Stephanie: Mental Health and Motherhood

Name:

Stephanie Guillen

I got pregnant at:

18 years old

I am now:

25 years old

My initial reaction was:

...so many emotions at once. Chris, who is now my husband, and I stared at those two pink lines, feeling a mixture of surprise, excitement, happiness, nervousness, fear, and too many other emotions to name, all at once.

People in my life reacted...:

Chris and I waited three long months to tell anyone I was pregnant. The first people I told were my two best friends from high school, Grace and Madonna. They were pretty supportive, but not as enthusiastic as they would have been if we had been older. Then I told my sisters, one of whom knew about my miscarriage 6 months prior, and neither were as supportive as I would have liked...at first. They did throw me a baby shower though. Chris' mom guessed I was pregnant by looking at me when I was about four months along, one week before we moved into our own apartment together.

My biggest challenge has been:

...reconciling the life that I am living, the life that I want, with the life that my late mother wanted for me.

I have a hard time dealing with the fact that my daughter Melody probably would not exist if my mother had not passed away from breast cancer when I was 16 years old. I love Melody very much and cannot imagine my life without her. I miss my mother and wish that she were still alive, so she could be a grandmother to my daughter.

young mom photo

My biggest accomplishment has been:

..staying married to Chris through all of the ups and downs that we have experienced together, and raising a kind, smart, beautiful 5-year-old girl.

I love being a young mom because:

I am looking forward to living long enough to be a grandmother and great-grandmother, and I believe that I am showing my daughter that you can do anything that you set your mind to, regardless of what anyone else says.

I struggle with:

...feeling guilty for the mistakes that I have made while raising my daughter. I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and depression, and I haven't always managed those chronic mental illnesses as well as I am now, and it has affected my daughter significantly. All I can do now is work hard to do better in the present and in the future, and to not dwell on the past.

I wish all young moms knew:

You are not alone. You do not need to feel ashamed, regardless of what anyone in your life tells you. I will tell you what I tell my daughter every night before bed (which I learned from The Help): "You are kind, you are smart, you are important." And you can do anything, be anything, and accomplish anything you set your mind to. You can be a good mother; you will be a good mother; you are a good mother.

***

Note: Since filling out this Q+A, Stephanie has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was hospitalized at a mental health facility. Last I spoke with her, she was participating in an intensive outpatient program, and had also found local peer-led support groups.

"I would love to share my story with other young moms because the only drawback of the outpatient program is that I am the one and only young mother in the group," she wrote me. "There are more men than women, and the women are all decades older than me. I have gotten a lot out of it anyway, but I think that more young people should know about and feel comfortable asking for mental health care, rather than waiting until their condition worsens when they get older. I strongly believe in advocating for better mental health care and reducing the stigma."

If anyone else is struggling with a mental health issue — be it bipolar disorder, OCD, addiction, depression, etc. — please know that you're not alone in how you're feeling. There's help and support out there, when you're ready. And you being healthy is the very best thing you can do for your kids.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Stephanie. If anyone has any comments or questions for her, please leave them below.

A Young Mom's Home Birth Story

home birth story

a home birth, what are you crazy?

That was the general reaction when my sister explained why, no, her second child would not be born in a hospital like her first. No she would not be going back to her OB, and she wouldn't even use our local birthing center, where I delivered, the Hospital Alternative du jour around these parts.

During the first round of our pregnancies, I was the "out there" one — birthing Noah in a hospital-grade birthing tub, the kind with jets and filtration. I used midwives, yes, but it was certainly more hospital than living room. (I still had a remote-controlled bed and a bathroom with handrails, if that says anything.)

Despite my loving sisterly pressure to deliver there, too, she ended up birthing Ben at one of the best hospitals in the country for neonatal care. Tomatoes tomahtoes, we both ended up with healthy kids and a painful story to tell.

But then she got pregnant again, and wowza did she veer in the opposite direction. She went about as far as she could, stopping short of squatting and delivering alone. And she was so much happier.

Now that Faye Winter is here, safe and beautiful, I asked my sister a few questions about her experience:

1. I've known you for a very long time. Your entire existence. And I have to say, you surprised me with your home birth decision — especially because it was such a drastic change from your first pregnancy. Why the change in direction? What was that decision process like?

Well, this is a loaded question. There are quite a few reasons why I decided to have a home birth this time. First of all, I think one of the biggest differences is that I’ve already done it once, so I knew I physically could birth a child! The first time around, I was clueless. I thought that everything my OB did was normal, I thought that medical interventions were just part of the process.

