including myself, Dawn Gunderson, CLC, Program and Communications Coordinator and former Executive Director, Brie MacLaurin, collaborated with Nicole Redvers, Maridee Shogren, Terri Wright and Andrew Williams, to produce the article titled, “A Strategy to Support Perinatal Mental Health by Collaborating With Tribal Communities in Montana.” The article highlights work completed to include family-supporting resources on Reservations in Montana into the LIFTS Online Resource Guide ( This project was completed in partnership with HMHB and Dr. Stiffarm while she was a graduate student at the University of North Dakota in the Indigenous Health Program. Funding from the Montana Obstetrics and Maternal Support (MOMS) Program made it possible for the HMHB Team to fittingly engage Tribal communities in the process of mapping local resource relevant to pregnant and parenting families to be listed in the LIFTS Resource Guide.

The HMHB team is so appreciative of the funding, partnership and support that has allowed us to engage in this important work. Many of you have been key partners in this work and for that we are deeply grateful. Additionally, we are so thankful for the community members who shared their time and knowledge to improve the system of care for families in Indian Country in Montana. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Stiffarm and the team on this success. We are so proud to work with you all to continue to improve the health and wellbeing of Montana moms, babies and families.


Stephanie Morton
Executive Director


Find Native Cultural Connections and other support in your community on the LIFTS Online Resource Guide at

Learn more about Dr. Amy Stiffarm’s work and our Native American Initiatives Program


Week of the Young Child in Montana: Celebrating Our Little Ones

By Early Childhood

From April 8th to April 12th, organizations across the state of Montana are gearing up to celebrate the Week of the Young Child (WOYC), a special time dedicated to honoring and recognizing the early years of childhood. This annual event is a nationwide initiative by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and is spearheaded at a state level by the Montana Association for the Education of Young Children (MTAEYC).

The Week of the Young Child is a dedicated time to raise awareness about the crucial significance of early childhood education and development. Communities unite during this week to honor children and the devoted professionals who nurture their growth and learning. Throughout Montana, the Week of the Young Child is commemorated with an abundance of events and activities tailored to engage children, families, educators, and community members alike. From interactive workshops and storytelling sessions to outdoor adventures and family picnics, the week offers a diverse range of opportunities for learning, exploration, and enjoyment.  Themed days include Music Monday, Tasty Tuesday, Work Together Wednesday, Artsy Thursday, and Family Friday.


Here are examples of fun and exciting activities across Montana:



You can check out the comprehensive list of WOYC events on the Montana Association for the Education of Young Children (MTAEYC) website here.

If you’re interested in hosting your own WOYC event, you can find more information from the NAEYC website here.

By celebrating the Week of the Young Child, Montana reaffirms its commitment to investing in the well-being and future of its youngest citizens. So let’s come together, celebrate our little ones, and build a brighter future for all!    
A parent and child sit amidst packed boxes, representing the struggles of eviction.

Facing Eviction: The Critical Impact on Children Under 5 in Montana and Across the Nation

By advocacy, Caregiving, Community, Eviction, Housing, Parenting, Perinatal Substance Use Disorders
Today on the HMHB blog, we’re sharing crucial new insights about eviction in Montana, graciously communicated by our colleagues at the Montana Legal Services Association. Michelle Potts, Director of Strategic Focus and Development, has provided us with invaluable information regarding the impact of eviction. Read more about this pressing issue and its implications.


From Michelle Potts, Director of Strategic Focus and Development at Montana Legal Services Association:

Howdy! I know you all work so very hard to make our communities a better place, and thought you might find local Montana data to be of help in your work. We recently published two new Montana reports: Beyond Housing Affordability assesses the data of 65 client households who faced eviction in both rural and urban areas of Montana, while A Sample of Personal Narratives allows the clients to tell about the impact in their lived experience.

Unfortunately, our Montana study confirms a new study from the Eviction Lab, which shows that children under age 5 make up the largest group facing eviction nationwide. Hopefully this data will help you make the case for the support you need for your work.

Key takeaways from our Montana report include:

  • 48% of households facing eviction had at least one child
  • Over half of the respondents spent more than 10% of their annual income on the cost of the eviction itself – a huge burden for families already struggling to meet basic expenses.
  • 100% experienced increased expenses before the eviction, including medical emergencies, added childcare expenses, domestic violence/divorce, or added elderly dependents.
  • Respondents reported additional up-stream social breakdowns: 17% had a death in the family; 18% had violence or abuse in the household; 12% had alcohol abuse in the household; 14% had a divorce or separation; and 69% had a mental illness in the household. For households with children, these events are considered Adverse Childhood Experiences, which are linked to chronic health problems and mental illness in adolescence and adulthood. At least 5 of the top 10 leading causes of death are associated with ACEs.
  • 31% of respondents were in unstable and at-risk housing after the eviction process, including 26% of households with children. 18% were homeless as a result of the eviction.

The report includes interviews and direct quotes from Montanans facing eviction, including:

  • When asked what factors led to the eviction, one respondent replied that the “landlord doubled the rent with 10 days’ notice from $1,200 to $2,400.”
  • Survey respondents described the impact of facing an eviction on their families: “One of my children dropped out of school afterwards and did not finish high school” and “I attempted suicide 6 months after I moved.”
  • “It took all the funds I had for the storage units I had to rent and the U-Haul, plus I lost my food stamps because I had no rent but had to pay cash if I stayed anywhere.”
  • “The only reason we had a child was because we thought our rental situation was going to be long-term, and now, the only “home” my child has known is a hotel room.”
Thank you to the team Montana Legal Services Association for allowing us to share this information.  To reiterate what Michelle eloquently stated, “Hopefully this data will help you make the case for the support you need for your work.”

