Walking across the stage to receive her diploma was the ultimate proof of Minerva’s strength. The 17-year-old was not only graduating from East High School, she was celebrating her own survival from a high-risk pregnancy, her daughter’s critical illness, and her own emergency surgery—all within a few months.
That moment was the start of a new journey, a different one from what Minerva imagined a year ago.
When she found out she was pregnant nine months before graduating, Minerva felt sad. She had plans to marry her boyfriend, go to college and become a nurse. Not only would she become a mom as a teenager, but she also had a medical condition called Lupus, which made her pregnancy high risk.
The school nurse connected Minerva with Marcia Allen, a nurse home visitor through a United Way-funded program with Visiting Nurse Services. Marcia began to visit Minerva regularly to talk about what to eat, the importance of exercise, how to prepare for her baby, and what goals Minerva could set for herself, which still included nursing school in a few years.
Minerva felt shy at first, but soon grew comfortable asking Marcia for help.
“Marica is like a second mom to me. I can ask her questions and talk to her about something and she will give me that advice.”
Minerva also found close connections to other pregnant teenagers at a United Way-funded program with the Young Women’s Resource Center.
Despite this support, however, Minerva continued to stress over whether she would graduate from high school. She regularly missed class for doctors’ appointments and her baby Andrea arrived a few weeks before finals.
Minerva returned to school, but then two weeks later, when she went to give Andrea a late-night feeding, she found her baby limp and unresponsive. “At that moment, I thought I was losing my baby,” she said.
Andrea was diagnosed with pneumonia. She developed seizures and right-sided weakness. The doctors said that Andrea had brain damage due to lack of oxygen. Then, miraculously, after a week of intensive care, Andrea recovered enough to go home.
Meanwhile, Minerva was experiencing postpartum depression. Soon after returning home, she had sharp pain in her right side. With Marcia’s urging, Minerva went to the hospital and discovered she had to have her appendix removed. That was Thursday.
On Sunday, Minerva walked across the graduation stage.
Marcia recalls the shift in Minerva’s life at that time:
“Minerva’s plans suddenly changed from future dreams to living each days’ challenges and surviving. We shared a journey of hope and dug deep to find the inner strength she needed to parent a challenged child.”
After graduation, Minerva and her baby started to recover, and establish a bond that remains close today. Minerva juggled appointments with doctors, specialists, physical therapists, Early Access and WIC. Marcia provided Minerva with developmental screenings for Andrea, feeding and exercise recommendations, and ways to stimulate development. Minerva gave Andrea massages to keep her muscles from getting stiff, read books and pointed to pictures to build Andrea’s eye sight, and encouraged Andrea through tummy time.
Slowly, life improved.
Today, Andrea has few developmental delays and the doctors’ appointments have tapered. Her pediatrician describes Andrea as a "miracle baby" for her full recovery.
Minerva has a part-time job at the leasing office of her apartment complex and is saving money to go to nursing school when Andrea is older. She has solidified her relationship with her husband.
Marcia commends Minerva for these achievements. “You have so many strengths and you are such a wonderful mother,” she tells Minerva as they watch Andrea, an 11-month-old bright-eyed girl crawl across the carpet to grab wooden blocks Marcia brought to the appointment. “It was really fun for me to journey along with you.”
As Andrea mimics Minerva in clapping her hands, Minerva explains that her main goal is to be the best mom she can be. “I want to see her grow and achieve each of her milestones,” she said. “I want to be a part of her adventures.”