Stephanie Hall was like dozens of pregnant women in the inner city: The first time she saw a doctor was when she showed up at the hospital to deliver her baby.
"I'd never had prenatal care," said Hall. "I was very sick... I was 10 weeks pregnant and I had four other kids," she told 75 front-line workers, administrators and volunteers from the area gathered at Mount Carmel Clinic on Main Street Friday.
"I didn't know where to go."
With her fifth baby, she'd heard about the Healthy Baby program at Freight House on Isabel Street and was cared for by "Pipsi" -- the sound of the acronym for Partners in the Inner-city Prenatal Care (PIIPC).
Hall said she became connected to a system that helped Ocean enter the world nine weeks ago, a healthy, bright bundle of joy.
"They helped me with the kids. When you're sick and have kids, it's not fun." Hall received food vouchers, bus tickets and cab slips so she could get to prenatal appointments. "It really helps to have all the programs and (it) makes you want to go. The bus tickets and cab slips make it a lot easier," she said at the meeting organized by Healthy Baby workers to get the word out about the program.
A lack of prenatal care can be harmful to the baby, and not being connected to any help or supports is bad for the mom. Both have been linked to poor outcomes for the child.
A 2009 Public Health Agency of Canada survey found Manitoba had the highest proportion of women who didn't get prenatal care as early as they wanted, and a high proportion of women who didn't start prenatal care until after they were three months pregnant.
The Pipsi program was set up last fall in response to the high number of mothers receiving inadequate prenatal care in three neighbourhoods: Downtown, Point Douglas and Inkster, said University of Manitoba nursing Prof. Maureen Heaman. The researcher said although Canada has universal health care, some expectant moms aren't accessing it as much as others, so she conducted a study in Winnipeg to find out why. It wasn't a lack of caring, she said.
"All women really do want to have a healthy baby," said Heaman.
She found some women didn't know where to go, didn't have personal supports, faced personal and family problems, stress, depression, problems with transportation, child care and judgmental health-care workers.
The Pipsi program was set up by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to overcome those barriers. It uses existing resources and has tapped into a couple of $10,000 grants to cover bus tickets, meal vouchers, cab rides and child care, Heaman said.
Hall said she was sick and struggling when Pipsi hooked her up with a health-care provider and the Mothering Project at Mount Carmel Clinic. She joined a network of support that continues to this day.
"I breastfeed," said Hall. Breastfed babies are less likely to have chronic diseases. "If I wasn't in the program I wouldn't have had the support to breastfeed."
Initially, Hall said had misconceptions about the way the health-care system works.
"One time, I missed an appointment at Women's Hospital," she said. "I thought I was going to have to pay for it." Instead of a fine, she received prenatal care, midwifery, and a pager for when she went into labour.
"My nine-year-old Emily got to cut the umbilical cord (for Ocean)," said Hall.
Kevin Chief, minister of children and youth opportunities who is promoting early-childhood programs, said he was friends with Emily's dad when they were growing up in the North End. Now, Chief is promoting early-childhood programs to help reach his goal of increased high school graduation rates. It starts before birth, he said.
"We can't say 'You can overcome hardship' unless we tell these stories of overcoming hardship."