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Art Party! by Elaine Dahl

By Caregiving, Community, Early Childhood, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting

Are you looking for way to beat the heat?  Look no further!  We’re re-airing this article from our 2nd edition of the LIFTS Magazine featuring a very fun family art party.

Art Party!

By Elaine Dahl

HMHB recently invited some families with little ones to make art! And if you have a little one who is ready, you could too!

Here are some suggested “how to” steps:

  1. Find a place. It could be a park, a family’s home, or a meeting place. Remember that, depending on the art you do, it could get messy!
  2. Find a time. Keep in mind various work schedules, bedtimes, and mealtimes. This party lasted a little over an hour, and families had the option to arrive late or leave early.
  3. Invite the families you would like to attend. Consider health protocols, such as telling families to stay home if they are sick, having the party outside, and/or offering masks.
  4. Tell everyone to wear clothes that can get messy, if you are using materials like paint.
  5. Decide on your projects. We had help from art teacher Em Thiessen, but you can also look online or ask your creative friends for ideas.
  6. Gather the supplies and any snacks or drinks you want to offer. Look for non-toxic, kid-friendly paints, kitchen ingredients like flour and food coloring, paper, and other supplies. And make sure you have clean-up materials like towels and wipes.
  7. When the time comes, welcome everyone and remind them that it’s not so much about creating great art, but about creating great memories!

And here’s why!

  1. It’s fun! (Seriously, it’s important to have fun!)
  2. It helps improve your child’s brain development, motor skills, exploration of things in the world, and visual understanding.
  3. It’s a great way for you to bond with your little one and connect with other families.

For this party, Em planned four projects:

Plastic bag painting

  1. Take a piece of paper and squirt three or four colors of non-toxic paint on it.
  2. Carefully place the paper inside a plastic bag and seal the bag.
  3. Allow your little one to smoosh the paint around, with their hands on top of the plastic. They can even try using a toy to move the paint!
  4. When the smooshing is done, carefully remove the paper from the plastic bag and let it air dry.

Handprints

  1. Each family member can paint their own hands with a brush, or you can paint each other’s hands.
  2. Once you have enough paint on your hand, press it down on the paper to transfer the paint. Your little one may need help with this part.
  3. You can layer your handprints, or you can make other designs.
  4. Sometimes, you may be inspired to make a more “avant garde” artwork!

Ball-in-the-box painting

  1. Place a small amount of one color of paint in a cup, can, or bowl.
  2. Drop a small ball in the cup, can, or bowl and make sure it’s covered in paint.
  3. Place a paper in the bottom of a plastic bin.
  4. Drop the ball with paint into the bin.
  5. Shake the bin so the ball moves around.
  6. When you’re ready for a new color, repeat all the steps above, using a clean ball and a separate small container for each color of paint.
  7. Remove the finished painting from the bottom of the plastic bin.

Totes with bubbles

  1. You will need several bottles of bubble soap with plastic wands.
  2. Drop a small amount of food coloring or non-toxic dye into each bottle of bubble soap so you’ll have a variety of colors. Label each bottle.
  3. Get a canvas tote bag or a paper set up on a table or on the floor.
  4. Blow bubbles in the direction of your “canvas.”
  5. You can pop the bubbles, or even stomp on them!
  6. Switch colors as you see fit

What do you do when your little one’s artwork starts piling up? Em recommends repurposing a paper project by:

  • Using it as wrapping paper for gifts;
  • Cutting it up into small rectangular gift tags, which you can punch a hole in and tie with some twine to your gift; or
  • Cutting it into small shapes (circles, squares, etc.) that you can glue onto gift bags, lunch sacks, or other items that need some decoration.

We thank Em Thiessen and the Martin family, the Petrik-Harris family, and the Stumberg family for attending!

Throwing your own art party? Write us at stories@hmhb-mt.org if you want to learn more or share what you did.

 

Finding Our Footing by Anna Temple

By Caregiving, Community, Early Childhood, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting

This is a featured article from our 2nd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  

Finding Our Footing

By Anna Semple

My son “Alex” (an alternate name for privacy reasons) just turned three. I can’t decide if his birth seems like yesterday or a lifetime ago, or maybe both. They say that your brain goes through as many changes when becoming a mother as it does during the teen years. I’ve long known this because of my job in early childhood, but didn’t really take the time to think about what this actually meant until after I became a mother myself. Comparing my childhood self with my young adult self, I see the same person in so many ways, but with different priorities, ways of thinking about the world, and levels of confidence and skill in navigating life on my own. Parenting has brought on the same sensation of feeling different, but also just the same.

