Written by Cheyenne Erickson
I sat on our second hand couch trying to juggle a nursing baby in one arm and my heavy history textbook in the other. Tears of frustration rolled down my cheeks. Why wouldn’t she nap? What was I doing wrong? How was I going to be able to graduate if I never had a babysitter or any help?
This was not what my life was supposed to look like. How had we gotten here? A year before I was a 4.0 student, president of the debate team, a national champion speaker, and even the founder of our campus’ pro-life ministry. Now, I was just a 21-year-old new mom trying to graduate college and raise a baby at the same time.
My whole life turned upside down the day I found out I was pregnant. My boyfriend had already been accepted into law school (in another state I might add), and if he didn’t go as planned he would lose his scholarship. So 6 weeks after I saw two pink lines on the pregnancy test I was married. Two months after that, I was whisked off to a new state and the only person I knew there was my new husband.
The next three years of my life were a see-saw of joy and pain. I loved my daughter. I loved being a mom. I loved it so much that we decided to have another baby. During my second pregnancy, I experienced perinatal depression – a term I was not familiar with, and would not understand until years after the fact.
We moved states every summer during my husband’s graduate program for internships, which made it difficult for me to form a support network or build friendships. Burdened by the trauma of the unexpected pregnancy and being socially isolated wore on my mental health. I felt worthless and started to believe my kids would be better off if I wasn’t around.
After having my second baby I knew I needed help. I called a local baby blues group but they informed me that I couldn’t bring my child to the meeting. Even if I had known someone who could babysit, I had no money to pay a babysitter. Virtual therapy wasn’t as prevalent as it is now, and I truly believed that my only option was to soldier on.
After my husband graduated law school, we moved to New York City and got involved with a local church. It was at that church that we were first introduced to a partner ministry called Safe Families for Children.
Safe Families for Children mobilizes church volunteers to form authentic friendships with families going through a crisis. They offer a circle of support which can include a Family Friend, a Coach, Resource Friends, or short-term childcare called Hosting. Safe Families volunteers are not case workers – they are friends and an emergency contact for the person who has no one to call.
This made my heart leap. This type of support would have changed my life! I wanted to be there for people experiencing a crisis because I knew what it was like to walk through a crisis alone. Volunteering for Safe Families transformed the way I operated in the world. I believe social isolation is at the root of so many systemic issues. I know many people label unexpected pregnancies as “crisis pregnancies” but for me, my crisis wasn’t so much the pregnancy, but the complete lack of a support system to help me navigate my situation.
Safe Families taught me that I could be brave enough to seek out a circle of support, and how life giving it can be to offer friendship and hospitality to a stranger. It gave me a way as a Christian love my neighbor authentically, and in a way that made a difference. As Mother Teresa said, “The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of family too small.”