Rural Roots: Mothering Under the Big Sky, by Kelly Rumney

By Birth, Caregiving, Community, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting, pregnancy, Self-compassion

This is a featured article from our 3rd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  

Rural Roots: Mothering Under the Big Sky, by Kelly Rumney

As Montana residents, we all have some sense of what rural life looks like. In fact, living in wide open spaces can be peaceful and rewarding; it’s one reason many of us choose Montana as home in the first place. But, as a mother of a newborn, it can also be isolating and intimidating.

I live on a beautiful ranch 10 miles outside of Cascade, a small town of around 600 people. As soon as my husband steps out the front door, he’s already at work, tackling jobs that require him to report for duty seven days a week, during most of the year. Living the dream! Except…I am 45 minutes from the nearest medical help or activities for my children. As a new mother, this definitely caused anxiety. Raising my children here is sometimes comforting and sometimes lonely. Often, it’s both. When they were little, I learned to get out and interact with other mothers because, through conversation, we shared similar worries, struggles and wins. Talking with them helped ease my anxiety and depression so much. But, getting up and out of the house and on the (long) road is easier said than done.

When I gave birth to my daughter, I was 22. I had never changed a diaper or interacted with babies other than our calves. Needless to say, I was unsure about motherhood. So, after she was born, the friendly nurses made sure the car seat was good to go and I was released into the wild – sore, exhausted, and terrified. I arrived home, a panicked mess, and tried to act like I knew what I was doing. Fake it ‘til you make it, right? I felt so unprepared. Luckily, my mom stayed for a few days to help, and my mother-in-law lived next door. They both offered advice, but it was mostly conflicting and definitely wasn’t what I’d read in the baby book. Visitors came, and they too would offer heaps of advice.

Meanwhile, no one warned me that I would continue to look and feel like a whale, or that nursing would be so darn hard, or that I would be so sore. Did I mention the baby was 8lbs, 10oz after 17 hours of labor? The cows out in the field make it look a lot easier! Eventually, things quieted down but, as soon as it did, I longed for people to come back and advise me. I was alone all day, every day with only my own panic for company. Is she pooping too much or too little? Eating enough? Crying enough? Too much? What if she stops breathing? Why won’t the baby stop crying; is she fevered? I swear I took her temperature 12 times a day.

Oh, the mom brain! I imagined horrendous things happening to my infant. I once spewed out all the thoughts in my brain to my husband, who seemed so calm in his transition to parenthood, changing diapers like a pro and unfazed by screaming or fussing. He asked how a person could stay sane with the thoughts I was having. Well, I wasn’t! I was struggling with postpartum depression but didn’t realize it until the birth of my son, two years later.

Everything felt so overwhelming. John would go to work, and I would worry about all the possible accidents he might get into. It seemed like I was faking it, but not making it. Even doctor appointments and grocery shopping felt daunting. Since we lived so far from town, we would try to fit in as many errands as we could into one trip. This meant long days spent trying to function in public. Nursing in the car’s not easy, and I constantly worried that people would hear my baby crying and judge me.

Finally, someone told me “Dumber people than you have raised perfectly healthy and happy children.” And, for whatever reason, hearing that made me feel better. In fact, 16 years later, I still remind myself of this. I came to understand that we all have strengths and weaknesses and despite, or maybe because of them, our kids will be okay, as long as we care enough to try. Let me repeat: TRY, not master!

I started to relax and let the baby cry for a few minutes in the crib while I showered. I napped when the baby slept. I went for walks, taking time to just breathe the mountain air and visited my 15-miles-away-neighbor who had a baby the same age and found that we shared a lot of the same worries and self-doubts. I saved my favorite show to watch during night feedings, so it felt like a special treat. And, instead of putting pressure on myself to keep the whole house clean, I just chose one spot (the kitchen sink) and focused on keeping that clean. The rest of the house might be a disaster but, if that sink was shiny and tidy, I felt like I was succeeding in life. These were small things, but they made a big difference.

Then, along came child number two and it seemed like everything I had learned up until then no longer applied. Depression hit hard. This baby did not sleep and, honestly, I can’t share much about how I got through this time because I don’t even really remember. We faced jaundice, ear infections and thrush (which made nursing excruciatingly painful). Labor was more complicated, so recovery was harder and took longer. I had intrusive thoughts that scared me and kept me up at night, but I also had thoughts that seemed so apathetic and disconnected they didn’t even feel like my own. I’d say to myself, “What kind of mother thinks this way?”.

I felt like I was in an exhausted stupor most of the time; just running on fumes in auto-pilot mode. I’d forget things and miss things and was afraid of what that could mean. I no longer felt like a healthy mom, so I finally asked my doctor to help me with the curtain of apathy and exhaustion that had landed between me and my world. The cowboy mentality of “spit on it and rub a little dirt in it” was not going to suffice here. I was isolated, sad, and tired, but none of that was my fault.

My husband was incredibly supportive and involved with the baby, which was great but, in some ways, made me feel worse. Why was this so easy for him? Eventually, I realized I was not a bad mom. Like so many other moms, I was trying to live up to an unrealistic ideal that just doesn’t exist. By taking the time to care for myself and allowing myself some grace, I was doing a much better job of taking care of my baby. I was learning to ask for help and that accepting help didn’t mean I was failing as mom; it actually meant I was rocking it!

