Editor’s note: This is part four of a portrait series highlighting ordinary families in the community. Earlier this year, Sheridan Press photojournalist 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?
SHERIDAN — It can be a scary and troubling discovery for any teenage girl to find out she is unexpectedly pregnant. It was a bit more of a surprise for Savannah Donaldson since she thought that she would never conceive. She has a condition called Endometriosis, a pelvic inflammatory disease, which, in some cases, can lead to infertility.
Donaldson was only 16 at the time she got the news and wasn’t a stranger to trouble. Living between her dad’s place in Sheridan and her mother’s home in Florida compounded the instability in her life.
Despite that, Donaldson dreamed about graduating high school and going to college to pursue a profession in nursing.
Everything changed when she found out she was with child.
“My dreams were crushed,” Donaldson said. “I know it’s horrible to say, but that’s what I was feeling at that moment.”
But Donaldson decided to move forward with the pregnancy. Things had to change. She had to drop drinking, stop taking drugs and leave behind some friends.
“I had to grow up,” she said.
Maternity can be daunting for any first-time mother, but it was especially difficult for Donaldson.
Her mother was out of state, suffering from poor health. Donaldson was living with her dad, but she felt like she couldn’t talk to him about what was going on with her body.
“I felt like I was alone. It was depressing,” she said.
In March 2015, Donaldson brought her daughter, Addisson, into the world.
Donaldson’s mother was able to visit for a brief period to help her navigate the various responsibilities that come with parenthood, but she had to return to Florida.
Today, Donaldson is 18. She works a full-time job and baby sits to provide for Addisson, who is now an active 19-month-old girl who struts around the house like she owns the place.
When Donaldson leaves the house to work, her grandmother watches Addisson. But Donaldson said she hates being away from her daughter, a sentiment shared by many moms.
Donaldson describes their life as stable — pressing through the hard days and enjoying the good days.
“She keeps me going,” Donaldson said, watching her toddler play. “When I had her, my whole emotions changed.”
Donaldson describes her daughter as her best friend, someone who is always there. Finding solace in her daughter has been unexpected.
“Spend as much time with the baby as you can, because they’ll grow up to be little sassy things,” she said, laughing, about what advice she would give new parents.
Addisson is not even 2 years old and she shows her independence in many ways. Donaldson said her daughter often does her own thing and doesn’t include mom.
For young mothers, like Donaldson who became a mom when she was 16, she offers this advice: “You can’t focus on yourself anymore. There’s two of you now.”
She also stressed the important of preparing for the unexpected.
To recommend a family to be highlighted for this project, email firstname.lastname@example.org.