The nurse flitted around the room, flipping through her chart and checking my vitals.
“Do you mind if your…boyfriend,” the nurse settled on the word, “steps out of the room for a moment?”
My fiancé nodded quietly. He kissed my forehead and went to pace up and down the hallway.
The nurse patted my bed. “The social worker will be in to see you in a moment.”
“Social worker?” I repeated. I was about 36 hours postpartum and adjusting to life as a brand-new mommy of one. My daughter, with her adorable chubby cheeks and massive curly ‘fro, caught the attention of just about every staff member at the suburban hospital and my room was constantly rotating with doctors, nurses, and even janitorial staff who had heard about the “Hawaiian-looking baby in 406.”
But as her mother, I was getting all types of unwanted attention as well. Several nurses had commented on how young I looked and asked me how old I was, even as they were holding my chart.
And now hearing that a social worker wanted to talk to me, I was scared. I understand that social workers fill a variety of roles and that one should not automatically assume their presence is bad. I know that now, as a 27-year-old woman who has had more experience in the world. But as a scared 20-year-old mother with her hormones out of whack? A visit from a social worker ain’t nothing good.
The social worker (a 40something white woman with big brunette 80’s hair) came in with a tight smile and a big clipboard. She sat in the same chair my fiance had just vacated and asked a couple standard questions about my name, my daughter’s name, the name of my daughter’s father, and how old I was. Then the questions began to turn left.
“Do you feel safe in your home?” she said, pen poised above her clipboard, ready to check one of the boxes depending on my answer.
I’d answered this question dozens of times at my prenatal appointments. “Yes,” I said.
“Is your partner abusive to you—physically, emotionally, mentally?”
“No to all three?”
“Yes. I mean, no. He’s never been abusive in any way.”
She kept her eyes on the clipboard. The questions continued.
“Where do you live?”
“With my fiance.”
“Is it subsidized housing or…?”
At that point in my life, I didn’t even know what subsidized housing was. “No.”
“And how big is your place of residence?”
“How many square feet,” she said.
Shit, I didn’t know. “Um…we live in a two-bedroom apartment.”
“You know,” she said, scribbling some notes, “we’ve found that parents who live in smaller residences have higher incidences of child abuse.”
What was I supposed to say to that? I guess she took my silence as an answer. “Well, you watch out for that,” she said. “It’s not something we like to see.”
She flipped to the next page and continued. “So you’ll be establishing paternity? Do you need assistance with that? DNA testing, anything?”
How many different ways is she going to ask me about my daughter’s father? It was at this point that I started getting heated, but I didn’t want to come across as a hot-headed new mother for two reasons: 1) I still didn’t know the purpose of this visit and 2) I wasn’t about to have anything marked down on that stupid clipboard that would prevent me from going about my life with my new baby as I pleased.
“No, I don’t need any help with that.”
She asked me a few other questions and left. My fiancé came back in and found me sitting on the bed looking stunned. I relayed as much as I could to him and he took me a minute to rub my back. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, even though I wasn’t.
My daughter—”the Hawaiian-looking baby in 406″—is almost seven. And I remember this interaction like it was yesterday. There was no social worker visit with my son, born 18 months later, when I was 22. By that time, I had tied the knot.
I’ve wondered what triggered the visit, especially since I was in a painful C-section recovery fog and didn’t ask at the time. Talking to a few people gave me a couple of possible explanations:
Maybe it was hospital policy that everyone/everyone under 21/everyone who is unwed gets a visit?
Perhaps. But it still doesn’t explain the weird line of questioning. The 10 minutes we spent talking accomplished absolutely nothing.
Maybe it was because your daughter was in the NICU?
At eight pounds, five ounces and born at 41 weeks, my daughter was the largest, healthiest baby in the NICU. There were no ongoing concerns about her health, and if there were, the social worker did not address any.
Maybe the social worker was there to give you a heads-up about resources, assistance you could sign up for?
I could understand this, if the social worker had given me ANY information on resources available. My county has a “Help Me Grow” program where first-time parents get home visits from registered nurses. You know how I found out about it? It was in the folder of materials they gave me during discharge.
So what was the point of that visit? I did not feel any more prepared for motherhood than before she entered the room. All the visit did was strike a blow to an already fragile, newly developing confidence as a new mother. That “child abuse” line had me scared out of my mind for the first two years of my daughter’s life. If she cried a bit too loud or a bit too long, I was in panic mode, trying to hurry to calm her before someone called social services on me. After all, they burst into my hospital room while my stitches were still fresh, why wouldn’t they come back when I’ve been on the job for a while?
When I discussed this incident on the Young Mommy Life Facebook page, some moms claimed they were fine with the interrogation if it meant every baby is being sent home to a loving, safe environment.
But that’s not what this visit with the social worker felt like to me. It felt nasty and impersonal. Full of assumptions about who I was, what type of man I’d chosen to be the father of my child and what type of mother I’d turn out to be.
Perhaps I’m a bit sensitive. But when it comes to my children, I have a right to be. If I could go back in time, I’d be a stronger advocate for myself. Ask why the social worker felt the need to come to my room, offering no help or resources. Ask if it was standard procedure. If so, why? If not, there’s the door.
Since leaving the hospital, I’ve had my share of infuriating run-ins with strangers making assumptions (like the older white man at the park who asked me, point blank, if we lived in the projects). But in my hospital room? Where I’m leaking breast milk, sitting on a maxi pad the size of Rhode Island, trying to learn how to walk without engaging my stomach muscles? I did not need that. No mom does.
Tara Pringle Jefferson is the founder and editor of TheYoungMommyLife.com, one of the first websites created specifically for first-time mothers under 25. She is an author, social media consultant, and young parent advocate. Visit her at www.theyoungmommylife.com.