Pink and blue balloons hovered near the ceiling to help celebrate the newest edition to a family. The aroma of catered dishes and the laughter of family members gathered around the mother-to-be filled the room. But a baby shower isn’t just a party with food, drinks, gifts and games. It’s a celebration of new life and a welcoming of children by the people who will support and help them grow.
Healthy Baby Showers is a health and wellness pilot program that provides women and their families with education about raising a child. The program is organized by Blue Cross Blue Shield for Karen, Native American and Hmong communities around the Twin Cities. They host educational baby showers for families in the communities to help prepare them for parenthood.
These three groups were chosen as the focus of their mission because of several factors, including women with the highest enrollment in Medicaid and the number of health disparities that needed to be addressed. The organization is run through nonprofits, including the Karen Organization in Minnesota, Hmong American Partnership and Little Earth.
The goals of the program are to provide education, introduce pregnant women to their health plans and to other local and state federal resources, and to connect them to their communities. “It was a good celebration of women and of culture, focused around some really hard topics to talk about when it comes to pregnancy. Abuse, for example,” said Va Yang, community engagement specialist at Blue Cross, who helps organize the baby showers. “Sometimes it’s hard to do that when you are trying to get everyone through the door. It’s easier when you are having smaller conversations and you are really hand-holding those conversations. We are really able to talk about difficult health topics through a welcoming and open lens.”
The showers are specific to each cultural group. Baby showers are hosted for Native Americans in Minneapolis and for Karen and Hmong communities in Ramsey County. Because each culture has different customs, traditions, and views on childbirth, Healthy Baby Showers designs the events to follow their customs. “Our amazing baby shower co-hosts speak the language and identify with our moms and participants, so we are able to provide proper interpretation and be more inclusive when addressing culturally specific questions moms and caretakers might have,” Yang explained.
During a baby shower for the Native American community, for example, mothers arrived along with their spouses, caretakers and community elders. Of the 54 participants, only seven were pregnant. For Native Americans, community elders are important because they want culture to carry through generations. Yang said, “We originally designed it for mothers, because we thought that was the target population and they were the ones that would find this information the most useful and relevant. But what we found out was that mothers are not doing it by themselves. They are doing it as a village, with their entire family combined.”
Along with organizing and managing baby showers, Yang shared that her proudest moment was creating positive views on pregnancy. Speaking from her own experience in the Hmong community, she said, pregnancy can have a negative connotation.
Over the past two years, Healthy Baby Showers has helped create welcoming and comfortable spaces for mothers. “We play an important role in terms of community engagement and advancement because a lot of large organizations don’t know what culture means to people,” Yang said. “We create a space that’s really small and intimate that is surrounded by nurses, public health staff and people who can talk about those kinds of things…that’s the kind of conversation we really want to have.”