Stephanie: Mental Health and Motherhood

Name:

Stephanie Guillen

I got pregnant at:

18 years old

I am now:

25 years old

My initial reaction was:

...so many emotions at once. Chris, who is now my husband, and I stared at those two pink lines, feeling a mixture of surprise, excitement, happiness, nervousness, fear, and too many other emotions to name, all at once.

People in my life reacted...:

Chris and I waited three long months to tell anyone I was pregnant. The first people I told were my two best friends from high school, Grace and Madonna. They were pretty supportive, but not as enthusiastic as they would have been if we had been older. Then I told my sisters, one of whom knew about my miscarriage 6 months prior, and neither were as supportive as I would have liked...at first. They did throw me a baby shower though. Chris' mom guessed I was pregnant by looking at me when I was about four months along, one week before we moved into our own apartment together.

My biggest challenge has been:

...reconciling the life that I am living, the life that I want, with the life that my late mother wanted for me.

I have a hard time dealing with the fact that my daughter Melody probably would not exist if my mother had not passed away from breast cancer when I was 16 years old. I love Melody very much and cannot imagine my life without her. I miss my mother and wish that she were still alive, so she could be a grandmother to my daughter.

young mom photo

My biggest accomplishment has been:

..staying married to Chris through all of the ups and downs that we have experienced together, and raising a kind, smart, beautiful 5-year-old girl.

I love being a young mom because:

I am looking forward to living long enough to be a grandmother and great-grandmother, and I believe that I am showing my daughter that you can do anything that you set your mind to, regardless of what anyone else says.

I struggle with:

...feeling guilty for the mistakes that I have made while raising my daughter. I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and depression, and I haven't always managed those chronic mental illnesses as well as I am now, and it has affected my daughter significantly. All I can do now is work hard to do better in the present and in the future, and to not dwell on the past.

I wish all young moms knew:

You are not alone. You do not need to feel ashamed, regardless of what anyone in your life tells you. I will tell you what I tell my daughter every night before bed (which I learned from The Help): "You are kind, you are smart, you are important." And you can do anything, be anything, and accomplish anything you set your mind to. You can be a good mother; you will be a good mother; you are a good mother.

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Note: Since filling out this Q+A, Stephanie has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was hospitalized at a mental health facility. Last I spoke with her, she was participating in an intensive outpatient program, and had also found local peer-led support groups.

"I would love to share my story with other young moms because the only drawback of the outpatient program is that I am the one and only young mother in the group," she wrote me. "There are more men than women, and the women are all decades older than me. I have gotten a lot out of it anyway, but I think that more young people should know about and feel comfortable asking for mental health care, rather than waiting until their condition worsens when they get older. I strongly believe in advocating for better mental health care and reducing the stigma."

If anyone else is struggling with a mental health issue — be it bipolar disorder, OCD, addiction, depression, etc. — please know that you're not alone in how you're feeling. There's help and support out there, when you're ready. And you being healthy is the very best thing you can do for your kids.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Stephanie. If anyone has any comments or questions for her, please leave them below.