Isolated by the pandemic, these young moms are now leaning on each other online

Mylene Dionne-Pellerin used to rely on her mother to hold the baby while she took a break or got chores. With the pandemic still raging, that's not an option, but a non-profit group in Châteauguay is offering a helping hand to her and other young mothers.

South Shore organization offers virtual support group for young mothers

Mylene Dionne-Pellerin says she isn't getting the help with her kids that she is used to, but at least she can look forward to meeting virtually other mothers every Thursday. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC)

Mylene Dionne-Pellerin never pictured raising her two boys cut off from almost everyone during a pandemic.

"You expect to visit people. To show people your babies and expect people to be able to come to your house," said the 23-year-old.

She said COVID-19 means her mother can't even "hold the baby while I rest or do something else."

The public health guidelines have made it hard for young mothers who, in normal times, would be able to turn to loved ones and friends for a helping hand.

So a non-profit organization on Montreal's South Shore has created a virtual space for women like Dionne-Pellerin to gather.

Options Pregnancy Centre, located in Châteauguay, offers free support to young women, men and families as they navigate unplanned pregnancy. The organization provides services such as prenatal education, lactation support and even a boutique that offers free maternity and kids' clothes.

With the pandemic stripping young families of extra help at home, the centre realized it was time to offer a new form of support.

Facing challenges alone

Young moms already face a lot of challenges raising children while balancing school and work, but the pandemic has made it particularly challenging, said Sue McVeigh DiBiaso, a spokesperson for the group.

"We've really offered an opportunity for these girls to just share their days with each other," McVeigh DiBiaso said.

"It might be, 'hey this happened with my little one, I don't know what to do.' And so the girls will all be able to chime in and rally together."

McVeigh DiBiaso said going virtual has also helped bring in more women, who might otherwise have been too shy to join. There are Facebook presentations, regular Zoom meetings and group chats.

Sue McVeigh DiBiaso, a spokesperson for Options, said being a young mom is hard enough, but the pandemic has made it particularly challenging. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC)

Though much of the organization's services have gone online, the organization is still offering plenty of support both virtually and on site — all for free. Without government funding, the organization relies on donations to maintain its programming. 

As for Dionne-Pellerin, she is now expecting her third child and says the community group has been a big help.

And she's looking forward to more sessions with the other young mothers, she said. 

"It's a special day," she said. "I wait for Thursday and I get to see my friends even if it is by phone. Not exactly the same, but at least it gets us out of the routine."

Taking comfort in each other

Those new friends include Jessica Labonté, who also has two young boys. Labonté had her first child when she was 16 and now, at 22, she said she misses going to her parents' house for a break.

"I used to go to my mom for help," she said.

"I live in an apartment and we don't really have a yard. So at my mom's house, they have a huge fenced-in yard, and more space. I'd just bring my kids there because I'd be so overwhelmed in my small apartment."

Jessica Labonté had her first when she was 16 and her second at 18. She says the pandemic has forced her to rely on the TV as an activity more often than she'd like. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC)

She also misses one-on-one interactions. The pandemic has taken a mental toll, she said, and being stuck at home this winter has been tough, as she normally likes to be out, keeping her kids entertained.

"They've been watching a lot of TV," she said with a nervous laugh, admitting it's something she feels guilty about.

She said she has appreciated the activities organized by Options, which has even been bringing bags full of gifts and activities to do with her children. Being virtual is not quite the same as being with people, she said, but it's been nice to share tips, advice and stories.

"We're still able to help each other out," Labonté said. "But we really can't wait for things to open back up again."

based on a report by Chloë Ranaldi

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