We had the honour of sitting down with one strong Mama recently who bravely shared her story of resilience, love and compassion. We first met Celena several years ago when she came to us for support as she was expecting her son, Grayson. Earlier this year, we were thrilled to see her again, but this time as a staff member of the Mamas for Mamas Vancouver team, helping families in need and developing a partnership with us to make the most impact for both of our organizations.
Grab the Kleenex, a cup of coffee and prepare to be encouraged and inspired by this incredible woman. Determined to rise over and over again, this is her story.
“When I was little, my family — my sisters and I with my mom — uprooted from Ontario and moved to BC. I was with my mom until I was 12 and then I was out on my own, homeless and living on the streets behind a bowling alley for about 3-4 months. After that, I ended up going into foster care. Once I was placed into care, I bounced all over the system — not ever feeling secure. Nowhere felt like home. That was probably the hardest time of my life, going in and out of homes. I got in trouble lots and started hanging out with very rough crowds. I met someone that got me into dealing drugs and I was arrested at a very young age. I still remember feeling absolutely terrified. The officer at the time was doing my finger prints, I was around 16 years old, and he said, “you don’t belong here.” Once I was released, I went to court and the judge told me I still had time to change my life and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have a life. I took his advice and started to work on my behaviours. It took years of ups and downs but I kept moving forward. I went to an adult learning centre, graduated, kept up my education, went to college, graduated and started talking to teens about street smarts and told my story to help other kids stay away from that lifestyle.
Five years ago, I found out my father had died by suicide and at that point, I made it my mission to help others however I could. It was right before I was pregnant with Grayson. It hit hard as I was walking into work when I got the call about him. I truly believe that a lot of my strength is him grounding me and moving me forward. At that time, I had been with my ex for some time, but things fell through between us when I was about 3 months pregnant and he left. When we split up, I felt completely lost. He has never paid child support and I don’t have other support here, so I was on my own. It wasn’t a good situation. I had been working as an Student Counselor and addictions worker on Vancouver’s downtown eastside and was also working evenings at a local restaurant until 1 or 2 in the morning, just trying to figure things out. The whole time I was just stressed about saving enough money for my son and being prepared. The process of not knowing what was going to happen and being on my own, it was scary. I think that’s the word for all of it: scary. But I just kept trying, I just kept going. I had to. At that point, I was feeling overwhelmed because I didn’t have any family nearby that could help out and I didn’t have anything for Grayson. I knew I needed help. My mom was my only family support.
I connected with a public health nurse through Fraser Health who referred me to BabyGoRound. Getting my appointment empowered me because as soon as I was able to ask for help and support, I received it. And there was no judgement when I arrived — it was women supporting women and I walked in there and it was just smiles, helping me pick out the items I would need. It was really uncomfortable for me at first, to ask for help, and then it was ok.
I left there in tears because I knew me and my son were ok. It was an overwhelming feeling.
Once I received the help from BabyGoRound just before Grayson was born, I felt more confident. It was just amazing, I was greeted well. It was much more than just equipment. I got clothes, a stroller, a brand new crib and I had everything so well set up for him — it took that stress and relief off of me because I didn’t have any of that before.
I think birth was the scariest part. My water broke just after 2am, I called a friend and I was taken to Royal Columbian. The nurses kept reassuring me it would be okay. My mother was there beside me the whole time, she never left my side and held my hand. Hours into labour they gave me an epidural also tried to speed up the process as I would not dilate past 3 cm, I was exhausted! The doctors and nurses kept saying, “soon”, eventually time passed and the doctors noticed Grayson’s heart beat dropping and they knew he needed some help. I was taken in for a caesarian. The doctor wheeled me in and he kept reassuring me. After Grayson was born, they plopped him down and said, ‘BIG BABY!’ [Celena laughs] He was a solid healthy boy. They placed me in my room and my mom came up and said he was in the ICU as he sucked in some fluids and the nurses were going to let me rest. In the morning, I was able to go down and see him. I cried tears of joy as I held my son, he’s the love of my life. I did however laugh as my son looked like a big turkey in this little incubator [Celena chuckles again]. I was looking at him and in that moment it was just like, ‘This is real.’ I was so happy. It was so surreal and I got him home and I don’t think I ever put him down, I was so in love with him. During the first year I just focused on him. It was scary and unpredictable, but I knew I needed to not stress out so I could take care of Grayson.
