Young parents connect at special class

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Once a week, a handful of students at Kalispell’s alternative high schools find support they can’t get anywhere else.

The parenting class offered for Bridge Academy and Laser School students provides a place for young mothers and fathers to talk about parenthood in a nonjudgmental space.

It’s a place where they can find comfort and encouragement from peers who know exactly what they’re going through, and a chance to swap war stories about birth in all its gory details, from stretch marks to delivery.

Young parents at the schools have long had a connection with the local Mothers of Preschoolers group, but between being full-time parents, full-time students and often at least part-time employees, it’s difficult for students to make the meetings, counselor Marlene Stauffer said. She thought a class at the school might be of value to young parents.

Stauffer’s schedule placed her at Laser just one day a week, and she wanted to make the most of her time. Besides, she said, “There is a need.”

A recent class had six teenagers: one 17-year-old father, three young mothers with babies ranging from 2 months to 8 months old and two expectant mothers.

One, Brittany Ferguson, is due Dec. 26, but after describing the results from her latest doctor’s appointment, her classmates agreed baby Kaylynn Michelle could arrive earlier.

“Any day now!” said Ashlyn Alkire, whose son Jace is 2 months old.

Ferguson shrugged when Stauffer asked if she felt ready. She said in a way she was ready, but she was still nervous about the delivery.

“The first time I watched the birthing video, I called [the baby’s father] and I was crying. He was all, ‘What’s wrong?’” Ferguson said. She told him, “I just watched a scary movie.”

The mothers in the room tried to put Ferguson at ease. Jeri Marsh told her that she had been nervous the month before she gave birth to her daughter, Rhileigh Jo, but her fears melted in the delivery room.

“There was so much going on in the room, there wasn’t really time for me to be nervous,” Marsh said.

Hearing real-life stories like those is one reason Stauffer was so eager to offer the class.

“It lets them have a voice,” she said, adding that she has heard from more than one student, “I’m just glad that I can talk to other young girls.”

They talk about everything from what pregnancy and parenthood demand, physically and mentally, to what they’ve faced with friends and family. All the young parents said they have supportive families, but true friends have been harder to find.

Some of her friends were at least outwardly supportive when they found out she was pregnant, Ferguson said. But many of those so-called pals have disappeared. Alkire said she experienced the same thing.

Several girls praised their mothers for being willing to help watch their babies so they could go to school.

“It’s really convenient. It’s great that my mom does that,” Marsh said.

Most students in the class still live with their parents, so they talk quite a bit about how to balance being a mother with being a daughter, Stauffer said.

“They don’t want their mothers raising their kids, but they want to raise their kids with their mothers’ help,” she said.

The class also talks about what happens after graduation. Many are on track to graduate within the next couple of months.

Stauffer asks the students to think about setting goals: “What goals do you have, not only as a parent, but as a person?”

Marsh, who plans to graduate in February, doesn’t know yet what she will do when she’s out of school and said she isn’t really looking forward to getting a “real job.” Ferguson is making plans to go to college next fall but hasn’t yet figured out who will watch her baby while she’s in class.

There are no easy answers, and Stauffer doesn’t tell any of the young parents what to do. She occasionally offers advice or tells stories from her own experience as a mother; her children are now 19 and 21.

But what she provides most is a safe place for the young parents to connect with one another.

“It helps them stay strong,” she said.

Reporter Kristi Albertson may be reached at 758-4438 or at kalbertson@dailyinterlake.com.

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