RVNAhealth Nurse Family Partnership: Ruth’s Story

Friends, peers on the high school leadership initiative where she served as President, and her mother all assumed the baggy clothes Ruth-Ann Bucknor suddenly preferred were just fashion choices. They were actually how she hid her unplanned pregnancy for nearly six months. Born in Jamaica, Ruth-Ann was raised in Connecticut by a single mother devout to her cultural religious foundation who had high expectations and standards for herself and her daughter. Isolated and disappointed in herself, Ruth-Ann feared the news of her unplanned pregnancy would devastate her mother.

An exceptional student and curious young woman by nature, Ruth-Ann researched available resources for young mothers, made a list of questions, and a pre-natal doctor’s appointment. She felt judged and shamed during the visit because of incorrect assumptions made about her education, circumstances, and aspirations and fled the visit with her list of questions unanswered. On the way out, a flyer advertising support for first-time mothers caught her eye; she grabbed one and called the 800 number desperate for support better than what she had just received.

“It’s a joy watching her grow as a mom and young woman.”

A representative at Nurse Family Partnership, a national program that pairs first-time mothers with a dedicated nurse during pregnancy and the first two years of the child’s life, referred Ruth-Ann to RVNAhealth, the local program partner. Melissa Smith, RN, BSN, and RVNAhealth Nurse Supervisor who has been working with Ruth-Ann since that initial phone call considers her “smart, curious, and resourceful.”

“She comes with questions, listens intently to the answers, and then researches things further. She is wise beyond her years and is an exceptional human being. It’s a joy watching her grow as a mom and young woman.” Over time, the two developed a level of trust that likely saved Ruth-Ann’s life…more than once.

Just before Mother’s Day 2020, Ruth-Ann revealed her secret to her mother who works as a live-in Certified Nursing Assistant, alternating weeks between her patient and home. “She was disappointed but acted better than I expected. She took a few hours to process the news and then offered me her unconditional support,” Ruth-Ann recalled. But she hadn’t given her mother the whole story. The baby’s father and Ruth-Ann’s boyfriend, had developed an aggressive temperament since learning of the pregnancy. Determined to have an in-tact family because she experienced a fatherless childhood herself, she navigated his unpredictability as best she could, thinking it was in her baby’s best interest. In the sidelines was Smith, who met Ruth-Ann each week virtually, because of the COVID-19 crisis, to review everything an expectant mother needs to know from the facts about pregnancy and childbirth to stress management and life skills strategies. “We had an instant connection,” Ruth-Ann said, “I immediately felt accepted without any judgement. I could ask her the most embarrassing questions and never felt ashamed or scared. It was exactly what I had been looking for but didn’t know I needed. Every expectant mom should have what I have with Melissa.”

A Rare Genetic Clotting Disorder

During these visits, Smith unearthed a concerning piece of family medical history that resulted in the death of Ruth-Ann’s sister one week after she gave birth. Protein S deficiency is a rare genetic clotting disorder that can result in life-threatening blood clots like the one that took her sister’s life. Ruth-Ann’s prenatal physician, who is not associated with RVNAhealth or Nurse Family Partnership, refused to test her blood levels for Protein S deficiency despite her complaints of excessive fatigue and family history. Smith “empowered me to fight for it,” Ruth-Ann said, “and thank God she did, because that blood test probably saved my life. My voice was quieter before and Melissa helped me amplify it. I wouldn’t have the voice I do now without her.”

In fall 2020, Ruth-Ann delivered a full-term healthy baby girl and soon thereafter confided in Smith about her safety concerns given her partner’s increasing volatility. Smith connected Ruth-Ann with resources specializing in interpersonal violence and in early December she moved back in with mother full-time under a court-issued protective order. “I stayed longer than I should have just so my daughter could be around her dad,” Ruth-Ann said, “but Melissa reminded me that a father doesn’t have to be biological and blood doesn’t make a family.”

“I don’t need to be perfect and it’s okay not to have the answers to things but can be dangerous not to ask questions.”

Today, Ruth-Ann is juggling motherhood of an intelligent, radiant, one-year-old with mischief in her eyes and apple cheeks with a full college course load as she pursues a degree in social work so she can “make life better for others and connect with a wide range of people on a variety of social issues.” A newly elected cabinet member with the Office of Early Childhood, the state agency that funds Nurse Family Partnership, Ruth-Ann was one of 15 chosen in a pool of over 70 applicants to develop solutions for issues facing parents and families statewide. In her spare time, Ruth-Ann is an advocate for RVNAhealth and the Nurse Family Partnership that she attributes to giving her the support and tools to transform her life. She cautions those who are intimidated by the word nurse in the program title because nurses traditionally focus on medical care whereas the NFP nurses help their clients navigate every tentacle associated with new motherhood. “Melissa is my mentor,” Ruth-Ann said, “she’s walked beside me on this entire journey. She reminded me that I don’t need to be perfect and it’s okay not to have the answers to things but can be dangerous not to ask questions.” As for her daughter, the reason she and Smith were brought together, Ruth-Ann says “she’s a mini me…a determined thinker and very curious. She loves books and can express
herself well already. She has a strong voice.”

Just like her mother.

To hear and learn more from Ruth about her RVNAhealth Nurse Family Partnership experience, watch this video

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