Kenzie Stewart with nine-month-old daughter Nova. Stewart is learning the ropes as a new mother. Rose of Sharon is helping Stewart on her path, as it has for countless young mothers and their children over the years. Photos by Michael Swan

For the love of a mother

  • May 11, 2023

Kenzie Stewart loves being a mother. She loves the time she spends with her nine-month-old daughter Nova. As a mother, she has come to understand herself in a new light and learned to look to the future with new seriousness and greater hope.

Though this sounds typical for a first-time mother, Stewart is not at all typical. She gave birth to Nova when she was 14 years old. As the 15-year-old celebrates her first Mother’s Day, she spends her time newly engaged in high school, after refusing to attend school since Grade 7, when she was 12.

Stewart’s partner in building a new life with Nova is the Rose of Sharon, a Newmarket, Ont.-based Catholic Charities agency that serves young, marginalized mothers north of Toronto. The 300 women up to the age of 29 who have turned to the Rose of Sharon so far this year have been able to find child care, a food bank, a clothing bank, a full high school program offered through the York Catholic District School Board, job search help, help finding an apartment, nutrition advice, cooking classes, counselling and most of all a community of peers who understand the life they’re living.

“It’s rough, sometimes,” Stewart told The Catholic Register.

Stewart’s 14-year-old self used to imagine she would have children when she was an established, confident, accomplished adult, “when I was, like, 33, 35-ish.” She wanted a big family.

“It’s just the chaos around it that’s comforting,” she said of her image of a large, happy family.

Large happy families aren’t typical. Canada has a birth rate of 1.4 births per woman. Young mothers are not typical. The average age of first-time mothers was 29.4 in 2019, according to Statistics Canada. The percentage of first-time mothers 19 and under has dropped from 23 per cent in 1959 to three per cent in 2019. In 2021, 25 per cent of all mothers at childbirth were 35 or older. That compares to just 16 per cent in 2001.

Statistics don’t mean anything to Stewart and her baby. After holding off as long as she could, she’s decided to embrace her reality as best she can.

For nearly eight months, Stewart hid her pregnancy. Nova’s name is a reference to stars in the night sky, which her mother picked up from TikTok. The baby spent her first few weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. Stewart had to decide whether or not to give her baby up for adoption.

“I kept Nova, because when you give a baby up for adoption you never know where they’re going to go and if they’re going to eat, have a nice place to sleep, if they’re safe,” she said.

In other words, Kenzie Stewart was in love. She loves her baby.

The young mother would like to move out of her parents’ home and into her older sister’s apartment.

“There’s more kids there for Nova and she can go outside more,” she said. “There’s a park right beside the building (in Richmond Hill).”

But finishing high school at the Rose of Sharon is a priority. At 15, it’s difficult for Stewart to imagine her future working life or even know what she might be good at. The time Nova spent in the NICU has made Stewart think about a future in nursing, but academic requirements, the pressures and stresses of working in an environment where lives depend on what nurses do has her thinking again.

At school again for the first time in three years, Stewart’s best subject is art.

“I paint 99 per cent of the time I’m here. I’m always doing art,” she said. “It distracts me from everything. It makes me happy — painting, using different colours. I love painting. It’s my favourite thing.”

Asked what she might paint for Nova, Stewart thinks she would give her daughter an image of the night sky, “and like thunderstorms.”

“I don’t know. It’s just comforting. I like the darkness,” she said. “It’s terrifying, but it’s really calming and comforting.”

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