As I look back, I realize that every parenting journey comes with unique challenges, and you have to just parent in a way that works for you and your family. Take the advice that helps and leave the stuff that doesn’t. Just because you don’t have a chore chart doesn’t mean your kiddos won’t grow into responsible adults. No two children are exactly the same, so no two parenting styles should be the same either. What worked for my first born had to go out the window for my second born. In balancing a teaching career along with parenting over the past 10 years, I have spent a lot of time with other people’s children and, from what I can tell, the kids that seem to be growing into fully functioning citizens are the ones whose parents consistently try their best, but also allow for chaos, mistakes, and messes. They surround themselves with support so they can be reminded that one bad day does not mean the end of it all. So, give yourself some grace, find support, and just TRY!

Resources and Support:

To learn about statewide programs and resources designed to help support rural families in Montana visit:

Or, visit for local resources using the search terms “counselors” or “support groups”.


The Unexpected Blessing, by Crystal Ascheman

By Birth, Down Syndrome, Medical Diagnosis, Parenting, pregnancy, Self-compassion, The Power of Story

This is a featured article from our 3rd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  

The Unexpected Blessing, by Crystal Ascheman

I remember it as if it happened yesterday, even though it’s been seven years now. My husband and I are sitting in our week 20 ultrasound, excited to find out the gender of our second child together (the third of four children in our blended family). We’re feeling so much excitement and joy and wearing the biggest of smiles. A boy! But then, our celebration is cut short as the ultrasound technician gets quiet while she takes typical growth measurements. As I look up at the screen, I see what has caused her sudden shift in mood. Having attended pre-medicine in college, before starting a family, I know that the measurements are not typical for the gestational age of our precious baby boy. She tries her best to explain the possible abnormalities to my husband and lets us know that she will be sending the image directly to our doctor for urgent review. I don’t add to her explanation as I am still trying to process this unexpected new revelation in real time and am in complete shock. My two previous pregnancies had been typical; with no reason for concern. One week from that first ultrasound, we received a phone call confirming a 96% likelihood of a Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) diagnosis. And so began the unknown journey into the blessings of the unexpected. Reflecting upon that overwhelming time in my life, I sometimes wish I could go back in time, sit down next to my 7-year-ago-self, look her in the eye, and reassure her. Here are some of the things I would say:

“I want you to know that it’s okay to feel all of these big emotions after the surprising news you’ve just received. It’s perfectly normal. It’s okay to not have all the answers right now. As parents, we will never have all the answers. Take your time to process and work through the whirlwind engulfing you. As mothers, we are the rocks to our families and we want to look strong and put together but, right now it’s okay to ask for help. (You will need to do this regularly throughout this special journey). You are not inadequate or failing. Just the opposite! You are strong and brave. In being so, you need support right now for your own mental wellness and health, so you can be the best version of yourself and be the mother you want to be. Please don’t suffer alone in silence trying to “hold it all together”. Extend the same grace and compassion to yourself as you afford to everyone else. Be kind to yourself. Little eyes and little hearts are learning from your example of self-care.

As you adjust to this new version of motherhood with a child with a disability, don’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out to the special community of parents and organizations who share your concerns, struggles, and triumphs. They hold invaluable experience on this extraordinary journey. They will truly be the only ones who will understand just how you’re feeling and the battles you will encounter. You are not meant to face these battles alone. You’ll need a collective community full of compassion and understanding. These will be your “people” and your precious son’s “people”. Embrace them with a happy heart. Learn from their experiences because they will help you to find your voice (for your son) and don’t be afraid to use it! You’ll need to speak up often along the way. And always trust your instincts as a mother–you can rely on them to carry you through.

As the weeks turn into months and months into years, you will encounter some hard days. On those days there will be many tears and doubts. Remember, they are but a moment in time and this too shall pass. There will be times when you feel like you’ve given your all and it’s still not enough. But I’m here to tell you that it is. You ARE enough. I’m here to remind you you’re doing a wonderful job, even though it’s a tough one. I want you to know that all the effort and hard work you’re putting in and all of the sacrifices you’re making DO make a difference. You might not be able to see it right away but, the most important difference you will ever make will be realized in the quality of life you’re giving to your children. There is no better reward in life than that. As you find your way through these hard days, you will also have days filled with a level of joy you’ve never experienced before. And, in the middle of all of it, you’ll have the subtle realization that you never would have found all this joy and strength and grace if you weren’t walking along this special path, holding his little hand in yours. While this journey is not one for everyone, it’s the journey you never knew you wanted, and it comes with the best unexpected blessings.”



Resources and Support:

To learn about statewide programs designed to help support families like Crystal’s, visit  To find local resources, visit and search the term “child development”.

Crystal also highly recommends:

Community Children’s Pediatric Specialty Clinic:

Butte’s Special Riders program

The Importance of Community in the Years of Early Childhood

By Community, Parenting

This story features HMHB staffer Lauren Johnson’s experience with a LIFTS resource guide partner in her community.

My daughter recently turned six. This year, she started kindergarten, riding the bus, doing math, and reading. She has an established group of friends, and I know many of their parents. We can call each other when we need help with rides to activities or want to schedule playdates so other parents can go grocery shopping or clean the house.

But that wasn’t always the case.

