A couple times a month throughout 2022, our Marketing Communications Leader is connecting with parents of young children at our partner organizations to lift up the insights of these hard-working parents and the work of our amazing partners. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest story delivered right to your inbox and share the inspiring nuggets from these dedicated parents on social media when they resonate with you.
- Name: Morgan Forrester Ray
- Pronouns: she/her/hers
- Location: Johnston County
- Year when she became a parent: 2021
- How Morgan is involved in early childhood work: Social worker, doula, and more directly as the Director of EarlyWell, referred to as “the emotional wellness cheerleader,” by her team at NC Child
- Organizations she’s involved with: NC Child, UNC School of Social Work
- Who she parents: 7 month old daughter
8 Questions with Morgan, the Emotional Wellness Cheerleader
- Lindsay: What sparked your interest in social emotional health, birth work, and early childhood care?
Morgan: As far as social emotional health and well-being, it is related to my first job out of college, working with children, birth to three, that had developmental delays or conditions. I had a caseload of families to support in accessing early intervention services. I noticed early on, if the caregiver was not in a good place with rent, nutrition, and basic needs, they couldn’t really engage in things like speech therapy or needed services. I really saw the connection between caregiver well-being and child well-being up close.
I’ve been a birth doula for almost six years. I’ve had the great privilege of supporting many families throughout their pregnancy and through multiple birthing situations. After all of it, I truly see the difference genuine support can make. I love being a birth doula, it allows me to directly support others, through a unique time in their life, and keeps me connected to issues I’m passionate about, in a different way than my full-time job in policy.Last September, I had my first child. I consider myself lucky because I had access to twelve weeks paid maternity leave, an extremely supportive partner, friends and family, and other concrete supports, such as health insurance to cover services like lactation consultants and a mental health therapist. Despite all of these concrete supports, those first twelve weeks were very challenging. After reflecting on my lived-experience, and the lived-experiences of others, I re-entered the workforce, with such passion. I want those concrete supports for everyone and will do my part to advocate for them.
Another issue I have a new understanding of and passion for is licensed in-home child care. My child attends a licensed in-home center; our child care provider is an extension of our family and vitally important. I work in the field and I don’t think licensed in-home child care is discussed enough; it tends to be forgotten about. In my opinion, these child care providers don’t get the same support as child care centers that they want and need. Originally, I wasn’t looking into licensed in-home centers. My first stop was at the most recommended centers in town, I’m still on their waitlist – 16 months later. Eventually, I found the licensed in-home center my daughter attends. When considering it, my own biases came up, and I had to do my own work to reflect on those and where they were coming from. Ultimately, we decided the smaller in-home setting was exactly what my daughter and family needed, and it’s working out so well. After learning more about this type of care, I’ve discovered access to in-home child care in Johnston County is so limited, like many counties in our state, and it’s just not as well known.
- Lindsay: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. What do you feel like is missing from the conversation around infant mental health?
Morgan: For infant mental health, that’s essentially what all of EarlyWell is. There’s 30 policy and program recommendations that we are wading into, all related to infant and young child mental health. Everything from passing paid family leave, to creating a living wage to helping families reduce poverty, to expanding infant and early childhood mental health consultation to support the early childhood workforce. Consultation is when child care teachers and people have access to someone, like a clinician, who can support them with a child who is struggling. Other recommendations are focused on working with a medical team on infant mental health because sometimes that is who families trust the most.
One of our key recommendations is universal home visits for all first time parents. It started in Durham and every first time parent has access to a home visit by a nurse. They come to your home which can be really helpful for first time parents, not having to load up a newborn in a car and travel somewhere can be really nice. We’re trying to expand that universally so that someone can come to your house and help connect you to other resources if you need them. My birth and postpartum support team came to me for all my postpartum visits and I didn’t have to go anywhere. That’s family support; they met me exactly where I was.
- Lindsay: With so many hard things to navigate, what solutions do you think could uplift families and address that needed support?
Morgan: I view the state and federal budget as a moral document as where we as a society put our money. It says a lot about what we care about. Ultimately, I don’t believe we are supporting families as much as we can.
There has to be a reckoning. We need to get creative in how we support families. So much is lacking.
- Lindsay: It’s been a really long, hard two years of pandemic life and then adding to the mix of becoming a new parent on top of that recovery is extra hard. What do you see is needed to restore families of young children to feeling a sense of stability and balance?
Morgan: This isn’t the easiest thing, but time. There have been many instances in my life where the answer is time, “give it time.” It’s never one I love to hear and it requires patience.
I think families and young children will feel a sense of stability and balance in time, they need the grace for themselves and patience to navigate all that has changed and what the “new” normal can be.
- Lindsay: Going from being a social worker and doula to actually becoming a parent yourself can change your view once you’re “living things.” What shifted in your perspective since becoming a parent?
Morgan: Wow, so much. I have said to many “I thought I knew.” Gosh, have I been surprised many times. The fourth trimester, or first 12 weeks after my baby was born, were extremely challenging for me. We don’t have family that live close by. However, I had access to amazing concrete supports: paid 12 weeks maternity leave, a partner that took a week of vacation, and the support of the community. Despite these things, it was still so hard. I remember saying how challenging it must be for others that don’t have the same access to these supports and that I felt an even stronger desire to advocate for these things.
- Lindsay: What are you reading, listening to, or watching that helps you feel empowered while navigating early childhood?
Morgan: Currently reading, “Someone Other Than a Mother” by Erin S. Lane.
- Lindsay: We’ve talked about lots of hard things. What gives you hope as a parent?
Morgan: The people and community. Despite such hardships throughout the pandemic, I have seen the community become so real. My village is always there for me and I for them, I couldn’t do this parent thing alone, I was never meant to, and I am so very grateful for my village.
- Lindsay: What brings the most joy to your family?
Morgan: Quality time! My husband and I are big on quality time and engagement, we really believe in bonding and attachment. We love spending family time together in nature, we have a tandem bike and bike trailers. We enjoy time on the greenway, hiking, camping, going to our Crossfit gym as a family, and going on fun adventures together.
NC Child uses research and data to advocate on behalf of NC children to ensure laws, policies, and programs work for them, particularly with regard to high quality early childhood education, healthy children, nurturing homes and communities, and family economic security. NCECF works closely with NC Child on work to improve access to high quality, affordable early childhood education and address social-emotional health. If interested in getting engaged with Morgan’s work, connect with her on LinkedIn.