I ran into a problem with him having a tongue tie and he wouldn’t latch. BabyGoRound was there for me again and gave me a brand new breast pump. It gave me that sense of relief that all those donations do go to families like myself who need it.
Not having child support, I didn’t know what else to do. BabyGoRound was the only thing I knew could help me at that time.
After Grayson was a certain age, I went back for my second appointment and also returned the things we didn’t need anymore so someone else could benefit from them. I just wanted to find a way to give back, knowing how much it had helped me.
Later, my stroller unfortunately broke and I received one from Mamas for Mamas. Shannon, [founder and CEO of Mamas for Mamas] actually sent me one all the way from Kelowna when she heard my story, I couldn’t believe it. I needed a dresser and learned there was a local chapter, so I connected with Anna Carr, the Resources Coordinator here. Anna got me a dresser, even helping me bring it in. She asked me if I wanted to volunteer with the community garden and that’s where it all started. Eventually I started volunteering with Grayson in the community garden and helping with swaps. I started doing more for Mamas for Mamas and they gave me the North Delta Resource Coordinator position and later, moved me up to Greater Vancouver Partnerships Coordinator. Now I get to connect with other businesses to help us grow and reach more families.
The first thing I thought of when I started with Mamas was connecting with BabyGoRound, that was where it all started for me. I wanted to make a meaningful connection because I knew both teams working together could impact so many more families sharing resources back and forth. I want Grayson to thrive in the environment and learn to give back himself. I think that in working together not only are we impacting families together, but we are also making sure as non-profit organizations that we look after each other.
We want to impact the mamas out there that are scared to ask for help, crush any stigma around low income families and single mothers, while giving a hand up not a hand out.
Sharing resources is teamwork and that’s what I see when BabyGoRound and Mamas work together — we are building up our culture of kindness. The BabyGoRound and Mamas for Mamas partnership together is beautiful, as a team we are excited to do great things together.
Walking back into BabyGoRound again a couple months ago [as a staff member at Mamas for Mamas] was overwhelming, thinking about where I am now and remembering where I started. It’s just crazy. This isn’t just a job to me, it’s a passion — helping families in need. There are mothers out there in worse situations than I am in, or was in, and I just want to support them and make it better for them, to let them know that we’re here for them. I know I’m in the right spot in my life, this has been a dream come true. Steve Jobs once said, ‘if you are working on something that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.’
If you told me this is where I would be 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. I want people to know when they donate, they change lives. It impacts families in ways you don’t see.
My son is loved and is my world, he is the reason I work hard to make our lives better and better each day.
Every day when I wake up, I feel good knowing that we’ve got a family who’s got what they need because of the work we do together as a team, to help a family that didn’t know what was going to happen the next day. When I think about the amount of families we’re able to help by doing this, it’s amazing! This is how my story started, through BabyGoRound. I don’t even know where I would be without it. I want other moms to feel like they can do it too and turn things around. My whole purpose now is to empower other moms. My daily motivation is ‘I envision a world where no mama is left behind’ which is a quote by Shannon Christensen. There are resources out there for you and it’s ok to ask for help when you need it. I didn’t know that it was ok for a long time, and I think other people need to hear that too sometimes. For other single moms, it’s nice to tell my story because I feel like I can relate and they can feel comfortable. I just want women who may be in a difficult situation to believe that they can do it. I look back and used to think I wish I could change it, now I don’t want to change a thing because each step, each scar and tear made me who I am today. No matter what life throws at you, never give up.”