When Ashley Auld was pregnant, her health care provider referred her to a program that offers support to pregnant and parenting young mothers. She didn’t know at the time, but the program would help her through one of the most difficult times in her life.
Shortly after Auld gave birth to her son Ryan in 2010, doctors discovered a tumor on her spinal cord and they didn’t know if it was cancerous.
“I went into surgery at 20 years old being told that I may not walk. I may be in a walking boot for the rest of my life if they had to splice the nerve,” the Beverly native said.
Auld was fortunate. The tumor was benign, she was able to walk after the operation, and she had a great support system through Connecting Young Moms (CYM), a program at Beverly Hospital which links pregnant and parenting teens and young adult mothers with limited resources to pre and post-natal programs. CYM will hold a 20th anniversary celebration Saturday from 2-4:30 p.m. in the Beverly Hospital Lecture Hall as a testament to two decades of changing lives. Current and past participants are encouraged to attend.
“They were very helpful through my recovery,” Auld said. “Everyone helped me push the carriage. Coming to group was really important to me at that time and it really helped me feel like I wasn’t alone.”
CYM has been provided by Beverly Hospital since the pilot program was launched in 1996. Along with its support group, the program offers educational programs, emergency assistance and doula support. The program – run by Jodie Berry, LCCE, LSW; Kelli Braga, LICSW; and Donna Desmond, LICSW – has received strong donor support from the Friends of Beverly Hospital, local foundations, churches and private individuals.
“CYM continues to provide an important safety net for at-risk and underserved young women facing the many challenges of young parenthood,” Desmond said. “We are incredibly proud of the legacy of advocacy and support that CYM has provided to hundreds of vulnerable young families across the North Shore.”
CYM staff are strong advocates for furthering education and training for young mothers. CYM offers an educational assistance program providing small scholarships, job training and group workshops in an effort to break the cycle of poverty and neglect.
Meghan Ghirardi, an Essex resident, joined CYM 10 years ago when she was pregnant with her daughter, Anabel, and benefitted from the program’s education assistance program by taking classes at North Shore Community College in Danvers.
“From that point when I started going to school, I was a very different person,” she said. “There weren’t a lot of opportunities for me and just going to school and everything that came after that, it was like a slow evolution of opening up to getting more education and finding out what I found rewarding.”
Ghirardi said the program’s welcoming atmosphere eased her concerns about asking questions regarding childbirth and motherhood.
“She was born and the umbilical cord was weird,” Ghirardi said. “I was young and I didn’t have anybody to ask and I remember going and being like ‘Jodie, is this normal?’ There were just these little things like that to be connected to other people where you’re able to ask stuff like that.”
Since then, Ghirardi’s passion has been teaching yoga, which she has done for the past two years. She’s taught in a studio in Gloucester, in recovery homes, and for people with intellectual disabilities. Auld now works as an EMT and has aspirations to become a paramedic or firefighter.
The Connecting Young Moms program continues to be a life-changing resource for young at-risk mothers struggling to provide a safe and healthy home for their children.