Written by Amber Pierre
A woman’s journey through motherhood is never an easy one. You can prepare all you want for your little one’s arrival, but you’re never really ready for what’s about to come your way. You want to be a perfect mom but no one is perfect. You want to be able to protect your child from any hurt or harm this world may throw their way but you can’t. Motherhood is a daily lesson that you can only respond to with altruistic instinct. My journey as a teen mom was far from perfect. It came (and still does) with so many lessons that has transformed me into the mom and woman I am today.
I was 16 and pregnant. At 17, I was hospitalized due to internal bleeding at 30 weeks pregnant. My daughter was born at 32 weeks, which required her to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital until she weighed enough to be able to come home. I remember staring at this tiny human being through the plexiglass of her incubator wondering how I was going to be responsible for her life. I was still a confused teenager trying to figure out my own life.
As a newborn, I thought my daughter was a “good” baby. She never really cried outside the normal reasons a newborn would cry for and she was receptive to others. I breastfed for most of her first year so she didn’t really get sick. It seemed like as soon as she grew older and became more active and expressive, and when I stopped breastfeeding, things took a complete turn. I spent endless nights in the emergency room for respiratory issues, ear infections, and the like. I also began to notice that my daughter wasn’t developing along the same track as her peers. She wasn’t able to express herself so she began throwing extreme tantrums. She would scream to the top of her lungs, she would scratch her face and body, and she would even find the nearest hard surface (e.g. a wall, table or the floor) and would bang her head against the surface until I or someone else intervened and restrained her. It was the most heartbreaking thing to watch her go through. I couldn’t understand why she was doing those things to herself. I often found myself crying as a result of her tantrums because I was unable to help her. After expressing my concerns to her pediatrician, I was referred to an early childhood intervention program, which determined she was indeed experiencing developmental and speech delays.
[My daughter] walked in with her mother at the outset of this assessment. She immediately acknowledged me with wonderful eye-contact and beautiful smile. Her mother reports that she typically enjoys most any kind of social interaction, but is prone to throwing temper tantrums ‘out of the blue.’ I witnessed one of these tantrums. Her mother could not determine what ‘set her off’, but was able to calm her down by rubbing her back and talking to her softly. When she is in the throws of a full blown tantrum, they can last for about 40 minutes and she kicks and scratches herself. Her mother reports that this behavior is routine and it is very draining to manage.
– Excerpt from Amber’s Social Work Assessment Report with the Illinois Department of Human Service Bureau of Early Intervention (10/3/2009)
After numerous evaluations, Alanna, and the age of 2, was required to go to the following sessions: speech therapy two times a week at 60 minutes each; developmental therapy two times per month; social worker meetings (for Amber) once a week for 90 minutes; and occupational therapy once per week for 60 minutes. My daughter was also evaluated separately for sensory processing issues. Things like fur around her hat and coat, deep voices, and loud noises frightened her to the point of crying.
During this period, I remember getting a call from her daycare while I was at school with their concerns about the bruises and scratches she was showing up to school with. I was told they were considering calling DCFS on my family for an evaluation. I was devastated at the thought of someone believing I was abusing my own child. It wasn’t long after meeting with her daycare to try and explain my daughter’s situation that they realized what was REALLY going on. The girl was self-destructive. After that, the daycare began working with me to allow her therapists to come to the daycare for her therapy sessions so I didn’t have to leave school to take her. That was such a relief and I was so thankful for her therapists and daycare for helping me. By the time Alanna started elementary school she was able to communicate much better, and express herself in a non destructive way so therapy was no longer a need.
As I mentioned, I was experiencing motherhood at a time when I was still trying to find myself. The last of my teenage years and early 20s were my darkest times. I was lost. I was between trying to be the best mother I could be to a little one facing her own challenges and trying to prove to family and friends that I didn’t throw my life away by having a child at such a young age. Growing up, I excelled academically throughout elementary, middle, and high school. I always graduated at the top of my class so those close to me expected me to do great things in life. I felt their disappointment. I remember reactions such as “You’re getting an abortion right?” and “What about school?” I was determined to prove those that doubted me wrong.
Well, the pressures did get to me. One day after one of my daughter’s tantrum sessions, I made up my mind that I couldn’t handle it anymore. I didn’t understand what was consistently causing her to behave the way she did so I believed I wasn’t a good mother. I was doing something wrong. I was also a full-time student and working. I packed a bag and left my daughter with my parents. I didn’t even tell them I was leaving. I secluded myself from my “real world” for two and a half days without letting my family know where I was. I didn’t go to school or work. I turned to alcohol nonstop to cope. I contemplated suicide during that time and a number of other times throughout my early 20s. To this day, I am so thankful God saw more in me that was enough to pull me out of that darkness and keep fighting.
These days I know I would not push myself to continue to be better if it weren’t for having my daughter. I always want better for her, for us. I wanted her to see, firsthand, what overcoming obstacles and achieving your dreams is like. That it is possible. I graduated high school six months pregnant with her. She was in the audience to see me graduate magna cum laude and as one of the youngest in my undergrad class, at 21, to get my Bachelor of Science degree. More recently, she was able to watch me graduate with my Juris Doctor degree and pass the bar exam. Becoming an attorney was a childhood dream that I never lost sight of no matter what obstacles came my way. And she has been by my side every step of the way. Throughout it all, however, I make it a point to be a part of her extra-curricular activities, parent-teacher meetings, etc. She is my priority.
Now I have a preteen girl who recently started middle school, which has come with a whole new host of motherhood challenges (Attitudes much?). However, my daughter has come such a long way. She is the sweetest girl to be around and very shy. As she gets older, I am learning to let her grow into her own womanhood and not the “mini-me” I wanted her to be. Motherhood is such a challenging, yet rewarding experience that you are never really prepared for. Being a mom has been my toughest life lesson, but I know I would not be the woman I am today without my baby girl. I wouldn’t have it any other way!