Alex has Down syndrome. When I was pregnant, I shared this information quickly as a way to bridge a connection and set the tone of the conversation. I didn’t want people avoiding real conversation because they didn’t know what was okay to talk about. My partner and I were lucky to have incredibly supportive friends, with the wisdom to ask how we felt about the diagnosis instead of jumping to the conclusion that it was a tragedy. Even awkward comments felt supportive, as long as people were open to hearing how we were feeling at that moment. I knew that a month earlier in my life I would have been unsure of what to say as well, and I was okay with imperfect expressions of support.

My feelings were complex during pregnancy, and talking them through with my partner and friends was incredibly important. I often worried that I wouldn’t know how to connect with my son. I leaned into the words I read from other parents, that “once your baby is born it will be fine, he will just be your baby.” Before becoming a mother, I didn’t know that love for your children grows out of thousands of tiny moments of nurturing, not because your baby shows up in a certain way. And when Alex was born, I could see the depth in his sparkly little eyes and knew I didn’t need to worry about connecting. I’m saddened now that I didn’t understand this before. People with Down syndrome are just people, and being able to connect really isn’t surprising.

 

Now that Alex is older, I am slower to bring up this diagnosis with people who haven’t met him. Mostly because there are so many other things to talk about, but also because some people’s default is to focus on the differences. I need to start with the foundation that Alex is in many ways the same as any other kid. I want to share conversations about bedtime routines, picky eating, and hilarious toddler antics. I want people to know that Alex is a little charmer who loves to play games, whether he is catching my eye with a sly smile before tickling me, or giggling as he hurries down a path to kick pinecones in the park. Only after we connect as fellow parents do I mention the extra chromosome, or tell them that I’m sometimes overwhelmed with the added layer of thought that goes into every parenting decision, with juggling all the appointments, and facing the scary unknown of the long-term future.

These friends and acquaintances are an important support system, but I am also thankful our family has had outside help with navigating the extra considerations. Young children with delays and disabilities often qualify for early intervention services, which provide free parenting support and specialized services (like physical, speech and occupational therapies) until children turn three. We enrolled when Alex was two weeks old after one doctor gave us a laundry list of things that we couldn’t do, including being worn in a baby carrier. After filling out a short form, we were able to get in quickly to see a physical therapist who determined that he could in fact be safely worn in some specific carriers. Walking in the woods is a big part of our family identity, and it was an enormous relief to learn ways to safely do this with our son. We worked with this same physical therapist until recently when Alex turned three and aged out of the program.

Our whole early intervention team supported us in setting goals for our son and our family. They worked with us all to help achieve those goals through therapy exercises and connection to resources in the community. Our family support specialist knew what paperwork or appointment needed to happen at different phases. They encouraged us to apply for and enroll in Early Head Start. Most of our experiences with doctors have been positive, but we occasionally received conflicting or confusing information at appointments. We knew our early intervention team couldn’t give medical advice, but they did help us generate questions and research options if we wanted a second opinion.

When looking into preschools, we were referred to someone at our local Child Care Resource and Referral office who equipped us with information on reasonable accommodations and a list of questions to ask when we visited different programs. This helped us self-advocate and, ultimately, we chose a program that was open to adaptations and that valued my family as collaborators in Alex’s education.

Each person we’ve worked with throughout these three years has been a such a cheerleader for Alex. He warmed right up to each of them, and adored being the center of attention during appointments.

Like any new parent, I can’t imagine how overwhelming these first years would have been for us without people to turn to for help. Friends who knitted blankets, left Tupperwares of food and stopped by to check in on us. Professionals who supported us in becoming advocates, and who began teaching Alex the skills that help him gain independence. Both helped us find our footing as we underwent the huge shift in perspective and lifestyle of becoming a family. We are forever grateful for the help we had welcoming our beautiful son into a whole community of people who care for him.

 

Resources: Use the LIFTS Online Resource Guide to search for “Child Development Information and Support” and find organizations that assist families in screening children and making appropriate referrals.

