Before Jamie Raisor, 19, gave birth to her daughter, Ashirah, now 2, and before 18-year-old Christin Deloach became a mom to her daughter, Zyonna, now 1, both were typical teenagers at Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Neither ever thought she would become pregnant as a teen. Then a year apart they did.
The high school classmates crossed paths again when they met Ann Puccetti, program director of Parenthesis Family Center's Parenteen program. On Wednesdays, with about 14 other teen moms, age 13 to 20, they gather in a safe space to learn what it means to be a parent 24/7 from Puccetti and staff — and, of course, each other.
"I thought I would be a regular teenager, go off to college like my friends and get married and have kids at age 26 or 27 maybe," says Raisor, who lives with her mother and also has support from the father of Ashira and his family. "Now I wouldn't change anything at all, but it really is not easy. I was scared up until the point when she was born. Then I just snapped into it. So I was able to focus on my studies and graduate in January of my senior year and take classes at Triton College because I still had access to daycare at OPRF."
The ability to gather with a group of new friends with babies, she adds, was a lot easier than being with her old friends who were still living normal teen life.
"These girls don't have to act like they know what you are talking about. They actually do know what you are talking about," Raisor says.
In addition, Pucetti and her staff are always available for support with baby clothes, diapers, wipes, and so on, she says.
Growing up fast
Deloach became pregnant when she moved south to Chicago to live with her dad during her senior year. For her, being a member of the Class of 2011 meant kicking off the school year with a pregnancy and ending it with a diploma and baby Zyonna's birth, one week prior to graduation.
Last year, she moved back to Oak Park to live with her mom, attend Harold Washington College, and hold down a part-time job while raising her daughter. Deloach met Puccetti three days after Zyonna was born and became involved in the program a couple of weeks after that.
"Everybody knows that having a baby requires a lot of patience," says Puccetti, "and that is something Christin realized in the beginning. I am really, really proud of her, and the strides she has made in being the best mother she can be to Zyonna." On the other hand, Puccetti says, teasing Raisor, "Jamie was a cranky pregnant person, very cranky. I would say, though, that Jamie has surprised herself in the patience she has with Ashirah, and how she responds to her. Ashirah just turned 2 in July, and Jamie toilet-trained her over the course of a weekend."
Very soon, Deloach will set out to pursue a career in the U.S. Navy. Though leaving her daughter behind with her mother during basic training is bittersweet, the separation will be short lived, as she and Zyonna will reunite wherever she is assigned.
"You can still do great things with your life, regardless what cards you were dealt," says Raisor, now in her second year at Triton College, with plans to pursue a degree in physical therapy at UIC. "It's all about your determination, and the goals you set for yourself … because that is really the only thing that matters in the end."