Moms share the joys and struggles of parenthood
EDITOR’S NOTE: We asked eight mothers from around New Mexico and the Navajo Reservation to reflect on their victories and challenges. Here are their stories.
Five boys bring lessons: ‘Love your babies … and have patience.’
By Angelica DePaula-Caje, Santa Fe
My birth family is Native from Mescalero — sisters, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, everyone — but I grew up here in Santa Fe. I had a fever when I was a baby, from meningitis, and it busted my ear drums and left me deaf. I was 1 or 2 years old. I was adopted and moved to Santa Fe when I was 4.
My adoptive family is not Native; they’re Spanish. My mom, she worked at the School for the Deaf, and my dad worked there, too. They’re all hearing. But my adopted family could all sign. I was lucky. I was able to learn, because my parents were educated, and I went to the School for the Deaf.
I have five kids. And they’re all boys. Can you imagine? The two older boys are gone. They fled the coop a while back! The oldest is almost 21, and my youngest, Manuel, is almost 2.
I am the only one in my family that’s deaf, but all my kids sign or are learning to sign. Manuel is trying now. He’ll do some gestures. The 8-year-old, most of the time he finger-spells. The 12-year-old, he’s a very good signer. My boyfriend, their dad, can sign, too.
With that first baby, it was kind of hard, but my mom and my brothers and my sisters really helped me. They showed me what to do.
Manuel is a happy boy. He’s easy. He just plays and plays. But I’m 41 now, and he’s my last one. I would love to have more, but really this is enough. I was kind of surprised when he came along, you know.
My advice to young mothers? Love your babies, play with them, and have patience.
Baby comes first: ‘Before anybody. Even me.’
By Amanda Powell, Hobbs
My childhood was pretty bad. My dad, he was in prison, in and out. And my mom was always there, but she was trying real hard to make ends meet, and I got taken away from her at the age of 12. I stayed in foster care for two years, then I went to the group home when I was 14, and I stayed there until I was 19.
I guess I was prepared to have a baby when Cameron came along. I had support. I mean, his father was not involved, but I had friends, and Humphrey House, the group home where I was staying, they provided everything.
They have a program there to help you as a young mom. And you can go live out there, as well, with your baby. So, I had my baby while I was there and three months later, I moved because there wasn’t have enough space.
It’s been challenging sometimes to be a mom. Like, whenever I got laid off, it was hard, you know, because Cameron needs diapers and new socks, everything. And now, he’s sick with the flu, and yeah, it’s worries and wondering if he’s going to be OK.
But my baby is a blessing. He changed me. Instead of worrying about other people, he’s my priority. He comes first. Before anybody. Even me. Before, I would do for others before I did for myself. But now I’m putting him first, and then me, and then everyone else. He taught me that. And for him, it’s going to be different than my childhood. I’m going to be there for him. I don’t do drugs or any of that stuff to make me distant from my son. I’m going to be there as a mother. I’m the only one he has.
Connected to Navajo culture: “So they understand where they come from.”
By Amanda Bennallie, Fort Defiance, Navajo Reservation
Growing up, I was geared towards working, school, getting a foundation. But when I came across my husband and had my first child, I was so happy, and we, we’re so glad that we ended up having three more. Now I feel that I was meant to be a mom.
I made the decision to be a stay-at-home mom when I was pregnant with my first, because I knew that my focus had to be on him and to protect him. And my mom, allowing us to stay here with her, it means a lot. She’s here for the kids, and my sister — she helps with teaching them Navajo and she gets to run and play with them.
It is very important for me to have my children know about their culture. That’s why we’re living here, so they understand where they come from. Because being lost is a very scary feeling, no matter if you’re a kid or an adult. In our culture, when you introduce yourself, you say your four clans, and with our clans we know we always have somebody who is going to be there, family-wise.
Connection with the land is a part of our culture. We not only respect other people, we respect the land and the creatures and even the plants. They are part of who we are. We get nourished and healed and protected by the elements around us. We are balanced with it all and understand it through our ceremonies, our stories. You get that knowledge and then you pass it to your kids.
There are so many things that are happening in this world, and I don’t have fear from it. We have ceremonies and traditions that help us with anything that comes along. I am very privileged to be here, and I love it.
Keeping the baby: ‘I fell in love.’
By Diana Martinez, Gallup
I was born in Mexico City. I was 7 when I first came to the United States with my mom. My dad was already here. Somehow, we just ended up here in Gallup. Liam is my first child, my only child. He’ll turn 3 years old in May, just a month before I turn 25.
When I got pregnant, I realized that I was not prepared at all to have a baby. The father — I call him the donor — wasn’t around or involved at all. During my pregnancy, I felt like, ‘My life isn’t stable at all, and this baby’s going to be a lot for me to handle right now.’ I wasn’t working enough hours, and I could barely support myself. I was like a child. So, I started looking into adoption.
I picked out the adoptive family, we met, and everything was ready to go. And then it was the delivery day, and the family was there — and my parents were just, like, ‘Nope, you’re not giving him for adoption!’
So, I agreed to keep the baby, and I fell in love with Liam, right away.
And now, I think it’s the best thing, having a little kid around to love — just having somebody there for me. Even though they don’t know it, babies really are there, supporting you. It’s hard sometimes, they can’t speak and it’s hard to figure out what they need when they get angry. You want to say them: ‘I don’t know what you need. I’m trying to figure it out.’