Once I was in the hospital and delivered Ben, I quickly realized that being in the hospital was perhaps the worst part of the whole experience. The random nurses coming in and out, “shift” relationships as opposed to continuity of care. I had very little control over my own body, decisions and plan. I got the sense that the doctors didn’t trust the birthing process, or the mother’s ability to deliver a baby. It was very much about their time table and protocol.

That being said, I still had a relatively smooth first birth experience. Once I learned I was pregnant again, one of my first thoughts was, “I’m NOT doing it like that again.” It just didn’t feel right, or natural for me. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but the thought of going to the hospital, delivering a baby, and leaving my son at home, wasn’t even something I wanted to entertain.

A big part of the decision centered around the fact that I have a two year old, also. The decision process was a bit scary. In all honesty, I was in denial for some time, and just let it ride for a bit. I didn’t make an early appointment with an OB, or even rush out for prenatal care in the first trimester. I let the reality sink in for a bit, I researched and networked with some other moms, and made an appointment to interview with the midwives. Right away, it was so different from the experience with my OB. And, even if I wasn’t 100% certain it would be a good idea per say, I knew it was going to be better than another hospital birth for me.

So... I went with it. I was very anxious, a bit uncertain, and knew what I didn’t want…so I basically did the opposite of my first birth. (And yes, I’m very glad that I did.) I had to trust my intuition, and I learned as I went.

Also, at the very beginning of the decision process, I watched a documentary called “The Business of Being Born," which was pretty much a game changer. I highly recommend it for anyone that’s curious. It gave me a foundation and a new perspective to consider that I really identified with.

2. She seems to have assimilated into the family really quickly. Does it feel less real in any way? There was no packing of bags, dramatically driving to the hospital in the snow. No novelty of a hospital room and caretaking nurses. It was just like, BOOM, labor, baby…and wasn’t she always here?

You’re right. It was pretty seamless from my perspective, too. The whole thing just kind of happened. I don’t think it had anything to do with my own preparedness though. To be honest, I didn’t feel very prepared. I kind of had no idea how it was going to play out…at all. Maybe that’s the very reason that it seemed so smooth though. I really didn’t have many expectations, but I had a lot of uncertainties. With a home birth, there are a lot of unknowns; you aren’t constantly monitored and checked. You have more freedom. It was quiet, relaxed, non-invasive. I could go wherever I wanted to go. I could be in any position I wanted to be in. I didn’t know what I would want, or how I would feel, and that was okay. There were no bright lights or stirrups. No gowns or wires. No one told me not to push, or threatened me that if the baby didn’t come in x amount of hours, they were going to “help” her come. It just happened as it was going to happen, and then suddenly, she was here and I had two babies in my arms. (Of course with lots of contractions, pain and pushing in between.)

home birth story
home birth tub story

I had doubts. I was scared. It was even more painful then I remembered it to be. I wanted to quit. I even wanted to perform my own C-section at one point…. and I thought there was no way I could physically do it. But usually when you think you can’t do it anymore, that’s when you do! And, I did because this labor and delivery wasn’t all about me. I had a little boy in the next room that could come in and see his mommy at any moment. He could see me being strong, or he could see me unraveling. He kept me strong.

home birth story

And physically? It was me AND Faye, doing it together. When I couldn’t push another second, my body contracted and did it for me. When I wanted to quit, she moved down lower and lower, reminding me that she was coming regardless. I feel like there is a lot of up and down, a lot of give and take between mother and baby in labor. But during delivery, you synch. You do it together. It was me, her and my midwife. It’s humanizing, and empowering, yet the most humbling experience. And, like you said, “boom, labor, baby wasn’t she always here?” Yes — I knew that little girl inside me all along, more than I realized.

home birth

3. You were pretty freaked out about having to leave Ben to deliver Faye, but I know you were also worried about how Ben would react to you birthing a human in the next room. And I know there was some worry about how you’d recover with a brand-new baby and a sleep-challenged toddler. Some warned that you might want space away in the hospital, to heal and bond. Can you speak to that, now that you’re three days in?

Definitely. I was really worried about leaving Ben, going to the hospital for three or four days, and then coming back home with another baby. I know him, and I know that it would have elicited a completely different response. I even think it would have been a bit traumatic for him.

And yes, it certainly would have been more traumatic for me! I am absolutely positive that being stuck in a hospital room, away from Ben, would have made it difficult to adjust to this new dynamic and bond with the baby. Maybe that’s not even healthy, but it’s true. I am very attached to him, as he is to me. I wanted to make this an experience that he could be a part of. He had baby dolls and books about expecting new babies. He came to the ultrasounds with me, and met the midwives. Two weeks later, he’s still talking about it, using Legos on my belly to “do ultrasounds," and talks about the midwives daily.

