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Resource father helps dads connect to babies

His girlfriend was pregnant, but Pete Cromartie didn't really think of himself as a father. That changed when he watched his son being born. Now Cromartie, who gets his young son during the summers, has a state job to help other expectant fathers make that same connection. He is a "resource father," the only one in Florida.

Cromartie works in the part of Tallahassee where poor black people live. It's where he grew up and where he still lives.

He goes into the homes of pregnant women with a "resource mother" and talks to the women and their husbands or boyfriends about prenatal care, nutrition, exercise, labor, breast-feeding. He talks about rearing children.

"I try to get that father more involved with the pregnancy," Cromartie said, adding that he explains parenting skills and tries to foster a sense of connection on the part of the father.

"If we can increase that family bonding, then we can also create healthy babies," Cromartie said.

The resource parent program is designed to prevent infant mortality and low birth-weight babies, the key factor in infant mortality. If women carry their babies to full term, the infants are much more likely to be strong and healthy.

The state set up two pilot projects, one in Hillsborough County and one in Leon County. In Tallahassee, the project consists of a nurse supervisor, five resource mothers and Cromartie, who was hired about a month ago.

The program began in January and is focused on an area of the capital called Frenchtown, where poverty and drugs have left their mark on many of the neighborhood's black residents.

The resource parents themselves live in Frenchtown. They've faced the same obstacles their clients have, but they've overcome some of them. They've got a state job that pays about $11,200, job security, insurance.

"It's not as easy to say

.

.

. "You don't know how it is' when the resource mother can say "Yes, I live in the same projects," said Scharrieanne Cohen, who runs Leon's program.

One of the visits Cromartie and a co-worker made last week was to the home of Ernest and Terissa Butler. The Butlers don't live in the housing complexes. But two of their three children were born prematurely, so Mrs. Butler, just over four months pregnant, is considered at risk of having another baby too early.

Her husband, who has since been laid off from his job as a hotel chef, was working 12 and 13 hours a day when Mrs. Butler signed up for the resource mother program.

Much of the visit was spent on the topic of breast-feeding. Butler told Cromartie he was "one of those guys" who didn't approve of breast-feeding.

"That's part of being a woman," Cromartie said. "Not only just giving birth but also breast-feeding."

Babies who are breast-fed are less likely to develop ear infections and generally eat more since breast milk is easier to digest than prepared formula, he said.

"When you go buy the store formula, the store formula is trying to compare to the breast milk," Cromartie said. "That's how good breast milk is."

He talked about the frequency of feeding and how weaning works. At one point, he illustrated how babies should be held when they're breast-fed.

Following the visit, the two resource parents accompanied the Butlers to a doctor's appointment.

After she made the decision to hire a resource father, Cohen wanted to be sure to get the right person and to train him carefully since he would be setting a precedent. She designed a special training segment but hasn't had a chance to do more than the normal training because the demand on Cromartie has been so great.

"The whole thing went to pot because the resource mothers grabbed him and ran with him," she said.

Cromartie started getting interested in the working with pregnant women through his fiance, a social worker who works with pregnant teen-agers.

"Their self-esteem just dies as far as finishing school, getting a job," Cromartie said. "They start getting assistance as far as

.

.

. food stamps and stuff and that's it. The don't have any more motivation to go back to school and finish up."

Cromartie, who has taken some college courses, said he tried to encourage the girls to refuse to abandon their goals.

"I always try to encourage them that you still can succeed at what you want to be, it's just that you have more responsibility," he said.

Even with a baby, there are ways to get an education, according to Cromartie.

"I've done it," he said, with a short laugh, remembering three years of working and saving money. "And it wasn't easy . . . but I did it."

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