I was also furious. Cara and I had talked about birth control. I felt it was irresponsible of her to get pregnant, and I was deeply concerned about both her and the child's health because Cara had been taking illegal drugs. What else can go wrong? I asked myself. All of our lives had been hell since Cara hit puberty, with her heavy drug use, a relationship with an abusive boyfriend – and now this.
I tried to understand where things had gone wrong. Cara had a good childhood; we were a loving family. For a while, I stayed home to look after my three kids, and when I returned to work, I was always around when they came home from school. Cara's twin brother, Simon, was her best friend. My husband and her father, Reg, was her basketball coach. Sounds perfect, doesn't it? Simon and my other daughter, Olivia (now 15), were both doing really well academically and excelling in their extracurricular activities. I asked myself, What did I do differently with Cara? But I couldn't come up with any answers.
During that time of reflection, I realized that I had a lot of growing up to do myself. I had to let go of my dreams for Cara and accept that she would always walk her own path. I had to realize that no matter how far down the wrong path she had gone, I would always be there for her.
When Cara was a small child, there was no sign of the trouble to come. She did well in school, sports and the performing arts. She just loved life. When Cara turned 12, though, she changed, seemingly overnight. She would come home from school and go right to her room. She didn't want to talk to any of us – not to Reg, Simon, Olivia or me.
Cara began sneaking out of the house at night when she was 13, and I discovered that she was smoking and drinking. When I knew for sure that she was using marijuana several times a day, my husband and I put her in a drug treatment centre. But there she was introduced to even harder drugs, and met her abusive boyfriend.
In Grade 9, Cara dropped out of school. She came home from a friend's house one day with burns all over her hands. She had passed out with a cigarette between her fingers. Another time, I came home from work to find a butcher knife on my dressing table. It was a warning from Cara's drug dealer that she owed money. I feared for all our lives. I called the Children's Aid Society and pleaded with them, saying, "I don't know what to do. My daughter is going to die if she doesn't get some help." That's when Cara went to live in a group home, before moving in with her boyfriend.
Page 1 of 4 - See what happens when Cara decides on keeping her baby on page 2.
Cara was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 16, but the news did nothing to improve our lives. Some of the things the doctors were telling Cara about her illness just blew me away; one even gave her permission to use drugs because he thought that they calmed her down. There were times when I looked into Cara's eyes and I didn't see my baby anymore.
I suspected her boyfriend was abusing her. Cara, who was on welfare at the time, had black eyes and bruises on her body. I took her to see a counsellor, but she would not talk about it to anyone. I felt completely helpless as a mother. My baby was in trouble and I couldn't help her. I couldn't reach her. I felt if I pushed, I would push her farther away. But even in the darkest days, I kept telling Cara, "I love you. I believe in you. I am here for you. We will get through this."
Cara quit drugs and smoking when she learned that she was pregnant. She wanted to do something right with her life and prove everyone wrong. It was another very tumultuous time. She had morning sickness and was withdrawing from drugs and medication for her bipolar disorder. I just stuck by her side, reminding Cara of how special she was.
Cara decides to keep her baby
I didn't try to influence my daughter when she was considering adoption, even though I had come to realize that I wanted to play a role in my grandchild's life. When Cara decided she was going to keep the baby, I was both relieved and scared. I feared for the baby, constantly wondering what damage the drugs had done, but I kept these thoughts to myself and encouraged Cara.
Along this journey, I lost my own faith. I had always been very active in the United Church of Canada, but during the period when things were so difficult with Cara, I felt I didn't have a God to turn to. I was full of such rage. My minister and close friends told me, "If you can't pray, we will pray for you."
It took a while, but I realized that there were people who believed in me. It didn't matter to my friends or my coworkers that my own daughter would become an unwed teen mom. My faith was restored. I know now that the angels we have in our lives are the friends and loved ones who help us through the hard times.
I went to every doctor's appointment with Cara, listening to the miracle of my little unborn grandchild's heartbeat. And I was at Cara's side when Sancia was born on Oct. 1, 2003. After the nurses cleaned her up and wrapped her in a blanket, they put her in my arms. In that moment, the universe changed. It was a split second of clarity and love. I felt connected to everyone and everything around me. I looked into that little face and vowed to love Sancia and to do everything I could for her
Page 2 of 4 - See how Cara and her mom's relationship develops on page 3.
