Grand Traverse Woman
HELPING YOUNG PARENTS FACE THEIR NEW CHAPTER BY MARJIE RICH
AS THE DIRECTOR of Generations Ahead, a support program for pregnant and parenting teenagers, I often reflect on the vast differences between my experiences as a new mom and the experiences of my clients. It can be shocking to realize how little help some new mothers have, and I’ve seen firsthand how important assistance and guidance can be as these young women become mothers.
AMY Amy was 17 years old, tired and overwhelmed, when we first met. She had just moved in with a friend, that friend’s boyfriend and their toddler. Amy’s parents had left the area a year earlier, and she had chosen to stay up north to finish school. At seven months pregnant, Amy was uncomfortable sleeping on her friend’s living room couch. When her parents left, Amy had moved in with her older boyfriend, Pete, and she said their life had been going quite well. By Thanksgiving, Amy learned she was pregnant. And by the new year, Pete had lost interest in becoming a father and had become more controlling and abusive. She chose to leave him and moved in with her friend. Amy had another year of school to complete, didn’t have her driver’s license or a job, and had no plans for supporting herself and her baby once he was born. She had started prenatal care but was going irregularly because of transportation challenges. I welcomed Amy into my office with a smile, some snacks and offered her a seat on a wornout couch covered with hand-sewn quilts. Over time, Amy shared bits of her story, and we slowly began to craft a plan together to help usher her into the next phase of her life.
MY EXPERIENCE In juxtaposition to Amy, I became pregnant at age 29. I had finished my formal education and was solidly launched into a career that I loved.
I was engaged to my best friend, who was finishing his medical residency, and we had supportive and enriching relationships with friends and extended family. When I found out I was pregnant—not entirely planned—we enthusiastically embraced this new chapter in our lives. I vividly remember the evening our daughter was born 25 years ago. After a complicated and difficult pregnancy with preterm labor, she was born a month early. My labor was breathtakingly fast, and within minutes of her delivery she was whisked to the ICU due to a seizure at the time of her birth. We were terrified and spent nine precarious days watching over her in the ICU. We focused on her needs and our family and friends tended to ours. I realize now how fortunate my husband and I were. Our daughter had excellent medical care. We had health insurance. We had supportive bosses who gave us paid time off. We had reliable transportation to visit our daughter in the ICU. We had the education and medical fluency to know how to interact with the health care system. But most importantly, my husband and I had each other, we had our family support, and we had the confidence to ask questions and navigate a terrifying situation.
HARDSHIPS FOR TEEN PARENTS Many of our area’s young parents are single, so they are starting their parenting journey alone. Prenatal care tends to begin in their second trimester. Many teen parents have little family support for varying reasons: sometimes their own family is struggling and unable to offer support; other times the young parent chooses to leave her toxic family environment, or, in rare cases, she is rejected by her family when they learn of the pregnancy. Many teen parents have not yet graduated from high school and have limited “adulting” skills. They often lack a driver’s license, a job, health insurance, and a safe place to live. It is
not uncommon for clients to arrive in my office late in their pregnancy and completely unprepared for their baby’s arrival. Most concerning is the isolation and loneliness so many of our young parents experience.
SUPPORT FOR AMY To alleviate some of this isolation, Generations Ahead has a strong mentoring program that matches caring adult mentors with teen parents. Based on similar personalities and their mutual love of the outdoors, Amy was matched with Kristin, a mom with two children of her own. In addition to hiking and adventuring, they attended childbirth classes together and Kristin was able to help Amy negotiate moving in with an aunt, with whom she now lives. Amy gave birth to a healthy boy last summer. When Amy’s aunt was temporarily unemployed, Generations Ahead provided them regularly with gas cards to help Amy get back and forth to Traverse City High School with her baby, where he attends daycare and she is completing her high-school education. The baby pantry available at Generations Ahead has also provided clothing, diapers, and other baby essentials to help alleviate the financial burdens on Amy and her aunt. With help from her mentor, Amy passed her driver’s test, so occasionally she is able to borrow her aunt’s car. Amy is set to graduate this spring and hopes to work as a nursing assistant and save enough money to buy her own car. With the support and guidance Amy received from her mentor, she could determine her priorities, establish some realistic achievable goals, and set her life on a gradual path to greater financial stability.