Julia Covarrubias never thought of herself as a bad parent. But she wondered how a good parent could ever leave her kids with someone she had just met and pick them up three days later.
No matter how guilty she felt, Covarrubias knew she was doing the right thing. She resisted the urge to turn her car around and sobbed her way to the Maryville Crisis Nursery from her home in Cicero.
Like 10 percent of all new moms, Covarrubias was suffering from a severe case of postpartum depression. A mother of five, Covarrubias was well aware of her symptoms. She’d faced the depression before.
“During the tornado, anything can happen,” Covarrubias says."I didn’t feel that my children were being taken care of because I was going through so many things myself.” She knew she had to do something quickly—before something bad happened."I can’t tell you where my kids would be today had I not reached out to Maryville and had someone tell me that it’s OK to need help.”
The Maryville Crisis Nursery officially opened its doors to mothers like Covarrubias last July. Created as a free childcare facility for parents in a time of crisis, the nursery aims to help in whatever way necessary to preserve families.
Program Director Amy Kendal-Lynch says this very type of support can often help keep parents from losing their children.
Convincing parents that reaching out to the nursery does not make them a bad parent remains the hardest part of getting the center off the ground, Kendal-Lynch says. When parents visit the nursery, she tries to calm their fears and explains that turning to Maryville makes them a better parent for seeking help.
“We’re giving them an opportunity to have a break or to be there when there’s a crisis,” she says."We hook them up with other resources and referrals. In some cases we might be there for that one time and in other cases we’ve had parents use us multiple times. I see that as a compliment that they feel their children are safe here.”
When Covarrubias arrived for a tour of the facility, she wasn’t sure what to expect."When I finally went to visit the agency, I couldn’t believe how beautiful the facility was. After meeting Amy, especially, I felt so much better,” she says.
When the Maryville Center opened, it became the first crisis nursery of its kind to serve the Chicago area and one of only six in the entire state. According to Kendal-Lynch, most crisis nurseries combine a state shelter with the nursery and only provide limited services to parents who still have custody of their kids.
A background in early childhood development helped Kendal-Lynch create a program that aims to do more than simply look after the children.
The staff works hard to stress the bond a child shares with a parent and makes sure the kids understand that their parents are not abandoning them, Kendal-Lynch says.
“When the families first come, we take a picture of the kids with their mom and leave it by their bed,” she says."It’s another way of reinforcing that relationship and allowing the kids to feel safe when they’re here, to remind them that this was a good thing for their parents to do. This isn’t a home, but we want to make it warm and nurturing for them.”
Covarrubias says that being able to turn to Kendal-Lynch and the rest of the staff at Maryville helped her get through her postpartum depression quicker."Sometimes I would need their help for three days, sometimes just one day. … It gave me that time to recover,” she says."Every time that I went to pick them up, I felt healthier, I felt more able.”
Covarrubias has begun to help spread word about the nursery because of how much it helped her."… I know that there are tons of families out there in my particular situation, especially in the Hispanic community,” she says."We tend to deny postpartum and try hard not to seem overwhelmed. There’s so much shame attached to it. I wish someone would have come to us to say,‘It’s OK, there are programs out there for you.’"
As she starts to tell friends and acquaintances about the nursery, she faces much of the same skepticism she had before she used Maryville."I understand that initial instinct of guilt,” she says."But it’s not like dropping [your kids] off with a neighbor or a family member. They are with trained professionals who can help in ways that a neighbor or family member simply cannot.”
Covarrubias hopes that other moms will realize that it’s OK to admit to being overwhelmed. And when they finally admit they need help, she says she hopes they look to Maryville."I feel that it makes such a difference that whenever the day gets hectic you can tell yourself,‘I’m not going to get depressed. I know that there’s an exit here and it’s going to be OK.’"
Maryville Crisis Nursery
• 4015 N. Oak Park Ave., Building B, Chicago (773) 205-3600
• Children 5 and under
• 24- to 72-hour stays
• Free, but donations accepted
• Parents in crises, including, but not limited to homelessness, medical emergency, parental stress, mental health, substance abuse or domestic violence
• On-site emergency childcare
• Experienced, trained staff
• Clean, safe, child-friendly environment
• Parent education classes
• 24-hour help line: (773) 205-3637
Matthew Jimenez is a Chicago Parent intern and a junior at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.