Cara moved in with us after Sancia's birth. I taught her how to change diapers, breast-feed, make baby food and sing lullabies. I showed her how to swaddle Sancia, and read her nursery rhymes. I can still remember watching my baby cradle her own daughter and sing soft lullabies to her for hours at a time. I am so proud of Cara's dedication to Sancia. She's turned her life around and dedicated herself to being a great mother, making sure Sancia is happy and well cared for. Sancia means "serene," and that's what Cara began to feel when she was pregnant. Sancia was simply meant to be.
Strengthening the mother-daughter bond
Cara and I became very close during the eight months that she lived with us after Sancia was born. Like me, during those chaotic years she had been asking herself, What went wrong? Cara says she entered her teens swimming in an ugly brew of depression mixed with anger, and the antidepressants she was put on for her bipolar disorder made her feel suicidal. She told me, "Mom, there were many, many times that I wanted to rip my hair out and tear out my skin." She also shared some of the things that went on when she was living with her boyfriend, including the abuse. Sancia's biological father spent some time in jail for abusing Cara. After she had taken out a second restraining order against him, he stopped harassing her. She went back on her bipolar medication. She still has mood swings, but has learned to recognize them and talk to me. I am proud of how she navigates the ups and downs. Cara now lives in a small apartment with her fiancé, Joey, whom she met while working at a homeless shelter during a co-op placement for a high school course. A mutual friend working at the shelter introduced them. Joey is now a prep cook at a popular Ottawa restaurant and, in every way he can be, he is Sancia's daddy.
Reg and I look after Sancia every weekend until Sunday night. It's our private time with her. In the mornings, Sancia and I sit in a big rocking chair, cuddled up together in a blanket, and watch TV. In the afternoons, we pick flowers and go for long walks. We also make puppets and play pretend. One of the things I love most is curling up with my granddaughter when she asks, "Nana, will you read me a bedtime story?" Every Sunday night we all regroup as one big family for dinner. We never miss one.
Page 3 of 4 - Find out what to do if this ever happens to you on page 4.
People often make negative comments when they see Cara and Sancia together. Women on the bus will say to my daughter, "Babies shouldn't be having babies." Cara says she just ignores them. She loves her life now – and I do, too. Cara told me recently, "The greatest gift I can give Sancia is the unwavering support and unconditional love you gave to me." That's the best present a mother can receive.
I have discovered since my granddaughter came into my life that my heart has so much love. Sancia stood on top of the climber one day in the playground and hollered: "You are so beautiful, Nana." I thought, Yeah! I am.
Nancy Best is a proud grandmother, a student minister in rural Quebec and is enrolled in a master's of divinity program. Cara is a stay-at-home mom who plans to go to college and work with homeless teen girls.
Resources for pregnant teens and their parents
• The Canadian Federation for Sexual Health. A national network that provides clinical services and counselling for pregnant teens, as well as training in parenting and child care, anger and stress management, and life skills for young and single parents and their children.
• Sexualityandu.ca. An informative website, administered by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, providing up-to-date information on sexual health for teens and parents.
• The Little Black Book for Girlz: A Book on Healthy Sexuality by the St. Stephen's Community House in Toronto. Written by teens for teens, it's an excellent overview of many of the issues that confront young women today, including pregnancy.
For parents and guardians
• Wishing: Diaries of a Teen Pregnancy. Ottawa-based parenting coach Kim McLeod, a.k.a. Grandma K, based her book on the diaries she kept during her teens in the 1980s. The book is a personal account of teen relationships, sex and pregnancy.
• Teachingsexualhealth.ca. An Alberta-based website with information for parents across Canada about all aspects of sexuality, as well as tips and strategies for talking comfortably with your teen about pregnancy.
• Contact your family doctor or local public health office to inquire about adolescent-focused prenatal and postnatal services, as well as support groups that can best meet your teenager's social and emotional needs during pregnancy. These resources are also a good place to ask about groups and programs for parents of pregnant teens.
– Sarah Jane Silva
This story was originally titled "Within a Mother's Heart" in the March 2009 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!
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