Felipa Bautista was scared. The 16-year-old felt so sick that spring morning in 2012, she went to the hospital.
After a simple test, her doctor told her the news: Bautista was two months pregnant.
Today, Bautista is 19 and raising a busy toddler named Adolfo. She’s a student in early education at Mt. Hood Community College. This fall, she landed a fulltime job as an assistant teacher at Mt. Hood Headstart, a preschool program for kids from low-income families.
Much of her drive comes from the influence that a Multnomah County nurse named Sara Shim played in her life.
“I don’t think I would be going to college if it wasn’t for Sara,” she said.
Shim is a nurse with the county’s Nurse-Family Partnership, where she has served young mothers for the past 19 years. For Bautista, Shim was an advocate, but she was at times the confidant Bautista imagines she would have found in a sister.
“If I had a sister I would have been telling her the things I told Sara,” she said. “I confided in her. And she just listened.”
Nurse Family Partnership, launched locally in 1999, pairs registered nurses from the Health Department with low-income first-time mothers – many of them teenagers -- in a two-year home visiting program. The nurses help women learn to breastfeed and change diapers. But they also help women learn to balance a checkbook and sign up for college financial aid.
“My clients are very young, so I can work with her parents, grandparents, siblings and baby and make a healthy community for one family,” Shim said. “Because I’m a woman and my clients are women, in a way, if I can, I would like to be one of the mentors in their lives.”
At first, Bautista tried to hide her pregnancy from her parents. But her mom recognized the symptoms of morning sickness.
“My mom was more flexible with it,” she says. “My dad, on the other hand, didn’t want to talk to us at all. After he got over it, he talked to my boyfriend and I, and he was able to have a long talk with us - what our responsibilities were, what we were getting into.”
Her doctors suggested she look into the Nurse-Family Partnership.
That’s how she meet Shim, who works with about 25 clients at any given time, visiting each at home every two weeks, and fielding calls and requests in between. As a nurse, she helps with tips on how to sooth tenderness from breastfeeding and respond to a baby’s cries. But she doubles as a social worker and life coach.
Bautista was a junior at Centennial High School when she gave birth to a son and named him Adolfo.
Soon after that Bautista called Shim to complain about tenderness from the sudden surge in milk production. Shim came over with a head of cabbage.
It wasn’t for eating, she explained. She pulled off the leaves and put them in the freezer. When they were good and cold, she told Bautista, she should place one over each breast. She also taught Bautista the fundamentals undressing Adolfo and waking him up.
Bautista had been struggling in school, but her son gave her a reason to work hard. Her days were consumed with class work and began at 6 a.m.
“In the mornings, I wouldn’t even get ready,” she said. “It was just my baby - getting him ready, because I had to get his diapers and clothes that he needed that day ready...and then making sure my homework was done. So at that time, that would be my schedule: getting up, getting him ready, getting my stuff ready and then leaving.”
Centennial offered day care for students’ children. So Bautista dropped Adolfo off each morning at the daycare. If he needed to be fed, Bautista could simply slip out of class.
At home, Bautista’s mom lent a hand. While Bautista did her homework, her mother cooked dinner and cleaned. Her three brothers helped look after Adolfo too, taking him for walks or reading books.
Bautista graduated high school in 2014.
Shim told her about a teaching assistant position at Mt. Hood Community College, where she planned to start classes. Bautista applied, and got the job. Working from 8:30 in the morning until 2 p.m. She went to classes of her own in the evening. In the middle, she estimates, she was lucky to spend three hours with her son.
“I felt like a bad mom,” she said. “A really, really bad mom. Not being with him - I felt that was neglecting my child.”
“This will pay off someday,” Shim would tell her. “He will thank you.”
“I hope so,” Bautista would reply.
“Would you be feeling better if you finished high school and did nothing but stay home with him?” Shim asked.
Bautista said she supposed she wouldn’t.
During her first year in college Bautista worked in Iryna Bashynska’s literature class, earning the professor’s esteem.
“She’s an amazing person,” Bashynska said of Bautista. “At that young age, very mature; very dependent; very responsible. I’m sad that she’s leaving.”
Instead of remaining a classroom aid for a second year, Bautista applied for a full-time teacher’s assistant position starting this fall. Now she gets paid sick time and vacation.
On a recent summer afternoon, Bautista and Shim sat together around Bautista’s dining table.
“Do you ever think about what would’ve happened if you had never gotten involved with the [nurse-family partnership] program?” Shim asked.
“I don’t know what I would’ve done,” Bautista said. “I really don’t know where I would be. I probably wouldn’t have finished high school, honestly.”
Bautista said she sometimes thinks about how much her perspective on life has changed – how much she has changed, compared to most young women her age.
That’s what parenthood does, after all.
One day she wants to be able to support other young mothers as they pursue their education.
“See?” Shim said. “Now, you are the leader, and you are the mentor. You are where you want to be.”