More than a mom: Young mothers learn how to establish their identities

(Photo of Micayla Valentin by Alex Walters/PIN Bureau)

By Alex Walters

In the Phoenix metropolitan area, some teen moms and young mothers seek support from their families and resource centers to deal with their finances, homes, jobs and personal lives.

Jessica Figueroa, case manager and health educator at Teen Outreach Pregnancy Services, said that one of the main things these women struggle with is “overcoming stigmas of their capabilities … and what they can and can not be involved in.”

They are stuck in a sort of limbo between childhood and adulthood that restricts them from realizing how much is truly at arms reach for them, Figueroa said. Their mindset is that they aren’t old enough for certain resources and opportunities.

They also feel the pressure to be a functioning member of society and raise a child under their care.

Sydney Laflesh, a Phoenix area resident, became pregnant as a teenager. “To be quite honest, the thought of a child to me scared me. I felt like I was going to ruin my child’s life by not being good enough.”

She continued, “Abortion never crossed our mind. Sure, the thought of being a parent to a tiny human being whose life depends on me was a scary thought, but I always had promised myself that if anytime in my life that something like this did happen, that I would strive to be the best parent that I can be to this child. ”

Some of these women struggle to remember that they are more than just a teen mom or a young mother; and some struggle to make others realize that, too.

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TOPS is a pregnancy resource center for young and teen moms and has four locations in the state of Arizona.  

In March, TOPS held an outreach event the East Valley location in Mesa to provide information along with  diapers, snacks and other household goods for young mothers.

We talked to the women there, and when asked what they identified with besides being a mother, it was difficult for them to come up with a label or a title for themselves that wasn’t related to parenting or their skills as a mom.

One young woman, Bradie Thompson, asked, “Is it OK if I [say] supermom? I can’t think of anything else.”

After a little encouragement and conversation, she proudly held a whiteboard in front of her, labeling herself a “Smoothie Lover”.

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Bradie Thompson poses with the whiteboard at TOPS event in Mesa on April 1. (Photo by Alex Walters/PIN Bureau)

Courtney Stoecker, another woman at the event also struggled to find something to write on the whiteboard and after consulting her companion for a bit of help, decided to write “lover of food.”

This mindset of not knowing who else they are besides being a mother is something Figueroa has noticed and she sees it as them wanting to be “this hardworking mother and then they forget about themselves.” She also said that some of the women become stay-at-home mothers while their significant other is the one “out there working full time taking care of that.”

Many volunteers and employees were at one point teen moms themselves, giving them the personal experience to relate to and be empathetic to the young women who are handling this part of their life.

One of these women is Ruth Jolly, who volunteers at TOPS. She went through a fairly difficult time with becoming pregnant and how her family reacted to it, but she is a successful happy woman with two healthy children who are now adults. She offered some very valuable insight about how the early motherhood affected her life:

“Well I had two kids by the time I was 20. I see that often happening in teen pregnancies where you end up getting pregnant again when you’re very young maybe to save a relationship or you think you’re ready for it and you’re not. Like your whole life has to go on hold and you become a mom not a teen anymore. You don’t necessarily go to school your education doesn’t become as important anymore. Your focus just becomes your kids and surviving.”

About 25 percent of teen moms have a second child within 24 months of their first baby,” according to the Arizona Health Center.

Lucky for these women, there are resource centers and support groups that are available to help women going through this life experience. They offer support, shelter and housing, counseling and life-skills classes.

Taking on raising another life and supporting it is no small feat but in the end it is worth it for them, the mothers told the PIN Bureau.

Sydney Laflesh, a young mother who had a baby at 18, had this to say about looking back at her teenage self:

“Now that I am no longer a teen mom, I think back to when I was a teen mom.  That also gives me some motivation to be better.  I’ve grown up so much in a year and a half.  From being an immature girl to a great mom with a beautiful one-and-a-half year old who loves to snuggle with me on the bed and watch Elmo’s World together.  Every moment with her is the greatest.  I wouldn’t trade anything with her for the world.”