Christine lives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia and is inspired by all things natural living, plant medicine and holistic healing. She became a mama to her son Kai at 20-years-old and after her experiences with anxiety and navigating mental health struggles in postpartum, a passion was ignited in her to support other mums as a herbalist and postpartum doula.
What’s your name and who’s in your family? My name is Christine. My family includes my 2-year-old son Kai, my boyfriend Reece and our 2 cats.
How did you feel learning you were pregnant? What concerns/thoughts/feelings came up for you? I think floored is the right word to describe how I felt! I suspected I was pregnant, but my cycles had already been irregular so a part of me was holding onto the possibility that I wasn’t. I took the pregnancy test at work the day before my boyfriend left on a 3-week trip to Japan. Seeing those two lines on the pregnancy test just made my whole body go numb. It was as if I was in another world – separate from the people around me.
Because my boyfriend was leaving on a trip that was so big and important to him, it only felt right to keep the news to myself. I processed it completely on my own for about a week before I called a friend. My biggest fear was that my life was over. I’m sure most young parents can relate. The cultural narrative is that once you become a parent, that’s all you’re going to be for a while. As a young person, the idea of being “just a mom” was really challenging for me. I had so many dreams that I had to put on pause to make way for this big change.
How old were you when you fell pregnant? I was 19 years old.
Were you at school/working/studying? All the above! I was enrolled in a part-time program studying Western Herbal Medicine while working two jobs. I managed a doggy day-care and was a nanny to a homeschooled boy. It was a lot, even before the pregnancy.
Did you feel supported during pregnancy by your family/partner/medical team? Surprisingly yes! I feared a lot of judgement from being so young but found that most people were supportive. My boyfriend and I had been together for 4 years at the time I got pregnant, which I think helped our case. My mom also had her first baby at 19 which eased some of the prejudice against young mothers in my family. There were definitely people who had some snide remarks to make but I found the best thing to do was cut them out. My midwives were awesome because they saw being young as a positive thing from a medical standpoint. I moved towns in my third trimester, so I saw two different groups of midwives, but both said that from a physiological perspective, 20 is the prime time to make a baby… Culturally speaking it’s a whole other story though!
How old were you when you gave birth? I was 20 years old.
What was your birth experience like? Intense! I had planned for a home birth but ended up with a hospital transfer during the transition phase. My son was born only an hour after getting to the hospital and in hindsight, I could have stayed home. I was really sick my entire pregnancy and labour was no different. It started with a day of heavy vomiting which shifted into contractions that night. I had two nights of early labour before active labour began which was challenging because I couldn’t sleep. By the time my son was born, I had missed a total of three nights sleep and then had to care for a newborn. It felt so hard at times and like nature was playing a cruel little joke, but I did it and I got through it. My birth may not have gone to plan, but he was born safely and unmedicated which made me feel like a warrior mama! My boyfriend also got to catch our son as he was being born which was so special. They’ve had an incredible bond since that moment.
The experience of giving birth taught me a lot. The state of mind it puts you in is indescribable, it’s totally primal and extremely powerful. Although birth is difficult, it left me feeling like if I could birth a human being, I could do anything. I think that gave me the strength to push through the difficulties of early motherhood. It allowed me to release that sense of control I had been trying to grasp.
Were you able to debrief your birth experience in a way that helped you to process the experience? I didn’t find talking to other people about my birth particularly helpful. I found that most people had their own opinions to add. For example, the shame I felt around transferring to the hospital was often met with “at least it wasn’t a caesarean!” Most people don’t have the capacity to acknowledge someone's story without judging it.
I found writing my birth story extremely therapeutic. It was as if the story spun round and round in my head until I found the words in which to tell it. I wrote out my entire birth story during one of my son’s naps when he was 4 months old, and it felt like an enormous weight had been lifted off my shoulders. In many ways, I do feel like I’m still processing it though.
What do you think could have made you feel more supported during pregnancy and childbirth? What would have helped you? It would have been nice to have family close by during pregnancy to help out. I was so sick that I really couldn’t keep on top of basic housework. I should also add that my boyfriend worked away throughout my entire pregnancy, so I was alone most of the time. I debated hiring a cleaner but very quickly realized it would be too expensive. It seems hilarious in hindsight because we lived in a tiny 1-bedroom basement suite.
I had so much shame going into childbirth. I had this underlying feeling that I was a burden. If I hadn't internalized my feelings and sought out a healthier way to process them, I would have felt more supported in childbirth. I did have an amazing doula for my birth however. I don’t know if most young moms know to hire a doula or even have the money to invest in one. I set up a payment plan with my doula early in pregnancy and it was honestly worth every bit for the support she provided.
What were the first few weeks of motherhood like for you? What concerns/thoughts/feelings came up for you? Those early days felt otherworldly. I remember reading about the altered state of birth, but not once about postpartum. Anything happening in my environment felt so heightened it may as well have been happening inside my own head. New moms are so primally wired to be attuned to our babies that it is literally impossible to tune out incoming sensory information. Something as simple as having a conversation felt near impossible because my mind was tracking so many things at once.
I felt like I was riding this high of newborn euphoria in the day but as soon as the sun would set, I was overcome with anxiety. I quickly learned to get cosy in bed with my son and ride it out. I thought a lot about death in those early days. It almost felt too close for comfort. It’s a whole other level of responsibility once you become a parent. I couldn’t help but think about my own death, my boyfriend’s or even my son’s. It wasn’t on an immediate timeline either. I was faced with the reality that I had made this beautiful, perfect little human and one day he would die. He would die not because something horrible would happen, but because one day we all die.
