Abigail Hulce, 19, left, with daughter, Kya Lankford, 2 months, and PEPS group leader Holly McCallum at Lundeen Park on July 27 in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Abigail Hulce, 19, left, with daughter, Kya Lankford, 2 months, and PEPS group leader Holly McCallum at Lundeen Park on July 27 in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Teen moms lean on one another in peer support program

“You see these moms and they’re doing it,” said Abigail Hulce, 19. “It gives you hope.”

ARLINGTON — Abigail Hulce felt her baby moving around 4 a.m. the day she was scheduled to go to the hospital so labor could be induced.

She went to school. She had work to do so she wouldn’t fall behind. Pains worsened as the day went on. When she got to the hospital later, she learned she’d likely been in labor for hours.

Her daughter, Kya, was born June 5.

Hulce, 19, already had spent months preparing for motherhood with the help of other young moms. In a time when she felt alone, a new parenting support group reminded her that she could persevere.

She was part of the first year of the Program for Early Parent Support, or PEPS, in Snohomish County. It’s a pilot project based on something similar in King County. PEPS here is a combined effort with Cocoon House, Compass Health, the Snohomish Health District, Crossroads High School in Granite Falls and the Seattle-based PEPS nonprofit.

It’s low-barrier mental health support for teen moms, said Holly McCallum, a behavioral health therapist with Compass Health who leads the gatherings. It’s also a chance for them to learn about healthy parenting and child development.

“A lot of the information teen moms get is top down,” McCallum said. “It’s someone telling you what to do with your baby … PEPS is not a top-down model. It’s peer support.”

McCallum already was leading a group for moms who were staying at Cocoon House. The organization wanted to reach more young mothers, and PEPS offered a way to do so.

The first PEPS group met this past fall. The second finished in May. The program is set to continue in the coming school year.

Currently, it includes Crossroads students and teens who are served by Cocoon House. The goal is to offer it to more moms, McCallum said, and eventually to dads.

The meetings are held at the school, once a week for 12 weeks per session. They are open to pregnant teens and new moms.

Hulce got involved after she became a Crossroads student. She was part of the group while pregnant and learned a lot that helped her prepare for Kya’s arrival.

The first gathering she went to, she wasn’t sure what to expect.

“All these moms came in with their babies and we just started talking,” she said. “How was your day? What was the high point? What was the low?”

When it came to parenting, teens talked about what was working for them and what wasn’t.

She kept coming back because the group was open and encouraging.

“You see these moms and they’re doing it,” she said. “It gives you hope.”

Connections among PEPS mothers can lead to longterm, informal support groups, so they’ll have people to turn to, even after the program, said Rachel Mathison with Cocoon House.

“A lot of our youth have experienced trauma and this is about promoting resiliency and healing during an important time for the babies and moms,” she said.

PEPS is a cozy group, McCallum said. They sit on the floor in a circle. They cover a mix of topics: reading to babies, child nutrition, interacting with infants through music. There are recipes for homemade baby food. They talk about emotional changes and challenges, including postpartum depression and anxiety.

During one of the get-togethers, a boy started crawling for the first time.

Hulce, of Lake Stevens, is a semester shy of graduating high school.

After graduation, she plans to go to college.

It’s not only her education she’s focused on. During one PEPS meeting, they talked about the importance of early literacy for children.

“I went and bought a bunch of baby books,” Hulce said. “I read Kya like five books before bed every night.”

Hulce said many friends she had before pregnancy no longer hang out with her. The stigma that comes with being a teen mom can be isolating.

She wants new moms, especially young moms, to know that they don’t have to be on their own.

“I felt like I was alone and no one would help me,” Hulce said. “But I quickly realized I am not alone.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

Donations

Cocoon House accepts donations for moms and babies. Examples include diapers and baby spoons for babies, and also soap, nail polish and journals for moms.

To learn more or ask about making a donation, call 425-259-5802 ext. 123, or email info@cocoonhouse.org.

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