When Jessyka discovered she was pregnant at age 16, she was in shock and disbelief. Her boyfriend of three years was excited about the news. But that didn’t last. Jessyka, anxious and afraid of what the future held, had some decisions to make, and none of them were easy.
From an early age Jessyka’s life was marked by upheaval, pain and fear. She struggled to understand why her mother would intentionally hurt her. Wasn’t it her job to protect Jessyka from all harm?
Jessyka’s mother was diagnosed with Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, a deadly attention-seeking disorder where a parent, usually the mother, intentionally causes illness in her child. Unable to cope with or understand the situation, Jessyka’s father reacted with anger and disrespect. Her parents needed so much help with their own problems that they weren’t able to focus on Jessyka’s needs.
At age three Jessyka was placed in foster care. Turmoil and unrest followed as she bounced from foster home to foster home. Plagued by memories of abandonment and lack of parenting she felt worthless, afraid, broken and alone.
“Although I was a good kid, my lack of self-esteem lead to poor decisions that were rushed and based on fun and peer approval,” says Jessyka. When she learned of her unplanned pregnancy, Jessyka had many decisions to make. Wounded, scared and confused she was on her own battle ground, attempting to survive.
Determining her own path
Hearing her baby’s heartbeat for the first time, and learning the gender, was a wonderfully moving experience for Jessyka. At that moment she knew she didn’t want anyone else calling him ‘mom’.
Determined to provide her son a warm, loving and secure home, Jessyka committed to completing her education. She wanted to be capable of planning the future and making right decisions.
But she couldn’t return to her former high school. Unable to cope with expected ridicule and bullying she, four months into her pregnancy, enrolled in The Salvation Army Hamilton’s Grace Haven high school program.
The Salvation Army Hamilton Grace Haven
The Salvation Army Grace Haven is a resource centre for young, single families that provides residential and community programs for pregnant adolescents/women and young parents (mothers and fathers).
Services include prenatal classes, a high school program offered by the Hamilton District Board of Education, child care, counselling, life-skills coaching, and a 24-hour support line for past and present participants.
“When I arrived at Grace Haven I was overcome by a sense of family,” says Jessyka. “This was something I had longed to experience. Staff comforted me, nurtured me and offered solutions to my problems.”
In addition to child care, Jessyka welcomed the healthy meals that were provided and the donation room where she was able to secure anything from diapers to toys to bathing necessities to clothing to non-perishable food items. “These services were my lifeline,” says Jessyka.
Jessyka completed her high school diploma and went on to earn a degree in medical office administration through Grace Haven. Now age 22, she is enrolled in the 2011 fall semester at college and plans to study social work. She and her son, now age five, live with her grandmother. There is no relationship with either parent or the baby’s father.
In an effort to pay forward the help she received from the centre’s donation room, Jessyka has developed a program “helping mom’s in need.” She collects goods for children under 18 months, sorts and washes them before taking them to Grace Haven for distribution.
Jessyka attributes her successful outcome and that of her son’s to Grace Haven where “the support was there when I needed it most. They built my confidence and now I can accept that people do love and care about me.”