Hospital in high-poverty Chicago neighborhood throws baby shower for more than 100 moms

No one is turned away from the baby shower at St. Bernard Hospital in Chicago.

Rosietta Cobb had her first three children without ever having a baby shower.

But this week Cobb and more than 100 other moms were the guests of honor at a baby shower thrown by a hospital in their Chicago neighborhood.

“It was fun and exciting,” said Cobb, 22, who gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, Thursday, one day after the shower. “I think they are really sweet to have thrown [the baby shower].”

The community baby shower took place at St. Bernard Hospital, a hospital in the Englewood neighborhood where more than four in 10 households are poor and which is also one of the hot spots for Chicago’s gun violence. In a single weekend this month, shootings in Englewood and elsewhere in the city claimed 12 lives.

"It's a very violent area, with a lot of crime and shootings," Evelyn Jones, vice president of nursing services at St. Bernard, said of the area. "The hospital has been there 114 years, and we’ve seen the neighborhood change."

Jones, who has worked at the hospital for 37 years, is the mastermind behind the baby shower.

Around 50 women attended the hospital's first baby shower. This year, around 125 women came.

"For a lot of them, this is their only baby shower and they're all very grateful and so appreciative," Jones said.

No one is ever turned away at the shower and everyone leaves with a gift, according to Jones.

She spends all year shopping for gifts for the new and expectant moms. She estimates she spent close to $1,000 this year out of her own pocket.

"I store it in my garage and it gets to where I can’t park there," she said. "I have a two-car garage but I can’t park in there" due to all the gifts.

Every mom at the shower receives gifts ranging from strollers to portable cribs to diaper bags filled with newborn necessities. This year, around 12 soon-to-be fathers attended the event also and received gift bags with items like soap, deodorant and toothbrushes.

There are also moms who come to the shower with their toddlers, so Jones makes sure they receive items like special toilet seats for potty training, toothbrushes and pajamas.

"While the [moms] are at the clinic I’ll have my staff ask them [questions] so I get some feedback on what to buy," Jones said. "You don’t know what you need until you don’t have it as a new mom."

Jones herself donates nearly half the presents that are given out to the moms. The rest of the items are donated by staff at the hospital, including nurses and doctors.

Jones describes the baby shower as a labor of love.

"I don’t have any grandchildren so this is my way of giving," she said, noting that she too was a single mom when she gave birth at 22 years old to her son.

The fun of the shower is in the gifts and catered lunch, but the hospital's underlying aim is to educate attendees on subjects like postpartum care and parenting newborns.

When Jones saw that some of the nearly 100 babies born at the hospital each month were dying in their sleep, she made sleep safety the focus of this year's shower.

"The babies were dying from suffocation because the moms had the babies sleeping in the bed with them or with siblings," Jones said. "My focus was buying a lot of gifts for safe sleep, and I had one of the nurses teach infant CPR so they know what to do while they're calling 911."

Babies born in the United States are less likely to reach their first birthdays than babies in other comparable industrialized countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Women in the U.S. also often don't get the prenatal and postpartum care they need.

Under Jones' leadership, St. Bernard Hospital has reduced the percentage of women who deliver at the hospital without having had prenatal care from 50 to 15 percent. Around 20 percent of deliveries at the hospital are by teen moms.

The hospital's baby shower also gives expectant and new moms help for the postpartum step of their motherhood journey, including on topics like breastfeeding, nutrition and dental hygiene.

"I just feel like I always need to learn some more," said Cobb, the mother of newborn twins. "The education was really helpful."