The hum of hairdryers mixed with laughter and conversation in the Fishbowl Conference Room at 850 Boylston St. as it temporarily transformed into a beauty salon for patients enrolled in the Brigham’s Bridges to Moms program, which supports mothers and mothers-to-be who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
The “Day of Beauty/Día de la Belleza” event, held on May 10 in advance of Mother’s Day, sought to gift moms in the program a day of indulgence with free hairstyling, nail painting and makeup services. The program provided attendees a meal, live music and the opportunity to socialize while visiting each beauty station. Each woman also received a goodie bag with personal care items.
During the event, Brigham staff and “volunteer grannies” provided child care for attendees — cuddling, rocking and feeding their babies, as well as pushing strollers up and down the adjacent hallway — while mothers relaxed and enjoy the event.
“I feel like a princess today,” said Johanna St. Clair, 27, who was referred to Bridges to Moms by a social worker when she was 6 months pregnant and experiencing homelessness. “It was very nice and special to be pampered, which I think all mommies should have a chance to do.”
Founded in 2016 by Roseanna Means, MD, of the Division of Women’s Health, Bridges to Moms works to address gaps in five social determinants of health — housing, transportation, food security, personal safety and community resources — for women who are pregnant and facing housing insecurity.
Patients in the program receive support during the prenatal, peripartum and postpartum periods through the baby’s first birthday to monitor their health needs and address any systemic or institutional barriers that may affect the mother and her child. The team ensures each woman has a primary care provider so that any medical or mental health issues that arise during or after pregnancy can be addressed.
While the program initially focused on tangible necessities like housing, food and diapers, Bridges to Moms staff soon recognized an equally critical issue affecting women in the program: social isolation and loneliness.
“There’s a lot of shame in being poor and having to admit you need help,” Means said. “These are women who have sacrificed everything to have their babies. Yet, in so many ways, they still feel like they’re coming up short. They don’t feel beautiful, loved and appreciated — or that they should even be congratulated for having this baby in the first place because a lot of people look down on women for having a baby in these circumstances.”
In addition to giving mothers an opportunity to enjoy some self-care, the Day of Beauty event was also designed to bring moms together for a chance to chitchat in a relaxed environment, swap parenting tips and find a community in each other.
“When I look around this room and see all the chatter and exchanging of experiences going on, I see those walls of shame, embarrassment and low self-esteem evaporating,” Means said. “They have a chance to just feel like moms, and they’re all really good moms — and now they can all see that they’re beautiful moms, too.”
St. Clair, whose baby is now 7 months old, named her son Promise in honor of her love and commitment to him.
“His name represents my promise to give him the life I didn’t get to have,” she said.
St. Clair said she cannot imagine where she would be without Bridges to Moms, which has provided clothing, diapers, a car seat, transportation to doctor’s appointments, support with housing services and other forms of assistance.
“It’s been difficult, but through the help we’ve been receiving and God, we’ll get through this,” she said. “Any woman who has the opportunity to get this resource — take the help. They are loving.”
Vendors at the Day of Beauty event all donated their time and services to support the program, Means said. Among those providers was makeup artist Mayerlin Hernandez, who is a Bridges to Mom patient herself.
Hernandez said she was referred to the program last November while she was 30 weeks pregnant and had sought emergency care after experiencing intimate partner violence. Her baby is now 2 months old and thriving, and Hernandez is living with her brother while she gets back on her feet.
“Even though it was an unfortunate situation that brought me to be connected to the program, I’m very grateful to have that support,” she said through a Spanish-language interpreter.
During a visit with Means earlier this year, Hernandez mentioned she was a professional makeup artist. When Means shared her idea for the Day of Beauty and asked if she would be willing to participate, Hernandez was excited to contribute and connect with other moms.
“It is just nice to be able to talk and share advice — what works for one mom and also to see what stages our babies are in,” Hernandez said. “Because I’m a first-time mom, something I struggle with, and assume other moms struggle with too, is you don’t really know what you’re doing, so it’s nice to meet other moms who are in the same situation.”
Each attendee also received a special Mother’s Day gift: a necklace with a heart that contained the word “Mom.”
“So often that voice in their head says, ‘You’re not a good person. You’re not a good mom. You’re not giving this child XYZ.’ We want them to know being a mom is a hard job,” Means said. “It’s hard for someone like me — a white, privileged person — and it’s even harder if you don’t have all those other resources. For them to overcome that, accept the help and move forward with their lives, I embrace and celebrate that. I never get tired of it.”
Learn more about the Bridges to Moms program and how to support it here.