By Michaela Gibson Morris
Kysha Saleem avoided becoming a teen mom statistic.
But it wasn’t easy, and it took the support of her family, community agencies and public programs to make the climb from unemployed to intensive care nurse.
“I wouldn’t have had as many struggles if I waited,” said Saleem, who lives in Tupelo and will take board exams in February to become a certified nurse practitioner.
At 18, Saleem had just graduated from high school when she found out she was pregnant.
“My immediate plan had been to go to college,” Saleem said. “That delayed me for a bit.”
Her mom provided love, a place to live and coaching on being a parent to Trayvance, but Kysha had to find ways to provide for herself and her baby.
“My mom was a big help. She gave me a dose of reality,” Saleem remembers. “This is your baby.”
If Saleem wanted to go out with friends, she had to make arrangements for child care. Her mom bought groceries, but Saleem had to manage money to provide for herself and her baby.
Saleem had to apply for public assistance and Medicaid.
“It was the most embarrassing thing I ever did,” Saleem said. She received $96 a month in assistance to cover diapers and clothes.
Her boyfriend was in and out of her life for Trayvance’s first couple of years; they even married briefly.
“He wasn’t reliable at all,” Saleem said.
Trayvance was born at full term, but low birthweight – something that teen moms are at higher risk for. He had to be hospitalized during his first year with asthma attacks. As he grew, it became clear he had special needs and would need life-long support.
When Trayvance was two, Saleem moved with her mom to Columbus. There, she began classes at Mississippi University for Women. The first semester as an elementary education major was rocky. But she found focus and purpose when she set her sights on the nursing program.
“I buckled down,” Saleem remembers. “I made the dean’s list the next two semesters” and was admitted to nursing school.
Lift Inc. provided two vital lifelines for Saleem’s education – childcare and transportation.
“I wouldn’t have made it,” without the support, Saleem said.
Saleem is very honest with her children – she has four others from a 14-year marriage – about the difficulties that come with having a child too early.
“It’s hard to work your way up,” Saleem said. “It takes two to make a baby. You’re not ready for that.”