Early Head Start: My Family’s Experience by Kayla Goble

By Caregiving, Community, Early Childhood, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting

This is a featured article from our 2nd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  

Early Head Start: My Family’s Experience

By Kayla Goble

Parenting is hard no matter how prepared you feel you are for it. I have always wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember, but becoming a mom was not going to be an easy journey for me. Before I got pregnant with “Bugs” (my nickname for my daughter) in 2019, I had some health issues and I was not sure that my dream of becoming a mom would ever become a reality. I knew that there are other ways to become a mom, and I have two amazing “bonus children” that I love dearly. Throughout my pregnancy with Bugs, I lived in constant fear that I would lose her, as we did not have an easy ride. I was diagnosed with several medical conditions requiring medication, and I struggled to carry her to full term. Ultimately, she made her appearance at 36 weeks and 6 days, at 5:30 a.m.

Once Bugs was born, I knew that I needed to have support and a village around my family in order to help Bugs be the best that she can be. As someone who is going to school for Early Childhood Education (P-3) and Special Education, I know that it is important to provide gentle parenting and to guide children in life, and to help them have a healthy attachment so that they feel safe and secure to explore the world around them. When Bugs was three months old, we moved from Missoula to Anaconda, meaning that my family and main support was an hour and a half away. Two months after we moved to Anaconda, COVID hit, meaning that we did not have time to build a support system there.

In March 2021, there was a fire in our building and we had to suddenly move again. We moved to Butte, where some of our friends lived and we would be able to find more services to support Bugs.

By the time that we moved, Bugs had been diagnosed with some conditions requiring  many doctor appointments and hospital stays. Anaconda does not have an Early Head Start (EHS) program, so when we moved to Butte, we started looking at the process of getting her enrolled in AWARE’s EHS program. AWARE runs EHS programs in Butte, Helena, Belgrade and Billings, while other communities provide EHS through different organizations.

In June of 2021, we worked with Family Outreach to have Bugs tested for delays and to see if she qualified for an IFSP (Individualized Family Support Plan). The results came back that Bugs was 25-90% delayed in all developmental areas except one, where she was 10% delayed. This showed that, while Bugs was advanced in many of the skills she had at a year and a half, she had missed some of the key skills that she would need to be successful in life. She also was showing some concerning behaviors when she became overstimulated or was in social situations. When we enrolled her into EHS in Butte, I was not sure how it would go and worried that Bugs would struggle and not succeed.

For the first three weeks that Bugs was at EHS, she did not talk there, while she talked all the time at home. All of the other kids wanted to take care of her and would get her whatever she wanted if she pointed at something. Over time she came out of her shell and showed her feisty, independent attitude. Now, she loves going to “school.”

Each time we have had Bugs make a transition – first to another EHS classroom and then to Young Explorers, which is an EHS Community Partner – I thought that Bugs would regress and that she would not be able to handle it. Each time it has been the best move for her. All staff have been supportive of figuring out and dealing with her medical issues. When the doctor decided on two occasions that she needed to change her diet, EHS made each change within 24 hours. Nine months after she enrolled at EHS, she was retested and her development scores had increased dramatically.

Not only is Bugs supported, so are we as her family. Some people might think that EHS is just for the child, but it’s about all of us. We have a team of 14 people who all help support Bugs, but also check in with us about our family’s sleep schedule, my relationship with my husband, and other aspects of our lives. There is a therapist on staff that helps us deal with things that come up, such as Bugs shredding paper. There is also a Family Advocate that works with us on various issues.

As a parent, I have been empowered to join the Policy Council, which Head Start and Early Head Start are required to have. Policy Council is made up of parent and community representatives from each of the cities that AWARE EHS serves. We meet once a month and act as a “check and balance” for AWARE EHS. We go over the budget and things that are happening in the centers. As parents, we discuss ways to improve things or make changes. The parents that are on Policy Council also help organize parent committee meetings every month, which help parents connect and learn new information to help them be the best parents that they can be. I am glad that I chose to trust someone to help and support me with raising my daughter and would not change that decision for anything.

Resources: Learn more about what AWARE can offer you and your child at www.Aware-inc.org/ecs. Or find out if there is an Early Head Start program in your community offered by a different organization listed in the LIFTS online resource guide.