In a nutshell, it was a great experience for him. It came with a lot of preparation though. At just two years old, he really did understand. I was prepared that I may have to leave him in the case of an emergency transport to the hospital. I had you and mom “on call” as the people that would come take Ben out of the house if he needed a break. That aspect of my home birth, though, went exactly as I hoped it would. Ben was involved, he was present as much as he wanted to be — in and out of the room freely — and was not scared by any of it, at all. In fact, when I was laboring in the birth tub, he kept bringing me his bath toys!

During some of the early contractions, he put his head to my head, and held my hand. He is a sensitive, smart and very loving little boy. Having him here was grounding for me.

home birth story

He was napping while I pushed. Chris didn’t come in until she was almost completely out, and Ben woke up and walked in maybe three seconds after she was born. He was right there, kissing his new baby sister’s head, while she was still attached to me and laying on my chest. The smile on his face told me that I made the right decision. He was absolutely delighted.

birth story

He stayed by my side and stared at the baby while I delivered the placenta. He was in awe over all her tiny features, and seemed like he both expected and accepted what had just taken place!

With preparation and involvement, I think it’s very possible for young children to understand a lot more than we think they do. Many people were worried that it would be “scary” or “traumatic” for him. I completely disagree with that. Childbirth is natural. As long as everything is going smoothly and it’s a low-risk birth, it’s only scary and taboo if we make it that way. It really helped me more than he will ever know, to have him there too.

Sleep and recovery? I definitely didn’t rest like I would in a hospital. I was up and out of bed that evening. I didn’t stay in bed — I was taking care of both kids, but I was okay with that. I think it helped, actually. I didn’t feel limited and helpless, sitting in bed staring at this newborn, while my toddler missed me or begged me to play. He wanted to play, so I played. When he wanted me to hold him, I could so I did. I think it was a better experience for me to bond with my newborn, with my toddler there because I saw how much love he had for her the second they met. That made me feel like it was going to be okay. It made me feel less guilty, and more accepting of my new role as a mom of two. In a sense, it made me feel like it was okay and natural to share my love, because Ben so clearly loved her, too.

new siblings
sibling love
baby photography


4. I know you have a different perspective on labor and pregnancy after working with your midwives and birthing at home. Can you recall any big realizations or changes?

In working with my midwives and receiving their care, I realized how natural pregnancy and childbirth is for a woman. Pregnancy is a natural state for a woman’s body to be in. We are made to do this. We CAN do this. We don’t always need medical interventions. Don’t get me wrong: I completely support doctors and modern medicine. I really do. It saves lives. It saved my mom's life! She would have died during childbirth. I know that modern medicine can provide miracles — that’s not what I’m speaking to.

In a “typical” low-risk pregnancy, I realized that there is no reason to invade the woman’s body. It’s now the baby’s home, and as long as everything is progressing as it should, my midwives believed and taught me that was enough to trust. Women have been doing this forever, and they will continue to do this forever. We are so much more capable than we realize. It’s pretty amazing, actually.

birth story


(I know you’re tired, the screen looks blurry, and your stitches are hurting from sitting in that chair. I’m almost done, I swear. )


4. If you were to do this again (RELAX! I KNOW! TOO SOON!), would you have another homebirth?

First of all — bite your tongue!! At this moment, I never want to do it again, period.
But yes. If I were ever to be pregnant again (gulp….) I would want to do another home birth.

***

THANK YOU Nikki for answering my questions so soon after giving birth, and thank you and Chris for taking such gorgeous photos (as always). We joke that she's pretty much the face of Early Mama (and all of my Babble/mom.me posts!).

Nikki has shared more here, too. Wanna see?:

Becoming A (Young) Mom

Another "Early Baby" On The Way

Meet Ben: The Child Of A Young Mom

If you want to chat about birth stories or talk to Nikki and I, we're both in the private Early Mama Facebook group. There's just about 350 of us in there, it's a nice space! If you want an invite, shoot me an email (addima27@gmail.com or the contact form above) and I'll add you.

Ellisse: Pregnant and Numb at 19

Name:

Ellisse Tracy

cute young mom

I got pregnant at:

19

I am now:

21

My initial reaction was...

Numbess.

People in my life reacted...

With caution. No one was sure whether or not to congratulate me and I still was undecided on whether or not I was keeping the baby when I told several people.

