Bella is a busy, bright and confident toddler – she enjoys making art, reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and playing mom to a baby doll with dark brown hair, just like her own. Bella and her mom Angie Fleury have a strong bond, but their relationship was almost very different.
Angie was addicted to crack cocaine when she found out she was pregnant. She didn’t know if she wanted to keep the baby or what she wanted to do with her life, when she heard about The Mothering Project.
“I think it was because of all the supports I had in my life [through The Mothering Project],” Angie says of staying sober. “[Before] all I knew were my dealers, the other working girls and drugs and alcohol… I just couldn’t do it. I just didn’t have enough courage or strength. Whatever I was supposed to have, I didn’t have enough of it.”
Angie and Bella, who was born July 2015, are just one success story of The Mothering Project, also known as Manito Ikwe Kagiikwe. The Mothering Project offers support to women who are pregnant, or have children under the age of one, and are trying to stay clean from drugs and alcohol. It’s a program of Mount Carmel Clinic, located in the North End.
“Women should be parenting their babies and babies should be with their moms. Sometimes moms need a little bit of help to get there,” explains Program Manager Tammy Rowan.
The Mothering Project is grounded in traditional Indigenous teachings and offers participants a variety of help including obstetric support with nurse-guided care, labour and delivery support, a food security program, counselling and addiction support, parenting and child development information, housing, financial assistance and education and employment services, and more.
The program first launched in 2013 and re-opened in June following a $2.2 million renovation. The bright and welcoming new space now features a commercial kitchen for hot lunch preparation and cooking workshops, a sleeping area, laundry facilities, a round room, breastfeeding area, and counselling spaces. There is also an on-site daycare for infants, which can offer moms some much needed reprieve, even if it’s just to take a nap.
“Sometimes as a mom you need a second to breathe, and a lot of us have that. The moms in our program often don’t, and then we blame them for not being successful,” says Ms. Rowan. “[The daycare is] probably one of the significant additions to our program that is helping women to take their babies home from the hospital and to keep their babies home.”
The program is driven by a women’s advisory committee that is reflective of the community it serves. It operates using a trauma-informed perspective.
“People that come into our program most likely have a history of trauma and abuse and have experienced violence and neglect to degrees that sometimes we can’t even imagine. [This knowledge] guides my practice, so it reminds me to be gentle, to talk to women in a way that always encourages them, reminds them that they have choice and control over their own life and decisions.”
Despite the brand-new space, The Mothering Project still operates on an annual budget of $30,000 and with only a handful of staff. Since the program’s 2013 launch it has received almost 500 referrals, but for much of that time it was operating at maximum capacity.
“We weren’t even taking referrals during that time because it didn’t seem responsible to have a woman’s name on a list for a year,” Ms. Rowan says.
Right now, the program is working with about 70 families, and it hopes to get that number up to 100. For many women, just getting up the courage to ask for help is difficult, so imagine making the call only to hear there is no support available.
“It’s hard to ask for help, especially if your pregnant and using drugs and alcohol. You don’t know how that’s going to be received and women are used to being treated badly, especially if you’re Indigenous. Women face a lot of judgement and racism and shame,” Ms. Rowan says.
Ms. Fleury, 33, has struggled with crack cocaine since she was 21, and getting sober was tough. But today she has full custody of her daughter Bella. She is a committed, caring mother and is going to school and running a sobriety support group at Sage House with the friend that got her into The Mothering Project.
“I want to help other people that are in my situation. People look up to me because of how far I came… lots of people look up to people who are sober to show them, ‘You can do this,’” Ms. Fleury says.
Angie has found strength in traditional Indigenous teachings, and Bella seems to love them, too.
“She’s heard the drum since I had her inside me. It’s a drum of a heartbeat, of a mother’s heartbeat. I remember that teaching.
Hear more about Women of Note on the River City 360 podcast.
This story is featured in the Winter 2017 edition of The Winnipeg Foundation’s Working Together magazine.