Summer Fun Ideas for Caregivers of Young Children in Montana

By Caregiving, Community, Community Support, Parenting

Summertime in Montana can be paradise! It can also be a time when many families experience changes in childcare routines and find themselves scrambling to find balance. Keeping in mind that summer isn’t a break for parents and caregivers of young children, we wanted to share some ideas to make the most of the summer months while ensuring a safe, fun, and engaging experience for your little ones.

Utilize Public Libraries

Public libraries are an excellent resource during the summer. Many libraries in Montana offer free programs specifically designed for babies and toddlers. From story time to music and movement classes, these programs provide a structured, yet fun environment for early childhood development. Check out the LIFTS online resource guide for public libraries to find a library near you and learn about their summer reading programs and other activities.

Explore a New Play Space

There are many parks and play areas across the state that are perfect for young children. Before heading out, check the LIFTS online resource guide for play spaces. Visiting different parks not only keeps the scenery fresh but also helps kiddos develop social skills as they interact with other children.

Addressing Food Insecurity

Summertime can be particularly challenging for families facing food insecurity. It’s important to know that resources are available to help. The LIFTS online resource guide under food and nutrition supports can connect you with local partners and organizations that provide food assistance. Support is available to ensure that no child experiences hunger during the summer.

Organize Rotating Play Dates

Consider organizing a rotating play date schedule with other parents and caregivers. This not only gives children the opportunity to play with friends but also allows you some much-needed time to work, run errands, or simply take a break. Rotating responsibilities among a responsible and supportive group of adults helps create a community where everyone benefits.

Have a Picnic

Take advantage of Montana’s natural beauty by having a family picnic. Whether it’s in your backyard, at a local park, or by a scenic lake, picnics are a delightful way to spend time together. Pack a simple meal, bring a blanket, look at the shapes in the clouds, and enjoy the fresh air while your little one explores the outdoors.

Enjoy Free and Simple Activities

You don’t need expensive toys to keep your child entertained. Some of the best summer activities are free and can be done right at home. A few easy favorites include:

  • Make your own water table. Fill a plastic bowl with safe kitchen utensils for water play – it’s amazing how much fun toddlers can have with a little water and some simple tools.
  • Play “washing up.” Give your child a spray bottle with water and let them “clean” their toys or outdoor furniture. It’s a great way to keep them occupied and cool on a hot day.
  • Make and play with bubbles! If you’re out of store-bought bubbles, an easy recipe you can make at home simply requires you to mix three ingredients: 2 tbsp sugar, 1/2 cup hot water, 1 cup room temperature water, and 1/2 cup liquid dish soap.

Visit Montana State Parks

Many Montanans opt to pay the $9 fee when licensing their vehicles, which grants access to all Montana State Parks. There are many parks across the state, offering a range of activities such as hiking, picnicking, and exploring nature trails. The parks are not only beautiful but also provide a rich learning environment for young children.

Additional Tips

  • Dress in Layers: Montanans know that if you don’t like the weather now, wait 15 minutes because it will probably change! Make sure to pack appropriate layers for any outdoor adventures.
  • Be Bear (and all animal!) Aware: We have the good fortune of an abundance of wildlife in Montana – in both urban and wilderness settings. Don’t forget to be “bear aware” and conscientious of all wild animals.
  • Stay Safe: Always apply sunscreen, dress your child in appropriate clothing, and ensure they stay hydrated.
  • Be Prepared: Carry a bag with essentials like snacks, water, diapers, and a change of clothes.
  • Capture Memories: Don’t forget to take pictures and videos to capture these precious moments.
Let us know if you have any easy and engaging ideas to share!

Enhancing Community Care: Vetted Guides for Effective Referrals in Perinatal Mental Health

By advocacy, Caregiving, Community, Community Support, Maternal Mental Health, Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders

Montana has far reaching support systems for families during pregnancy and early childhood. Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies (HMHB) works hand-in-hand with these networks and local groups, striving to gather and share the knowledge and skills necessary to serve families during these crucial stages of life. A frequent challenge we hear about is the difficulty in referring patients and clients to appropriate resources.

Communities can address this challenge by creating community specific vetted guides to help parents, caregivers, and providers find the assistance they need promptly. To support these efforts, HMHB and partners developed a toolkit to help community groups build an effective directory of perinatal mental health and support specialists.

vetted resource guideCollaborating for Comprehensive Support

HMHB collaborated with the Maternal Mental Health Taskforce of the Helena Early Childhood Coalition and the Flathead Perinatal Mental Health Coalition of the Flathead Valley Early Childhood Coalition to create this valuable resource. This toolkit is tailored to help community groups create, organize, and maintain an up-to-date list of local resources, ensuring that

families receive the best possible care.