My biggest challenge has been...

Finding out what makes me happy instead of constantly trying to please people. Breaking out from under my parent's wing. Stress of creating a life and a career with a young child (not necessarily the stress of the workload, but just the uncertainty of everything). Finding confidence as a young mom and especially as a young mom in school. Demanding respect.

My biggest accomplishment has been...

Making the Dean's List with a newborn, finding confidence in my role as a mother, and finding confidence as a person.

I love being a young mom because...

I have energy! I have more years to spend with my daughter. I will be a young empty-nester. I am a hot mom. ;)

I struggle with:

Finding balance. Taking time to find myself and still put my daughter first. Young relationships.

I wish all young moms knew:

Everything doesn't have to go perfectly for everything to go well. You're going to be okay. It will be really hard, but hard doesn't mean bad and it will also be better than you could have imagined. Create your own path, don't try to fit into someone else's mold. It's still okay to make mistakes.

Read more from Ellise at LittleWomanBlog.

Jessica: Shocked Teen Mom Defies Stigmas

your voice stories.jpg

Name:

Jessica Gooding

I got pregnant at:

17 years old

I am now:

25 years old

My initial reaction was:

Shock.

People in my life reacted:

IN SHOCK.

My biggest challenge has been:

The stigma behind being a young single parent. I am a firm believer that good parenting has nothing to do with age. It all comes down to perspective and individualism. You can never really understand a perception until you are directly involved.

My biggest accomplishment has been:

Being able to provide for my daughter comfortably, obtaining an awesome position that I love, finding myself and learning what is really important in life.

I love being a young mom because:

I have defied the negative stigma attached to young parents, not solely because I worked hard to get more for my daughter, but mainly because I have always known that there is no "right" way of doing things in life. There is only the way that works best for you and for what you personally value. Energy is a plus as well.

[also see: Why I Love Being a Young Mom]

I struggle with:

Time management. I work full-time, I am a student, an intern, and I occasionally volunteer with some pretty great organizations. I also have a group of amazing friends and a great family that I love spending time with.

I wish all young moms knew:

That you can do WHATEVER you want! You have one life, live it! Figure out what makes you happy and run with it.

Jessica: young mom grows career + family

Name:

Jessica Kolenda

I got pregnant at:

23 years old

I am now:

28 years old

young mom story

My initial reaction was:

shock, tears, fear of not being ready and still living five states from our families!

People in my life reacted:

with excitement and encouragement! (My husband was the most calm, best support system I could've asked for.)

My biggest challenge has been:

I had just applied to go back to college. I started 6 months pregnant and graduated with an 18 month old. I'm starting to build my career and my family is still growing! I now have two wonderful beautiful boys — 4 years and 8 months! I think overcoming the loss of sleep was a BIG challenge, but now it's finding time for family, friends, myself, and all the mundane at home too.

My biggest accomplishment has been:

My family by far...other than graduating with my second Bachelor's degree and kick-starting my career.

I love being a young mom because:

I have energy now and I'll have it later. In all honesty, I'm learning as I go but I feel as though I have more patience as well.

I struggle with:

The lack of sleep! Oh my! Especially with two now, but they make coffee for a reason — right?!

I wish all young moms knew:

It can be tough, lonely, heartbreaking, exhausting, mentally and physically draining — did I mention lonely? But we all feel that. Find a friend, confide in someone, join a mom's group — whatever you do, just know you're not alone; you're not the only one. You can do what you set your mind to, and you're stronger than you think!

Kelly: Pregnant and scared at 22

young mom blog

Name:

Kelly Webster

I got pregnant at:

22 years old

I am now:

22 years old

My initial reaction was:

a mix of emotions: shock, fear, nervousness, excitement.

People in my life reacted:

I think people were definitely happy for my husband and I, but probably concerned because I am still in school and we are not set in our careers.

My biggest challenge has been:

managing working full-time and going to school full-time, all while being nauseous and vomiting!

My biggest accomplishment has been:

I think once I graduate and have this baby (the baby is due around my college graduation date), those will have been my biggest accomplishments!

I love being a young mom because:

I have not experienced motherhood just yet, but I cannot wait!

I struggle with:

my constant fears about whether or not I will be a good mom.

I wish all young moms knew:

You can have a baby and still get your education, and/or fulfill your life goals. Just because you are going to be a mother does not mean that your aspirations have to be put on the back burner!

Read more from Kelly at A Life Fit for Two.


Congratulations on your pregnancy, Kelly! I was right around the same age as you, and I very much remember that unique mix of emotions.