But I don’t want more kids. I don’t want to go through the whole thing again where I have to be sleep-deprived and change diapers and have so much responsibility. No, no — one time is enough.
Surviving hard times: ‘There is a better life.’
By Lisa Joe, near Window Rock, Navajo Reservation
I didn’t have a mom as I was growing up, and my father, all he did was work on the railroad. Then he got cancer and one day just passed away. And from there I had bad grief in me, and that’s the reason why, you know, I just pushed [my first five] kids away. I wasn’t prepared at all to be a mother. I just didn’t want to be bothered. I wanted to be left alone.
I used to sell jewelry to make ends meet, and then I started selling drugs, trying to make that money come to me. But it just got me more in trouble. But when my youngest, Nicholas, ended up in the ICU in Albuquerque at 4 months old, I just got tired of what I was doing to myself. I had nobody to cry to. So, one day I went down to the chapel and I cried everything out to the Lord, and that’s where I changed my life around.
So, after Nicholas got out of the hospital, I ended up going back to school and I got my GED diploma in 2016. And from there, a lot of things have been changing in my life – slowly, but you know, I just keep pushing at it.
And when I went through hard times, my fiancé was always there for me to support me and love me and show me that comfort. Even when I did the wrong things, he’s always been there for me.
So now I do street ministry down here at the flea market, to encourage the people who are drinking or dealing with drugs to stop; that’s what I do today. I continue to move forward because, like I tell them, there is a better life.
Once a crazy teenager: ‘He tamed me down.’
By Macy Sanchez, Hobbs
When I found out I was pregnant, I wasn’t prepared at all. I had meant to have kids later in life. When I was five months pregnant, I came here to Humphrey House from Albuquerque to have my baby. He’s 6 months old now, and I just turned 18. Being here has really helped me.
I liked being pregnant — except for getting fat. I liked feeling the baby move, so I already felt bonded with Zayden when he was born. But I really fell in love with him when they laid him on me.
Later, I was just overwhelmed. It’s gotten better, but being a mom is sometimes difficult because of my age and not having his dad in his life. I’ll get frustrated sometimes, but it’s nothing really serious. The love part overrides the hard part.
Everything Zayden does makes me happy. He is a silly baby, but he’s really loving. Before I had him, I used to be a crazy teenager, but he changed my life. He tamed me down. And now I’m like, ‘Gotta make some money, gotta get my degree!’ Because I want him to have the best life.
I go to school from 8 to 4, finishing up my senior year of high school. After school I go to work from 5 until 12 or 1. So he’s in day care most of the day. I work at Wendy’s. I hate it.
Once I graduate, I’ll get a job for a while and then start taking college courses online. I’ll save up, and, once I feel prepared to leave, I’ll go back home to Rio Rancho.
I’m blessed to have Zayden. It gets stressful sometimes, but I love motherhood. I definitely want to have another kid — but not right now.
Already Famous: ‘The name fits him.’
By Nika Agee, Hobbs
I was raised primarily by my grandmother. My parents were both drug-addicted, so it was kind of up and down with them. When we were with my grandmother, we had a great life. She took care of us, loved us. But when my parents would come to try to be parents again, it was a rough life.
I don’t think anybody is ever prepared to be a mom, really, and I wasn’t, either. I had Famous when I was 19. I always wanted to have children, but I had wanted to wait until I was older. But I fell in love with Famous before I even laid eyes on him. To feel him kick — it started then. And we have a strong bond. He’s a momma’s boy. I’m glad I have him now.
At first it was a struggle for me — physically, mentally, emotionally — because his father and I weren’t together. I don’t have any family out here at all, so there was no family around to support me at first. It was just me and Famous. So that was the tough part of it. But his father and I are together now, and he is very involved in Famous’ life. It’s better.
I was nervous about naming him Famous at first. I’m like, is he going to live up to that? Is he going to have this name and then be this little quiet baby? But Famous has the biggest personality. The name fits him.
Going on instinct: ‘Like a lion protecting a cub.’
By Sidney Dominguez, Las Cruces
I was born in Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua and raised in Gomez Farias. My daughter Adelynn Dominguez is 10 months old and I am 23.
I didn’t always want to have kids. I wanted to go into border patrol or law enforcement. I wanted to wait on having children. But then I found out I was pregnant. So, she was a surprise. I was not prepared at all, but I was like, yeah, we can do this.
The birth was the most awful pain experience ever, but as soon as Adelynn was born, and my brother cut the umbilical cord and they put her on my chest, I couldn’t stop looking at her. She was the most beautiful thing ever and it was like, oh, my god! She is mine and that’s it.
Las Cruces is a good place to have a kid because it’s a small town and you know everybody. And it’s close to Juarez, where my brother is at, and Albuquerque, where I have more family. My mom and my brother have always been there to help. My mom started buying Adelynn clothes since I was a month or two pregnant — little boy clothes because she wanted to have a little boy.
You can never be ready to have a baby until it happens, and then you just do everything and anything you can. If it happens as a surprise, like it happened to me, you’ll be scared. I was scared. You might rely on other people, and it’s helpful to have somebody there, but if you don’t, it’s OK. You will find a way. Like a lion protecting a cub.
Being a mom is unexplainable. There are no words that can describe the feeling. You just love another human more than you’ll ever love anything else.