These words characterize Lakewood mama, Shante Bigelow, who just birthed Baby Number Four at home.
Shante’s is a unique story, one of trial and hardship. As a teen mom, she faced unbelievable challenges, but through her own determination, a little help from others, and her deep faith, she found a strength to thrive in ways many of us can only imagine.
I’ve known Shante since she was a mother of two and have observed in her a patience and grace that deeply inspires me. I was thrilled when she agreed to a newborn photo shoot (because her babies are just beautiful) and to an interview (because her heart is also beautiful); it gives me the chance to share some of her wisdom with others.
Here’s a taste from our chat a few days ago:
Holly Freeman Photography: Your story is unique, what do you feel like are the most important aspects of it?
Shante: I was 16 and into things I shouldn’t have been, and having Bella so young really forced me into a place where I needed to make a decision: “Am I going to get my life together now that I have another person depending on me?”
And I made the right choice! I ended the abusive relationship I was in, knowing that I had the support of my own family, but they also made it clear from the start that Bella was my child, my responsibility. They were not going to raise her for me, which is exactly how it should have been. It forced me to get it together.
I did not want to be a stereotype, so I finished high school and went to college. I searched out resources and found ways to help myself. There were friends from church who helped out, there was government assistance, but I knew that wasn’t a life I wanted to live, being on food stamps, that kind of thing.
As far as my story being unique, I’d say I never had a chance to know my adult life before children. I was a child when I had a child, and that’s not a complaint, it just made me grow up quickly. That’s not good or bad, it just is what it is.
HFP: What do you love about being the mother of four?
Shante: Adding a fourth was much easier because it’s like she joined a crew, she’s just someone else here. The kids are fun, and very often they entertain one another. When people think of large families, they think of having five toddlers at once. But older children can be helpful, and at the same time they are learning to care for others.
I love my children. Even before I had my first, I knew I wanted to be a mom, and not JUST a mom. There’s no such thing. I wanted to raise my kids, be home with them. I had a vision that involved homeschooling and all those things, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to achieve that as a single mom. Then I met my husband and we had the same idea of what he wanted in a wife and what I wanted in a husband. The Lord provided, and now I am able to live the life I wanted to live.
HFP: I love that your dream was to be a mother and you’ve found that dream fulfilled. There have to be hard days, though, especially with a newborn. Can you tell us a little about what self-care looks like for you, or if that applies to your reality right now?
Shante: I’m learning how critically important self-care is at this stage—that I literally can’t function—unless I take care of myself. I am learning to prioritize my own mental health, which people don’t want to talk about—like it means you have a problem, and that is just not the case. You need to make sure you’re eating, drinking water--very basic things that mothers of newborns often forget. I know I have more anxiety and frustration with my children if I forget to take care of myself.
Also, self-care doesn’t need to be about going to a spa and getting my nails done. To me, it’s about doing things because I can do them. For example, I’m going to buy these flowers or this room spray, yes! Because they make me happy. Little things can mean real self-care.
HFP: It’s so interesting that you mentioned sensory things that make you happy— sights and scents. Can you speak a bit about images and why you choose to decorate with pictures of your family, why you were interested in a newborn photo shoot?
I think pictures give the family a sense of belonging, they show your children you value them and that you value your family. Also, they communicate to the people who come into your home what is important to you.
I appreciate beauty, photos of landscapes—and I have those around my house too—but what I want to be reminded of everyday is that we are a family. This is the most important part of my life, serving and caring for the people around me. The images help me see it as a blessing and a joy.
When I see pictures of my kids as babies, it stirs my heart, and when I’m dealing with preteen or toddler stuff, I can look at those pictures and remember what motherhood is. The hard work we do is so meaningful: one day we are going to send them out into the world and they are going to impact other people. Don’t give up on them!
HFP: Inviting someone into your home when you have a newborn can be a very vulnerable thing, especially for a photo shoot. Was there anything that made you nervous anticipating the photo session?
Shante: Because you had communicated that the house didn’t need to be perfect, I wasn’t nervous about you coming. We really only needed a small part of the house for the shoot, and we were able to figure that out together when you got here. And then you had the equipment you needed to get beautiful images of the baby and the whole family.
HFP: Shante, thank you so much for sharing your precious time with me this afternoon, and for sharing your words of wisdom with all of us.
Shante: No problem. Happy to do it.
One of the organizations that helped Shante when she was a teen mom is called Hope House.
"Hope House is metro-Denver’s only resource providing free self-sufficiency programs to teen moms, including Residential, GED, and College & Career Programs. Additional supportive services include parenting and healthy relationship classes, life skills workshops and certified counseling, all designed to prepare them for long-term independence."
I hope you’ll take a minute to check out their website. During the months of February and March 10% of all newborn session fees will go to Hope House to support the awesome work they do for Colorado’s teen moms.