My daughter turned two in early March of 2020, just as COVID quarantine was beginning. She was on the cusp of starting playdates, and we were about to lean more into relationships with other parents, but the pandemic put a pause on that. She was in childcare, and it became so complicated. My husband and I couldn’t go inside her facility, and we rarely connected with other parents and teachers. We turned more and more inward, didn’t ask for help, and didn’t seek connection with other families and resources. We felt lost.

We needed community.

When The Village Playspace opened in our community in 2021, some of the vacuum for connection was filled for us. It offered a safe and healthy place where parents could gather, children could play, and relationships could flourish. I crossed paths again with some of the moms from our “mom and me” yoga classes from infancy and had a chance to reconnect. Suddenly, we weren’t alone in our struggles and joys of parenthood. We found solace in sharing stories, tips, and commiserating over the challenges. It helped us begin confidently building relationships with other families.

Our community grew.

We gradually began seeing more families that we knew from our childcare center and started scheduling playdates. We found a sense of belonging, support, and camaraderie that we had been missing. We got other parents’ phone numbers, started having birthday parties together, and our connections grew.

The zero to five years are a blend of special moments, challenges, and rapid growth, and the importance of community during these formative years cannot be overstated. It’s not just about having someone to call for a favor or a playdate; it’s about knowing that you’re not alone. It’s about finding comfort in the shared experiences of others and knowing that there are people who understand what you’re going through.

A child swinging on a swing set, their hair flying in the air, while others watch and cheer at The Village Playspace.

Find your Village.

As my daughter has now turned six, we find ourselves gradually outgrowing The Village Playspace. While our visits may be less frequent, the connections we forged there remain invaluable. We are growing into other spaces for connection and have built a supportive community that will continue to guide us through the years ahead. For that sense of community and connection, we will always be grateful, and I hope every parent of children in the early childhood years is able to find their village.

Are you curious if your Montana community has a place like The Village? Check out our LIFTS Resource Guide and search “Play Spaces.”

Becoming a Dad, by Patrick Duganz

By Birth, Dads, Parenting, The Power of Story

Patrick and his son pause a game of football at their local park to embrace and smile for a photo.This is a featured article from our 3rd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  Patrick also shared his story on our Motherlove Podcast –  Season 2, Episode 19.

Becoming a Dad, by Patrick Duganz

How can you tell a joke is a dad joke? It’s apparent. For people, it’s more complicated.

I don’t think you become a dad when a kid is born. Lots of kids never meet those he people who provided their genetics. Therefore, a child being born does not make a dad. So, becoming a dad must be something more. There’s a moment when a choice is made.

I was raised by TV in the 90s, so of course I wanted to be a dad. Sure, Homer Simpson was the most popular dad, but I also had Dan Conner, Uncle Phil, Jason Seaver, and Carl Winslow. Having grown up in a “complicated” family like I did, I looked up to these dad characters and how it seemed like they always knew just the right thing to say, or do, whenever a problem arose.

So years down the road, when we considered starting a family, I was pro “let’s have a kid”. My son is the outcome of a meticulously planned pregnancy process. We read books and went to a several-months-long birth class where we were free to ask any and all questions. We found a duo of midwives who his mom and I liked and who would, eventually, facilitate the birth. I was at every appointment, tracking our mixed-up RNA as it grew into something an ultrasound tech could identify. His mom wrote out a detailed and extensive birth plan and we carefully reviewed it with our midwives. We were going to go with the Bradley Method – a drug-free, low- intervention process.

If such a birth sounds intimidating to you, just understand that my son’s mom is fearless, and has a pain threshold far beyond us mortals. That’s how she was able to face 22 hours of labor starting and stalling before our midwife delicately advised that we might need to consider making a few changes to our very particular plan. From there, as is common, things got more complicated.

An annoyed anesthesiologist arrived in flip-flops to administer an epidural, and delivered a few doses of Pitocin. After several intensive interventions plus one final delay from shoulder dystocia, our son was here. It had been 25 hours.

The process of his birth was difficult for all involved. His initial Apgar score was low and his mom was exhausted. I felt useless and helpless as my son and his mom faced this incredible task of birth. Obviously, my experience pales in comparison to what she went through, and it feels wrong to say it was hard for me too. But it was terrifying to be that helpless when my family faced a crisis. I didn’t even know what “Apgar” meant.

But both were okay.

My son was the largest baby born at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital in 2013. I know this because, in those days, the nurses kept a sandwich board of height and weight statistics just outside of the nursery. While holding my newborn, I watched our nurse wipe away the high score of some smaller baby and replace it with the new champion: Baby Duganz at 10 pounds, 11 ounces, and 22 inches in length.

I remember thinking that he was a miracle, and that he was terrifying.

I was 28 and in the hours after his birth, it began to occur to me that I had no idea how to handle a baby. No idea how to comfort. No idea about needs. No idea about cues. No idea about anything because most of the books told me to, “follow mom’s lead.” So, as the nurses took his mom to recover after her feat, I realized the awful situation unfolding.

“You’re not leaving me alone with him, are you?”

“Yes,” a nurse said. A door shut behind her, and we were alone.

He cried. I cried.

Eventually, he ran out of energy and fell asleep in my arms. I felt like I’d failed my first test as a dad. My baby had to exhaust himself to find peace. Oof.

As we sat there alone, waiting for whatever was next, I was nearing 48 hours without sleep and started thinking of random nonsense until my brain fell on lighthearted fare like The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a father and son story set in a post-apocalyptic world. There’s a bit near the beginning that stuck out to me when I first read it: “[T]hey set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”

Each the other’s world entire. Heady stuff to consider, but that’s what my anxious and sleep-deprived brain spat out as I worried about who I’d be as a dad. Is the role of a dad to be the leader after a calamity? Is it more? Changing diapers? Making Money? Baseball coaching?