The team at the Early Childhood Coalition of Flathead Valley recently went through the process of creating a new vetted guide.  You can see that work here.

What’s Inside the Vetted Guide Toolkit?

The toolkit contains resources and templates to simplify the process of building a community-specific referral list. Here’s what you’ll find inside:

  • Points of Consideration: Guidance on the language to use and categories to include in your resource list.
  • Criteria for Vetted Guides: Examples of criteria that can be adopted to create a reliable and vetted guide for your community.
  • Content for Outreach: Pre-made content to populate an online form for outreach and recruitment efforts.
  • Inspiration from Existing Resources: A compilation of other referral lists to inspire and guide your efforts.
  • Designed Templates: Ready-to-use templates to streamline the process of creating your resource list.

Empowering Communities Through Collaboration

By leveraging this toolkit, community groups can enhance their system of care and referrals, making it easier for families to access the support they need during pregnancy and early childhood. Our collaboration with local coalitions underscores the importance of working together to create robust, effective support networks.

If you’re in a community that hasn’t yet built a vetted resource guide, don’t forget to refer to the LIFTS Online Resource Guide for a comprehensive statewide list of service providers.

Let’s work together to build stronger, more supportive communities for all Montana families.

Spotlight on the 2024 Montana Status of Women Report

By advocacy, Community, Community Support

Today on the HMHB blog, we are excited to amplify the newly released 2024 report ‘The Status of Women in Montana: Advancing Policy for Economic Equity.’  This report was meticulously prepared by the team at the Montana Budget and Policy Center with an introduction from the Women’s Foundation of Montana. It provides a comprehensive analysis of the current state of women in Montana, highlighting policy pathways to improve economic opportunities, health and well-being, political participation, and improving lives for families and women in Montana.

The report is a valuable resource for understanding the challenges and progress in achieving gender equity in our state. It offers critical insights and data to inform policy decisions and advocacy efforts aimed at enhancing the lives of women in Montana. The report presents a variety of solutions and pathways to equity, including:

  • Improving access to affordable childcare
  • Preserving reproductive rights and autonomy
  • Improving access to healthcare, including Medicaid expansion
  • Providing paid family leave
  • Amplifying efforts to expand work related to ending the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) epidemic

We encourage you to read the full report to gain a deeper understanding of these important issues. You can access the report here.

Lifting Up New Moms, by Emily Clewis

By Caregiving, Community, Feeding Baby, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting, pregnancy, Self-care, Self-compassion

This is a featured article from our 1st edition (2021) of the LIFTS Magazine.  

Lifting Up New Moms

By Emily Clewis

A new life joining the world is a very exciting time. Friends and family members may be eager to gather around to take part in celebrating the new bundle of joy! There are so many ways to show up for families welcoming a new baby. Before you invite yourself over to hold that new baby, there are some really important things to keep in mind.

While holding a new baby is exciting, it’s the birthing person that truly needs to be held, loved, and supported in this golden, but vulnerable time. If the mother is well supported, she can better care for her new baby. Supporting parents in what they need is just as important as welcoming their baby.

The first couple of weeks are crucial for bonding, and new parents may not want any visitors during this vulnerable period. Always ask parents what precautions they may be taking and if they are up for visitors before coming to visit. New babies have no sense of night or day, so parents may be sleeping with their little ones at noon after being up all night. Be flexible with your plans for visiting and understand they may change.

If you do visit, wash your hands well and keep your face away from the baby’s, as babies are vulnerable to common illnesses. Always ask the parents if it’s okay to hold the baby. If they say yes, encourage them to take a shower or quick nap while you’re there. This is a great opportunity for them to take care of themselves!

Offer to bring healthy snacks or a ready-to-heat nutritious meal. Ask mom if she has eaten, and maybe make her a meal (and then do the dishes!). New moms, especially those breastfeeding, are always thirsty and require more calories. If she feeds the baby while you’re there, help her put her feet up and offer to get her water or a snack.

Look around for things that need to be done: laundry, dishes, taking out the trash, etc. If there are older children in the house, offer to watch a movie with them or take them on a walk. Ask new parents what they need; they will likely tell you!

