Full circle: from teenaged mother to GCWCC volunteer

Suzanne wasn’t involved in the same kind of busy activities that other 18-year-olds pursue when they finish high school.

Instead of comparing prospective colleges or finding a job for after graduation, she was planning a move back to Ottawa to escape an unhealthy relationship.

Suzanne was nervous about seeing her parents again because she was coming home pregnant.

“When I was 18, it was a different time. Being unwed and pregnant was a shameful thing for families. Once my parents got over the shock, they found St. Mary’s Home, a place where I could stay for the duration of my pregnancy.”

St. Mary’s Home is a United Way Ottawa partner that provides a residence for young pregnant women, and has evolved over time to offer parenting skills and support to young parents.

“I was so nervous to go live at the residence. It was a little bit like an institution, but once I settled in I made some friends who were in the same situation as me. But probably the most invaluable part of the experience was the access to counsellors. I developed a wonderful relationship with one counsellor in particular and she helped me prepare for what was next.”

Suzanne and her counsellor decided that in her case, there were only two options after giving birth: giving her child up for adoption or going on welfare. At the time, she was barely able to support herself.

She knew it would be hard, but Suzanne was determined to keep her baby.

 “After I had my daughter I needed some time to get my act together. I immediately put her in foster care while I tried to get on my feet. I missed her every second I was away from her, and I made sure to visit her every single day.”

After a few months, Suzanne went to visit a friend of hers from St. Mary’s who had decided to keep her baby as well.

“I remember it vividly. I went to her apartment - it was dismal. She was struggling and miserable, and I knew then that this was not how I wanted my daughter to grow up. It was in that moment that I decided I couldn’t be selfish enough to keep her.”

She remembers going to visit her daughter for the last time.

“It’s an experience you can’t imagine unless you’ve had to live it. The following day I went to the adoption agency – alone. I needed to sign the papers before I changed my mind. I can’t even describe what that felt like. I was numb.”

Though she went through a period of depression, Suzanne went on to a successful career with the federal government working at Employment and Social Development Canada, got married, and she and her husband had two wonderful children.

Even though Suzanne had decided not to contact her first daughter, not wanting to interfere with her life, the child was always on her mind. “But one day, out of the blue, I received a call and it was her.”

Now, Suzanne is part of her daughter’s life again.

“I never regret the decision I made. It was the most difficult decision of my life but my daughter was raised by good parents who gave her a good life – the kind of life I wouldn’t have been able to give her. I couldn’t have made that decision without the support of the counsellor at St. Mary’s. I am so thankful for the help I received at a time when I really needed it.”

Suzanne got back into contact with St. Mary’s Home on a “Seeing is Believing” tour for GCWCC volunteers. She decided to get involved with the agency and she now sits on its Board of Directors.

“My life has truly come full circle. This is what United Way does for young mothers — and many others. It turns their lives around and gives them back what they should have had from the beginning: dignity, a sense of well-being, belonging, and a place in society.”

Thanks to the GCWCC and its generous donors, people like Suzanne are able to access the support they need from organizations like St. Mary’s Home when they need it most.