“I’ll get better,” I said to my kid, just hours old.

Like most men, I didn’t get paternity leave. However, my employer at the time did kindly lay me off for two weeks so I could go broke while learning basic parenting tasks like diaper changing and swaddling. The kid mostly breastfed and slept, with some interruptions from me to change his diaper, or swaddle him. I brought his mom water and snacks.

Soon I was back to work. The two of them were alone at home. It seemed like he’d change between the hours when I left and when I’d return. He was a new person every day and I was missing it. I began to feel useless to my family’s needs just as I was beginning to understand how to be useful.

This, of course, was a symptom of my own postpartum depression which is more common than most people want to talk about. I’d later learn that 1 in 10 dads experience similar thoughts and feelings during this time. Since I was still so focused on my time at work, I was ignoring these symptoms and was, unfortunately, unable to recognize that his mom was dealing with similar symptoms during the 10-12 hours I was gone each day.

When his mom returned to work a few months later, I adjusted my schedule to be home with our son on Mondays and Tuesdays so we could save on daycare. With her at work, the kid and I suddenly had 16 terrifying hours together. From what I’d been told, parenting was so good you could set a laugh track to it. Instead, mine felt like an episode of Lost, complete with decoding cryptic messages (infant cues) that were crucial but made no sense to me. It took weeks to even begin to understand just what the hell I was doing. I had missed a lot by going back to work.

But I had made a promise to him. So, I worked on it. It wasn’t fun or easy.

All of this is to say that the question “When does a guy become a dad?” remains complicated. Maybe it was that first night, but to me it’s waking up every day and making a choice to try and be better than yesterday. I try to engage with what he’s into. I try to lead my son through the calamities of everyday existence – a rude kid at school, his parents divorcing, or the frustration of losing at Rocket League. I try to be a better dad, and a better man. That’s the choice I make.

In that way, I become a dad every day.

A graphic displaying a list titled '8 Things I Wish I Knew as a Dad'. The text is bold and centered, with each item numbered sequentially. The background is likely a neutral color to enhance readability

Visit: services page and use the term “dads” for support groups and resources specifically for fathers and “counselors” or “mental health providers” if you or a dad you know is experiencing similar symptoms like depression or anxiety.

To learn about Patrick’s work as a Fatherhood Engagement Specialist and read more of what he’s written visit:

Valentine’s Day and the Seasons of Date Nights

By Parenting, Self-care, The Power of Story
Two parents find solace in each other's arms, dancing in their kitchen amidst the chaos of parenthood.

A moment of respite, a reminder to cherish the simple joys amidst life’s challenges.

Date nights. Self-care. Scrapbooking. For me, there was the daily to-do list (you know, like, survival stuff) and then there were the “extras.” These were the back burner items, the shoulds, the negotiables. But, as our first post-birth Valentine’s Day approached, my husband and I felt pressured to do what we’d always done in the past: dress up and go on a real date, only this time it would mean leaving our 3-month-old baby in Grandma’s care.

I remember it vividly. I wore black tights, a gray dress, and tall leather boots. The tights were nearly impossible to hike up over my still-healing postpartum body, the dress was tighter than I had hoped, the boots felt ridiculous and showy. As we entered the busy restaurant and made our way to the table, I realized that I no longer knew how to be confident in public. After months being isolated at home with our new baby, I suddenly felt raw and exposed. I was exhausted beyond measure, still bleeding, thinking about my baby every three seconds and the only thing on the menu that sounded good was strong, hot coffee with lots of cream. 

I also remember feeling so relieved to be out of the house. That’s the thing with being a new mom. You learn to hold tension between completely opposing emotions All. The. Time.

My husband cracked jokes with our waitress. Drank cold, delicious beer, relaxed. I watched the tiny bubbles rise in his glass in a sleep deprived fog. I was anxious and envious but tried to act like I was relaxed too. I glanced around at all of the women in red, heard the sounds of easeful laughter and glasses clinking together in holiday spirit. My breasts were on their own schedule and I began to long for my sweatpants and the latch of our sweet baby. Is this what date night would be like from now on?

It was one of those stark contrast moments. The split that happens the moment you become a parent. The before and after. Everything you thought you knew will be revised. Camping as a form of rest and rejuvenation? Sorry. Taking a nap on Thanksgiving Day? Nope. Night as a time to sleep? Forget about it. 

But, as one wise mom pointed out, there are seasons. And when you have a new baby, it’s not peak date night season. Things won’t always be so intense, so demanding, so full of love and exhaustion and devotion all at the same time. We won’t always be up at midnight on Christmas eve wrapping presents and filling stockings and bracing ourselves for the next sugar cookie crash.

So, because it’s Valentine’s Day, we wanted to celebrate the fact that date nights don’t have to be fancy and luxurious to be successful. What matters most is that we make time for quality connection and slow down enough to really see each other. Whether you plan a date with a partner, friend, your own little one or even just with yourself, spending quality time and honoring your relationships deserves a spot on the to-do list, even if that means that the dishes stay piled in the sink and the laundry gets all wrinkled and your un-walked dog gives you a dirty look.