 

Finally, don’t overstay. Parents during this time are heavily exhausted, and even well-meaning company can make parents feel the need to entertain. An hour or so is plenty in those first few weeks.

The early weeks of having a newborn is a beautiful time to support moms and babies. With healthy support, parents are less likely to suffer from perinatal depression and their babies have better health outcomes. Feel empowered to show up for new parents in a way that is helpful, supportive, loving, and graceful.

 

Boundaries to Support You

During postpartum, it is easy to be led by excitement and pride. You want desperately to share this new human with the world and to shout, “Look what I did!” from the rooftops. As women, we know that in the first few weeks, we are supposed to rest and allow our bodies to heal and recover. But our friends and family start calling, and we tell ourselves that we will rest later. Suddenly, visitors and responsibilities snowball, and somewhere under it all, there we are, crushed and tired as hell.

Here are some simple phrases to help draw boundaries around yourself in postpartum.

“We are not ready for visitors at this time.”

“I’m feeling really tired today. Let’s plan for another time when I’m feeling up to company.”

“My body doesn’t feel up to that. I’ll let you know once I feel recovered.”

“I don’t feel comfortable with that quite yet. I can reach out to you when I feel ready!”

“I know we had plans, but I’m not quite up for it after all. Let’s try again in a few days. In the meantime, here are some sweet pictures!”

“What I really need help with at this time is…”

“No.”

Mama, feel empowered to listen to and advocate for your own needs during this time. Speak them fiercely and unapologetically, even if your voice shakes. Your own mental and physical health is so important, and you have permission to draw a circle of protection around yourself.

 

 

To find resources and support for postpartum, parenting and more, visit our LIFTS Online Resource Guide at https://hmhb-lifts.org/. 

Empowering Families with Essentials: HMHB’s Safe Sleep and Safe Car Seat Initiatives

By Caregiving, Community, Community Support, Parenting, Safety

Ensuring the safety and well-being of our little ones is paramount. However, for some families, accessing essential items like safe sleep spaces and car seats can be a challenge. That’s where Health Mothers Healthy Babies (HMHB) steps in with the Essentials program, providing pack-and-plays and car seats to families in need across Montana through our Safe Sleep for Baby and Safe Seat for Baby programs.

Foundation of Essentials

Image of a happy family with a baby in a car seat, showcasing the importance of safe travel for infants.From its inception, Essentials has been an integral part of HMHB’s mission to support mothers and babies aged zero to three. Recognizing the critical importance of safe sleep and secure travel for infants and toddlers, the program was designed to bridge the gap for families facing financial or logistical barriers.

Impact

A glance at the numbers reveals the program’s growth and impact. In 2024, less than half-way through the year, we are already on pace to surpass our crib and car seat distribution from 2023 and have a broad reach across Montana counties and Reservations. Since its inception, the program has distributed thousands of pack-and-plays and car seats to Montana families.

Year Counties Served Reservations Served Car Seats

 

Cribs
2024 (through May 1) 22 4 141 120
2023 28 6 244 209
Success Stories

The heart of Essentials lies in the stories of families it has helped. Through testimonials like April’s, who found solace in a pack-n-play for her newborn in a small trailer, or Martha’s, a homeless mother provided with a pack-and-play, this program makes tangible differences in people’s lives. From fleeing domestic violence to unexpected births, the Essentials offerings can be accessed during critical moments, offering safety and support.

Building Trust Through Partnerships

Image of a happy baby, safely in a pack n play.To ensure car seats and pack and plays are safely set up, providers (such as doctors, nurses, Health Departments, home visitors, etc.) must order Essentials items for the families they serve.  Thus, Essentials not only provides tangible products to families, but also fosters trust and relationships with direct service providers. By equipping partners with resources, HMHB empowers them to support parents comprehensively, from access to guidance on safe sleep practices, laying the foundation for future engagements.

Continuing the Mission

As HMHB continues to expand its reach and impact through Essentials, the commitment to ensuring every Montana family has access to safe sleep spaces and car seats remains unwavering. Through collaboration with partner organizations and the dedication of its team, Essentials continues to be a beacon of hope for families in need.  If you would like to help further the reach of this important program, please consider making a donation.

Donate Now to Provide Essentials to Montana Babies
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: https://www.frontier.care/beyondtheweather.html

Or, visit https://hmhb-lifts.org/ for local resources using the search terms “counselors” or “support groups”.