Do you feel that you had a healthy support network? I had the best support network I could have without any family nearby. Our closest family was a 12-hour drive away. We had a couple of visits, but they were always short-lived. Luckily, they pitched in for postpartum doula hours which was so appreciated. We had some amazing friends who did their best to drop off food and come by for short and sweet visits. Our community also has some great programs for new parents! There was one specifically for young moms where they connect you with a public health nurse who does in-home visits regularly.
I’ve always been an introvert so early parenthood was the first time I sought out a support network. We moved to a totally new community when I was 8 months pregnant, and I didn’t know anyone there. I guess I had this sense if I didn’t reach out and build community ASAP I would crash and burn. I can’t imagine how the first year would have been if I didn’t take that initiative.
How did you find transitioning into parenthood? Did you have strategies in place to manage stress and anxiety? It was easier than I expected it to be. Pregnancy was really hard for me, so I expected postpartum to be even harder. Thankfully life gave me a bit of a break there. I think young moms have a slight advantage postpartum. It wasn’t like I was leaving a job that I loved (minus nannying, I did love that!). I was working long hours for not great pay. Being home with my baby felt so much more meaningful.
I have struggled with anxiety since my early teenage years, so I absolutely did have strategies in place to cope. A big one for me will always be herbs. I went through a lot of lemon balm tincture in that first year postpartum! What caught me off guard was the rage. I would go from feeling fine to absolutely furious. I've heard so many moms say they've experienced it as well, but no one warns new moms that this can happen. For me, it felt like the result of having my own needs not met for prolonged periods of time. Learning to vocalize these needs and make space for them was the only strategy that helped with the anger. Self-care can be so hard as a new mom though.
What challenges did you face in the first year of motherhood? Oh my goodness, so many! With a baby, there is not really time for anything but the baby. Our home was always messy, and I didn't shower nearly as often as I would have liked. My relationship also faced significant challenges. Everything becomes about the baby, so there's very little time to connect as a couple. For us, it felt like something we just had to get through and accept that it was just the phase of life we were in at that point.
I'd say isolation and loss of identity were other big ones for me. We lived in a rural area which meant I could go days without seeing anyone. When I was working, I always had social interaction. It was a huge change. I was still finishing up herbal school with a newborn, which supported my mental health and made me feel myself, but after I graduated when he was 3-months-old, my mental health declined. Without the mental stimulation of school I really did feel like "just a mom".
What do you love most about being a mum? I love watching my son grow more and more into himself with every passing day. He's been the same wild and determined boy since he was only hours old, but now has better ways of expressing it. We get to nurture his personality with how we teach him about the world and there's nothing like it. It feels like such an honour to be a mama! The amount of love I have for him and he has for me is just so special.
What life lessons have you learned? I’ve learned that I am not in control of everything and to let go of expectations. It's okay to make mistakes. It's even okay to feel like a failure at times. The most important thing is to keep learning and growing. I feel like my son has taught me more than I will ever teach him.
What do you wish people could understand more about being a young mother? I wish people understood that as a young mom you always feel like the black sheep. Most people aren't having babies before 30 these days. I never feel initially accepted around other moms. As a young mom, you don't just walk into mama baby groups and feel like you're among your peers. Everyone is often 10-15 years older and in a totally different stage of life. There's a baseline prejudice against young moms in general which doesn't help. I've gotten many double-takes from the time I was pregnant, even to this day with my toddler. As a young mom who looks even younger than I am, it's sometimes assumed that I'm my son's sister or even nanny. When my son was a baby, I had other moms try to step in and help when my son was crying. Although well-meaning, it was very condescending and would only happen to a young mom. Some of the most loving, gentle and caring mothers I know are young moms. It'd be nice if society saw us as equally responsible and capable when compared to mothers who have their babies later on.
Overall, being a young mom is hard. It's worth it, but hard, nonetheless. Right now, your average young person isn't set up to thrive, add a baby into the mix and it's exponentially harder. There's a lot of pressure. Not only am I trying to make something of my own life, but I'm trying to create a meaningful life for my child. It's always nice encountering other folks who had their kids young and get it because not everyone understands just how much harder it can be as a young parent.
What’s helped you the most in becoming a mum? Being a part of a community and being able to talk with other moms who can empathize with the highs and lows of parenthood usually fills my cup. It may not change the fact that I haven't been able to get out the door all day because my toddler won't wear pants, but it's refreshing to hear someone else saying that their kiddo is doing the same thing. For young moms, it can be challenging though because often your friends have such a dramatically different lifestyle and may have a hard time understanding what you’re going through. Finding people you can relate to is key.
Another thing which helped me was learning to prioritize my own needs however possible. I gave up on little things like folding laundry, I simply had a 'clean bin' and a 'dirty bin' because if I spent nap time folding laundry, it wasn’t going to give me the break I needed. Similarly, I learned to ask my boyfriend to give me time for breaks. I felt a lot of guilt asking for time to myself, but it made a massive difference in my overall well-being. With every other job, you get a break, but mothers seem to think we don’t deserve them. Mothering is hard work! Everyone deserves some downtime.
Anything else you would like to share? If you’re reading this because you’re a soon-to-be young mama, I want you to know that it will be okay. I thought my life was over when I found out I was pregnant, but truly, this has been the best part of my life yet. It’s true that everything is much harder with a baby. I think with a little persistence that anything is possible. Motherhood is simply a change of pace – your whole world is going to slow down for a while and that’s okay. It has challenged me immensely but has also been a catalyst for me to grow in ways I didn’t know possible. I am grateful for the person my son has helped me evolve into.
Thank you so much Christine for your vulnerability in sharing your story.
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