Going out might be just what you need and if that feels good and exciting and fun – do it! Wearing something you love and having the guarantee that it will remain spit-up free for at least a couple of hours is indeed quite glamorous. Being served when you spend all day everyday serving a tiny human feels wonderful. Oh, and eating a meal that’s actually still hot while being able form complete sentences and have an entire conversation with another adult (especially one you love) is pure gold.

But, staying in counts too!  Just giving each other permission to take the night off and snuggle up with a movie and bowl of popcorn can be super romantic. Sometimes, it’s just about being close and remembering that raising kids is hard work and that you’re in this together and that you both deserve moments of peace. Chocolate and roses and written words never hurt. You might as well hold hands, too, and laugh about how crazy kids are. Because they are CRAZY and laughter is medicine.

If you have more than one little sweetie on your hands, you’ve probably learned the value of planning special one on one dates with each of your children. In this case, you’re the expert on what would make you both light up and, truthfully, they don’t really care what you do together, they just want your undivided attention. Go for a manicure or dress up for afternoon tea or a Shirley Temple with extra cherries. Swing on the swings, build a snowman or draw with sidewalk chalk- they just want our eyes and ears and heart all to themselves for a little while. When it comes to special time between parent and child, a little goes a long way.

Dates with friends are important too but they don’t have to be elaborate and if anyone understands that, it’ll be your closest friends. Do whatever sounds nourishing and try to laugh and cry and give voice to your experience. It’s important to know you’re not alone and it’s really important to find friends who will understand if you need to cancel or reschedule. As a new parent, these are your people. 

Valentine’s Day, ultimately, is supposed to be one day out of the year when we celebrate love and if there’s one thing every parent knows, it’s unshakable love. So today, let that love be unique to you and those closest to you. Let that love carry you through. 

Focus on Foster Care: Improving Montana’s Child Welfare System (Q&A)

By Uncategorized

In a recent interview on the Mother Love podcast, we heard from an incredible woman, Miranda Maxson, who was raised in Montana’s foster care system and has now become an advocate for Montana’s fostered youth.

Miranda was placed in foster care at the age of 8 and she is a survivor, through and through. In her episode, Season 3: Ep. 2, she shares her heart-wrenching but triumphant story. Now that Miranda is a mother and works incredibly hard to provide the safety and stability she never had, she explains that she’s had to face most of her parenting challenges by thinking of what happened to her as a kid and then doing the opposite. We talk about what it’s taken for her to build a life of peace and security for her and her family, about the importance of learning to accept help, and about the pieces of parenting that are often left out of the conversation due to stigma and shame but MUST be discussed. Today, Miranda is a fierce advocate for youth in Montana’s care system and works hard every day to ensure that they get to participate in decisions regarding their care. Miranda is giving kids the chance to speak because she knows the pain of being kept silent. It’s very much worth a listen.

Then, Miranda introduced us to another remarkable high school student, Alyssa Vancampen (pictured above), who has chosen to research the intersection and overlap of those who have been in the child welfare system while growing up. The rates are high and, although Alyssa knew from her own personal experience why that might be, she wanted to dive in deeper and have numbers and stories to prove how the injustices and traumas endured by this population impact their ability to do well in the world once they’ve aged out of care.

Since our mission at Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies – The MT Coalition is to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Montana families by supporting mothers and babies, age zero to three, we spend a lot of time focusing on prevention and trauma-informed care and we partner with organizations and people who are doing the same. Miranda and Alyssa are two of those people.

Alyssa took the time to share more about her senior project in the Q&A below. Clearly, she is passionate about the subject and is transforming her hardships into healing through advocacy. If you are someone who wants to know about the impacts of foster care and group homes on children in Montana and the measures that need to be taken to improve the system, keep reading.

  • Q (HMHB): 

What inspired you to focus on the connection and overlap of youth who’ve grown up in foster care and those who are incarcerated?

  • A (Alyssa): 

My experience as a youth in the foster care system has exposed me to the injustices of both the child welfare and legal systems as my circumstances unfolded into a series of events that left me traumatized, stigmatized, and feeling defeated. The trials of hopelessness that I encountered with no support as a dual-status youth became my inspiration to focus on the connection and overlap of youth in foster care and incarcerated. I was blessed with insight that now allows me to perceive the world from an unsheltered and authentic view. I have relentlessly advocated for my voice to be heard as the systems tried to silence me. Without fail, my strong-willed mindset was misguided as defiance labeling me as disrespectful and impulsive while I sought out freedom. Now that I am in a position of stability, sharing my experience and expressing my passion for advocacy could help those who are struggling alone. 

  • Q: 

Have you had personal experience with the criminal justice system in MT? If so, what was that like for you and how do you understand the reasons why you may have been involved with circumstances that led to those experiences?

  • A:

I tried to manage working and attending school but my priorities were different considering my circumstances. I dropped out of high school with the intent to get my hi-set through an alternative program, but I was not able to commit to that with everything going on. I picked up extra shifts at work but my tips would go straight into my gas tank just to ensure I would make it to Clinton and then back the next night. During this time, I was also struggling with addiction which heavily affected my sense of responsibility When I got off work, I would drink until I blacked out and then wake up hungover with only enough time to go to work. Eventually, I was partying so much that I would make up any excuse to call out. My boss and I mutually agreed that I could not work at the restaurant anymore. Once things got too complicated with my living situation at my friend’s place, I went back to couch hopping and living out of my car. I’d have rather suffered alone than ask for support and I was not capable of relying on someone enough to allow it. I felt hopeless and desperate to have control over my life, even if it meant ruining it. 

