Adult, peer support help turn fear into success
Hope Newton was 18 years old and addicted to oxycontin when she found out she was pregnant.
Since that time, she's turned her life around, and is doing her best to be a good mom to her two-year-old son, Damien Sallows.
“When I found out, it was very scary, because I was going down the wrong path,” Newton, who is now 21, said. “My life had to completely change. I am proud of me now.”
She's two months away from earning her high school diploma at St. Albert's Adult Learning Centre, and after that, she hopes to go to college to become an educational assistant.
Newton said she's also engaged to Damien's father, Devon Sallows, and they're working together to raise their son.
The young woman said she owes a lot of her success to Better Beginnings, Better Futures' Baby's Breath program, a teen prenatal and parenting program.
The program's co-ordinator, Johanne Thompson, is like a “second mom” to Newton, and has helped with everything from helping her find an apartment and go back to school to learning about day-to-day parenting tasks.
“They helped me through a lot, that's for sure,” she said.
Thompson said she started the program in 2004 because she saw a lot of teen parents pushing strollers on the streets of Sudbury, but there wasn't really a program for them.
“I worked in other places and saw mothers trying to bring their teen daughters that were either pregnant or parenting into other programs,” she said.
“The girls didn't want to go. They felt judged. They felt embarrassed. Peers their own age just weren't there.”
She began the program with just one 15-year-old expectant mother. Baby's Breath has blossomed over the years, with up to 30 teens attending classes each week.
To register in the program, which is free, participants must be 18 years of age or younger, and they can stay in the program until they turn 22.
Baby's Breath is also open to teen fathers, and participants are allowed to bring a supportive person along with them.
The program, funded by the United Way and the Sudbury Food Bank, offers an evening meal and a chance to socialize, and then participants gather to learn about everything from toilet training to budgeting as their babies and toddlers play.
They also have a chance to take what they need from several closets filled with baby clothes, baby food, diapers and formula.
Thompson said she finds that teen parents face issues such as poverty, isolation and a lack of education. The Baby's Breath program helps alleviate some of the isolation they feel, she said.
“They have a place to come and meet moms of their own age,” Thompson said.
“They can socialize, they can talk about parenting, they can talk about pregnancy amongst themselves. They can meet in an atmosphere that's non-judgemental, because they're surrounded by their peers.”
Sometimes, teen parents face negative comments from members of the community, she said. But Thompson said she thinks the Baby's Breath participants are “courageous,” and want to do well by their babies.
“I tell my teen mothers and fathers that it doesn't matter what age you're at, it's how you parent that matters,” she said. “You can have a 44-year-old that's a bad parent, as much as you can have a 16-year-old who's a bad parent.”
The thing with teenagers is they live very much in the here and now, as opposed to thinking about the future, Thompson said.
“That's what they have to do now (that they're parents) — they have to think of the future,” she said. “If they're engaging in risky behaviour, with a lot of them, that's quickly stopped.”
There have been Baby's Breath participants who haven't been successful parents, and that's always heartbreaking, Thompson said. But in most cases, graduates of the program are now doing well, she said.
Amber Leroux, 18, and Joel Gravelle, 20, often attend Baby's Breath with their seven-month-old son, Maddox Gravelle.
Leroux said she had initially enrolled in a health unit parenting class, but felt out of place because all of the other participants were so much older than she.
“I went to one class, but I never went after that,” she said.
It's a different story at Baby's Breath.
“Everyone here is really welcoming,” she said. “They make you feel at home, like it's a big family. We all try to help each other out in any way possible.”
Leroux said she also appreciates the parenting advice she's received through the program.
“Babies come with manuals,” she laughs.
The young parents are doing their best to continue their education while raising their son.
Gravelle is in his second year of chemical engineering at Collège Boréal and Leroux is a few months away from earning her high school diploma at École Cap sur l'Avenir.
Although their lives aren't easy, Leroux said it's all worth it when they look at their son.
“It's the smiles, laughs and all the firsts that makes everything worth it,” she said. “It's demanding, but I wouldn't change it. There's nothing I regret.”
The Baby's Breath program is held at Better Beginnings, Better Futures' location at 450 Morin Ave.
The group for expectant parents runs Mondays from 4-6 p.m., and the groups for the parents of infants and toddlers run Tuesdays from 5-7:30 p.m.
For more information about the program, or to donate baby supplies, phone Thompson at 705-671-1941, ext. 229.