When Jennifer became pregnant in 2017, her life was – in her own words – tumultuous.
At the time, Jennifer was unhoused and struggling with years-long addiction. Shortly after she became pregnant, she spent 60 days in jail. It was there that she was connected to Santa Clara Valley Healthcare (SCVH), who provided her first prenatal care while she was in custody.
Her pregnancy and the support she received motivated Jennifer to get sober and start her recovery. After she was released, Jennifer continued to receive care and health education classes at one of SCVH’s outpatient clinics.
That’s how she knew where to go when she started to experience complications in her pregnancy. One morning, her back felt like it was splitting apart, and she rushed to SCVMC’s Labor and Delivery Unit.
She delivered her son, Lofa, two days later, just 27 weeks into her pregnancy. Her son, who was 2 pounds and 12 ounces, was immediately transferred to SCVMC’s NICU.
“It felt like a scene in a movie, not real life” Jennifer remembered.
Jennifer and Lofa spent 91 days in the NICU. During their stay, Jennifer was connected with Patty, a peer support specialist with the NICU’s Family Centered Care (FCC) program. When Jennifer’s son was diagnosed with a brain abnormality, Patty shared her own story with Jennifer. Patty’s daughter, who was also born at 27 weeks, experienced serious complications during her 100-day stay at SCVMC’s NICU.
“When Patty shared how her daughter was now doing great, it was like seeing a light at the end of a dark tunnel,” Jennifer said. “It gave me hope.”
When Lofa was finally discharged, he still needed a lot of care. As part of SCVMC’s BRIDGE program that supports families’ transition from NICU to home, a nurse practitioner made home visits biweekly to check on Lofa’s development and help Jennifer transition him to the new home she had secured for her family.
Today, Lofa is an energetic boy. Although his diagnosis of a brain abnormality meant he could have developmental delays, Lofa met his developmental milestones his first year and continues to thrive. This experience also changed the course of Jennifer’s life. She now works alongside Patty in providing support to more families.
“It’s so fulfilling to be able to support these families and advocate for them,” Jennifer said. “Even though we had a difficult journey, there was such a beautiful outcome and I get to do for others what people did for me.”