Editor’s note: This is the second part of a portrait series highlighting ordinary families in the community. To recommend a family to be highlighted for this project, please email email@example.com.
SHERIDAN — Earlier this year, Sheridan Press photographer Justin Sheely started a project to highlight families in Sheridan County. He asked local families several questions: How has having children for the first time changed their lives? What are the challenges they face? What advice would they offer to new parents or those about to have their world changed forever?
In an outpatient recovery group at a mental health center, two unlikely individuals met.
It was the winter of 2012 in Sheridan. Both had treaded similar paths of battling addictions, substance abuse, multiple probations and a seemingly endless road to recovery.
“It’s not the best place to meet up,” Lynn Leetch said, laughing.
Leetch had just finished her 15-month prison sentence at an Intensive Treatment Unit. She had been actively addicted to alcohol and various drugs since she was 10 years old. She grew up in a life that led to predictable legal consequences.
Leetch was given several chances by her probation officer, but addiction kept pulling her back.
Killian Leetch was on probation. Marijuana and other drug abuse had plagued his adolescence followed by a series of probations.
At age 17, in an effort to clean up, he tried the Youth Challenge Program, a bootcamp-style program offered for at-risk youth.
Killian Leetch graduated from the program with a GED and moved back to Sheridan to live with his grandparents but soon found himself back with old friends and drug abuse patterns.
The Leetches shared similar struggles and were in recovery on a common mission. They both desired to rise above the cycle of addiction. After meeting, a relationship began.
A motivation for recovery
Several months later, Lynn Leetch was taking classes at Sheridan College when she discovered that she was pregnant. She had suffered two miscarriages before. She was scared.
Whatever had moved the Leetches to overcome addiction in the past, paled in comparison to wanting to raise a child in a clean home.
Lynn Leetch had experienced relapses since her time in treatment, but being pregnant brought fresh fire to her determination.
“I was pushing myself,” she said. “Being pregnant, going to school, I did not want to drop out. I wanted to have babies, but I also wanted to support them with a career.”
With that pressure came stress and anxiety — compounded by an ongoing struggle with depression. Lynn Leetch found herself relapsing, again.
“I put my life in danger, and I put my baby’s life in danger when I [started using],” Lynn Leetch said. “You think I would have learned by then.”
She decided to withdraw from school. In May of 2014, Mázi was born.
“I am amazed that she was born perfectly healthy,” she said.
Months into her second pregnancy, Lynn Leetch gave into substance abuse yet again. That time she was charged for driving under the influence, but it proved to be a blessing in disguise. She went to a treatment program at Volunteers of America and has not fallen back into addiction since.
“Something clicked, finally,” Lynn Leetch said.
In June of 2015, the Leetch family had another healthy baby girl, Ella.
Recovery also meant avoiding company of old friends, and, more challenging, some family members.
For Killian Leetch, relapsing isn’t an option. The consequences of using weren’t immediately obvious during his youth, but now he has a family.
“I have a different mindset now than when I was 19,” he said.
Now 23, married and raising children, Killian Leetch said he has to think ahead and consider the consequences of his actions. Especially now, on the homestretch of a four-year probation — going back to jail would be devastating.
Not the only struggle
The Leetches married in January 2014, months before their first daughter came into their lives.
Killian Leetch works full time, helping with feeding the children at late hours of the night and changing diapers.
“I used to sleep during the night,” Killian Leetch joked.
Providing for the family financially has proven to be a tremendous burden for Killian Leetch, especially since the wages he brings in do not meet the cost of living. The Leetch family is currently living on state assistance.
“The financial strife has been the hardest on our relationship,” Lynn Leetch said.
Lynn Leetch now faces the task of paing off her student loan debt. Soon, the Leetches will have their third child.
The financial burdens, child-rearing and sleep loss all bring stress, which leads to temptation to fall back to the very addictions they have worked so hard to overcome. It is a daily struggle for both parents.
But Lynn Leetch said she would not trade it in for the world. The couple’s love for the children can be seen in their dedication to recovery groups, devotion to their faith, and efforts to provide for their children and to stay clean.
Parental advice from the Leetch family
For husbands, Lynn Leetch offers this advice: “Love on your wife,” she said. “You can’t understand what we are going through [when pregnant].”
“Tell her that she is beautiful every day — we need that,” she added.
For Killian Leetch, he is happy that his kids are warm, well fed and happy.
“They should experience joy but don’t always have to be happy – don’t give them a smartphone,” he said.
Killian Leetch laughs. The parents have been trying to keep their 2-year-old daughter from developing an addiction, of sorts, to the smartphone.