In this time of despair, on May 25, 2022, I was arrested for a violent offense and remained incarcerated for 8 months. I was in Missoula County JDC for almost 3 months awaiting my sentencing or release. They transferred me to Five County Detention Center in St. Anthony ID, on July 29th. I was given a plea deal and had to complete the rehabilitative program enforced at 5C to be released before I turned 18. I completed the program in roughly 5 months but my time in corrections was extended because I had nowhere to go upon release. I prayed that God had my best interest at heart and trusted that I would be released when he felt I should be. For weeks, Five County continued to get email responses about how I still had nowhere to go. Discouraged, I would fall to my knees in prayer, and in my vulnerability, He was there. I was released on January 19, 2023.

My experience in the criminal justice system was intense. For years I had run away from the traumas in my past that left me layered in defensive mechanisms and anger so raw it consumed me. Instead of addressing my issues, I tried to escape and ended up locked in a cell with them. The first two weeks were the hardest. Scenarios of endless time and nothingness would have me waking up in a state of pure panic. I had felt trapped all of my life so it wasn’t the confinement that tormented me, it was being a victim to my mind. The fear I felt was paralyzing but I still attempted to avoid and distract. Withdrawing from the substances that promised me just that, I had no choice but to read. I fell in love with reading as I let the stories absorb me into their pages. Anything opposed to thinking. 

That was until I got to Five County Detention. The freedom I was going to achieve from this experience was not materialistic, but peace. I engaged in therapy and felt validated as I reflected on the cause and effect of what I endured. I participated in Recovery classes including Drug and Alcohol (D&A) and Women’s 12 Steps Through Recovery. I graduated with Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) which educated me on how to hold myself accountable by recognizing if I am being ethical or not. I took anger management classes and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) as well. As I attended these classes, I was able to appreciate the support I received while walking through the healing process. There were times that I felt misunderstood and hopeless, but I tried to count my blessings instead of my days. I was blessed to have 3 meals a day, a consistent shower, and books. I bittersweet reality was that I was the most supported while I was incarcerated. I do believe that my incarceration could have been avoided if my life did not have the “not your fault, but your problem” dynamic. For that, I hold the foster care system accountable because of the lack of support and sympathy I received as I was facing all odds of inevitable failure while still trying to succeed. As a child, the most important things are psychological needs (food, water, and shelter), safety, and a sense of belonging. Without a solid foundation that offers that, it became very difficult for me to not be angry at my circumstances. 

Now I no longer live with resentment and emotional turmoil as I learn to thrive in peace instead of accepting chaos. Although the way I perceive the world is still influenced by my past, I remain undefined. After release, I had a rough integration into the community as my living arrangement offered no stability. However, I was offered the opportunity to move to Bozeman, MT with someone I considered a mentor of mine. She was someone who had seen my potential and advocated relentlessly for my future. I was immensely grateful for the chance of a fresh start. At heart I knew the only way I could do that was if I left everything behind. Unhealthy relationships, unhealthy habits, and my hometown. Those who supported and encouraged me to accept this change in my life were the people whom I maintained relationships with. Communication and frequent visits help with the distance, but it does become difficult at times for me to manage. When I made the move, I started my senior year at Gallatin High School and intend to participate in the HI-SET program during my second semester. This ensures that I will graduate if I meet proficiency in all subjects without needing more than twelve required credits. I will still attend graduation and walk with my class, receiving my high school diploma. I am managing the Gallatin High School basketball team and spend most of my time prioritizing education as I plan to continue through college. I am now connected with a healthy support system of friends and family, disregarding my labels and achieving a future worth fighting for. 


  • Q: 

Do you have friends who’ve also grown up in foster care and group homes? What is that connection like?

  • A:

Through my journey in the system, I have encountered foster homes, group homes, treatment centers, and detention facilities. Transitioning into unfamiliar environments is difficult given the circumstances, but feeling alone is worse. I developed relationships during these times with people who were experiencing similar vulnerabilities; hoping to find strength where we felt weak. These connections were so raw and deep-rooted because of the intense setting they were usually created in. Exposure to trauma as an individual has damaging effects on emotional and social development, often making it difficult to cope. Being surrounded by other young women who were determined to heal and find strength in their hardships, was so empowering for me. We only grew closer as we bonded over our passions, and our faith in God, walking through sobriety, breaking down our barriers and ending the generational cycles that kept us captive. The difference about these relationships compared to others I’ve had, is they were never temporary or conditional. I’ve hit rock bottom while they risked their life to pull me out knowing I’d do the same for them. We fought together for the same thing; freedom. Freedom from our past, our trauma, our addiction and our mentality. We are living proof that the people you consider family do not have to be dictated by blood. I am still in contact with people I’ve met in over 25 placements as well as others I met along the way, and I am blessed to have had the opportunity to make so many lifelong friends. 

  • Q: 

What have you found to be most surprising and profound as you’ve conducted research for this project? What makes you feel hopeful? What information/stories have been the most important?

  • A: 

As I conducted research for this project, I encountered someone who I consider to be a remarkable person. He didn’t have a chance in the world; a world that labeled him broken and expected him to fail because of the circumstances he was born into. 

Steve Pemberton is a credited author, motivational speaker, philanthropist, and corporate executive who became successful despite overwhelming odds against him. He is remarkable because of his undeniable passion for advocacy against the disparities of the child welfare system and restorative perspectives that illuminate his resilience as he shares his experience with the world. 

