Ann Irvin provides first-time mothers more than information -- she provides support and friendship.
"If I didn't have her, I'd go crazy," said 20-year-old Misty Muniz. "I would have been lost without her. She's lifted my spirits so much."
Muniz and her 1-year-old daughter, Merinda, are one of 23 families participating in the Visiting Nurse Association's Nurse-Family Partnership.
The 3-year-old program provides low-income, first-time mothers a home visits from a nurse until their child turns two.
In Craig, that nurse in Irvin.
"It's more than I thought it would be," program participant Maggie Harrell said. "I thought it would be more like a having a tutor than a friend."
Pregnant women who visit the VNA are directed toward a myriad of services, including the Nurse-Family Partnership.
The connection starts as early as the 12th week of pregnancy.
"The program focuses a lot on nutrition and exercise then," Irvin said. "The earlier we start meeting with a client, the better the relationship. You get to know each other and trust each other."
Establishing that relationship keeps participants from dropping out of the program, which has been shown to give new mothers more confidence and healthier children.
"Maggie was eager to learn and asked good questions," Irvin said. "You could tell she wanted to be a good mom."
During pregnancy, mothers often ask about labor and delivery. Irvin discusses that, as well as the stages of pregnancy, physical and hormonal changes and self care.
"It's like having a friend who's a nurse," Harrell said.
The friendship between Irvin and her clients often becomes so close that women feel comfortable calling her at home with questions -- both personal and about their children.
"New moms need a manual," Muniz said. "That's Ann."
Muniz said Irvin offered her support not just with her questions about Merinda's sleeping habits and development, but through a divorce and custody battle.
Once a child is born, there's no limit to what Irvin provides mothers, including tips about breastfeeding, potty training and information about health and development.
For the first six weeks after a mother signs up, Irvin makes weekly home visits. After that, it's every other week until delivery. After the baby is born, Irvin resumes to the once-a-week visit schedule for six weeks and then every other week.
"I get to play Grandma and Mom," Irvin said.
The program is strengths-based, she said, in that she focuses on what the new mothers are doing right and gives positive reinforcement.
"It's given me a lot of confidence," Harrell said. "You don't always think you're a good mom until someone tells you. With this, you have someone to count on and someone to call if you have a problem."
According to Irvin, statistics show women in the program make better decisions and their children have fewer problems in life.
"To know how you're kid's doing and progressing helps a lot," Muniz said.
Though the NFP focuses on mothers and their children, it doesn't exempt the family. The handouts Irvin brings always include information for fathers.
"We want this program to be real family oriented," she said. "It's about supporting people."
The Nurse-Family Partnership is funded from Colorado's tobacco settlement dollars.
"I wish I had this program when I had kids," Irvin said. "I don't know if these mothers have learned as much from me as I learned from them. It brings a lot of awareness."
Muniz said she wasn't sure at first about participating in the program, but now is thrilled she did.
"(Mothers) think they can do it all on their own, but you always have questions," she said. "It's a great resource for life. It helps in so many ways it's indescribable."
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210 or firstname.lastname@example.org.