Despite the discouragement of social stigma, Pemberton became an inspiration all across the country, and a voice for marginalized children dispirited by the harsh realities around them. As someone from a similar background to Pemberton, I admire the commitment, self-discipline, and advocacy that he demonstrated to achieve his successes. In his humble approach, he has been able to reach so many despondent hearts by finding strength in his vulnerability. 


Inspired by my dedication to this project, my foster mom reached out to Pemberton via email with no expectations as she shared our story with him. She expressed gratitude for his influence and credited him deeply for his admirable accomplishments. He responded with a heartfelt appreciation for her social media message and wanted to put together a virtual meeting. After emailing schedules back and forth, we were able to set a time. This interaction was so insightful and offered a change in my perspective. It was refreshing to understand the vision he had and how he made it happen due to his own perseverance. Something that surprised me was how I felt when I spoke to him. I expected the conversation to be difficult given that I was nervous about conversing with someone who had spoken in front of millions of people and wrote worldwide best-sellers; however, that was not the case. When Pemberton recognized my uncomfortable demeanor, he reminded me that he was only a person, the same as I was. Even more comforting was that he came from dysfunction too, and we shared an understanding that put me at ease for the rest of our visit. I am blessed to have him as a part of my village while he helps me further navigate the changes in my life.


Seeing someone come from tragedy and prioritize their triumph despite all of the odds against them; gives me hope. The world can label children who endured trauma, but they do not have the control to dictate their success.


  • Q: 

How did you become a part of the pilot project for youth engagement in permanency, cultural, and relational decisions? How do you think this program differs from efforts to improve the system in the past?

  • A: 

The legal team that I was assigned to as a ward of the state, forced me into a vulnerable position every time we encountered each other. This would usually be in meetings at DCFS where I was made into a puppet while they pulled my strings, listening to them speak about me like I was not in the room.  Except when I cut the rope, I was depicted as defiant and dangerous. I refused to allow someone else to use me as a pawn in a sick game of misused control and realized that if I did not speak up, they would win. That is what inspired my passion for advocacy, and influenced me to be a voice for those who are silenced. 

The Chafee program wanted me to join an advocacy panel made of foster youth and youth formerly in care. At this time, I was not stable enough to take on that kind of commitment, so I only reached back out to the organization and found out they were inactive recently. They introduced me to OIC-EY(Quality Improvement Center on Engaging Youth in Finding Permanency) because they figured that I could be of help to this newly forming establishment. I got connected with Child and Youth Engagement Coordinator, Mira Max, and was accepted onto this team of advocates after a few conversations with her. Although I have not been involved for very long, I can tell that it is evolving into something that will make a difference for generations to come. This program differs from efforts to improve the system in the past because of the experience we have going into the issue at hand. We have all had exposure to the injustices of the child welfare system and will continue advocating for change. 

Dr. Amy Stiffarm & Claire Larson

Native American Initiative Series on the Mother Love Podcast!

By Birth, Indigineous Maternal Health, Maternal Mental Health, Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, Uncategorized

November was Native American Heritage Month and, in case you missed our Native American Initiative Series on the Mother Love Podcast, we wanted to let you know all about it so you can check out some of the amazing conversations we captured.

Dr. Amy Stiffarm joined Claire Larson (our usual host) to help lead these conversations as she is an expert on the topic of Indigenous maternal health and had pre-existing relationships and friendships with our guests. She is also HMHB’s Native American Initiatives Program Manager and an incredible leader in her field. Plus, she’s super fun and engaging which makes her a great co-host on the show!

To listen, please visit our Mother Love webpage at: or search ‘Mother Love’ on Apple, Audacy, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Be sure to follow us so you never miss an episode.

The 5 part series consists of these episodes:  

  • Season 3: Episode 5 – Native American Heritage Month: An intro to our Native American Initiatives Series with Dr. Amy Stiffarm

  • Season 3: Episode 6 – Native American Initiatives Series: The Current State of Indigenous Maternal Health with Dr. Janelle Palacios (Amy guest-hosts!)

  • Season 3: Episode 7 – NAI Series: “Life’s Blessings”: A Culturally Immersive Event for Nurses w/Margaret Anne Adams & Mary Ellen Lafromboise + *Bonus* Episode Intro: Decolonizing Thanksgiving w/Amy & Claire!

  • Season 3: Episode 8 – NAI Series: Cultural Inheritance and Toddler Mayhem w/Indigenous Artist Rachel Twoteeth-Pichardo

  • Season 3: Episode 9 – NAI Series: Sweetgrass in the Psych Unit w/Chelsea Bellon


*A note on this final episode in the series with Chelsea Bellon- the list of resources and show notes we compiled is such a hearty one that we had to list it here on our blog instead of below the description of the show. Please do check it out!

Show notes/Resources from “Sweetgrass in the Psych Unit”

Chelsea recommends

Claire recommends:

And, if you’re just now hearing about our Mother Love podcast, here’s a little more info:

On Mother Love, you’ll meet a new guest (or sometimes guests) each week. They are here to speak honestly about what they know now that they wish they’d known before. They want to give voice to their experiences in ways they just couldn’t when they were right smack dab in the middle of them. We talk about the pressures we put on ourselves and how real parent life looks very different from fantasy parenting life. And, most of all, we share these stories because they prove that resilience is real, that joy exists right alongside anguish and that if our guests can move through the hardest parts of all, you can too.

If you have any questions about our Storytelling Program or would like to share your own story, please contact Claire Larson via email: