GORHAM, N.H.—When Colton Currier wakes up every morning, the first thing he does is crawl over to the side of his bed and admire the pictures on his wall.
The photos are mostly of nature. Scenic photos of the White Mountains and action shots of waterfowl. Anything with vibrant colors, from the pink hydrangeas pictured on his wall to the yellow hydroflask on the floor, captures his attention. Still, his favorite photos are those of him and his mother. They share the same blue-grey eyes. They share the same sandy-blonde hair. They share the same room, with her bed pressed tightly against his crib in their quaint Northern New Hampshire apartment.
Since Aubrey Currier moved into her mother’s house in August, she has largely been responsible for raising her son Colton by herself at only 19 years old. Her mother Jenn Currier does what she can to help, such as allowing them to live in her apartment rent-free and helping with childcare when she can, but Jenn—also a single mother—is also busy working to provide for Aubrey’s 12-year-old sister, Alivia.
With nobody to watch over her son during the day and a pandemic further complicating the search for childcare and work, Aubrey Currier finds herself in a precarious situation. She was able to save most of her unemployment checks for Colton’s food and clothing and has made some spare cash by selling old or outgrown clothes and baby toys on Facebook Marketplace, but those savings are dwindling. Currier has applied for assistance from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children and from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, but she’s still waiting for her documents to be processed months later.
The stigma surrounding teen pregnancy in America has put a strain on Currier’s relationships with her friends and family. Her circumstances as a teen and a single mother during America’s first pandemic in over a century put her in uncharted territory.
“I saved up every unemployment check I got and essentially only used them for Colton. I don’t need much,” Currier said. “As long as I have my food and pay my phone bill, I’m good, but it’s not always enough. For Colton, it’s $40 on diapers every week, $20 on baby wipes every other week, $4 on milk every few days, new clothes every few months. It adds up.”
Since she was 13 years old, Currier had always had a job before the Covid-19 pandemic. Most recently, she worked at the front desk of a Best Western hotel. During her time there, she would also fill in as housekeeping when they were understaffed.
When she got pregnant, her 5-foot frame struggled to carry Colton. He was nearly ten pounds at birth, so her mobility was limited and she was often sick during her pregnancy. She needed frequent breaks to throw up and became unable to efficiently clean rooms, so her boss laid her off.
Once she finds more financial stability, Currier hopes to train to become a licensed nursing assistant in an elderly home. The license would require her to do 150 hours of training and cost less than one year at a typical public university. Still, she doesn’t have the money or time to spare at the moment.
Without a source of income, Currier was unable to consistently feed herself and Colton. Her insufficient nutrition forced her to stop breastfeeding her son early. When she contacted WIC about switching her son to formula because she could no longer produce breast milk, Currier said the doctor she spoke to shamed her for her decision.
“The doctors are supposed to be non-judgmental about your situation, but implied I was a bad mother for switching to formula,” Currier said. “She wouldn’t listen to me when I tried to tell her that I don’t always have the time and money to take care of Colton and feed myself.”
New Hampshire wasn’t affected by Covid-19 to the same extent as other states, but the outbreak still changed how Currier was able to raise her son. She often is unable to run simple errands, like going to Walmart, because she can’t leave Colton at home unattended or bring him into the store. If she brings him into a store, he wants to touch things on the shelves like any other infant. In the time of a deadly pandemic, touching a toy and then putting his fingers in his mouth could have dire consequences. If she wants to take him with her and keep him safe, shopping takes much longer, eating into her already limited time.
Ironically, just across the street from their sea-blue, wood-shingled apartment building is a small daycare. Step out into the daycare’s backyard and you can gaze down at the Androscoggin River or gaze up at Jericho Mountain. The scenic views don’t come without a hefty price, and $250 for four days every week is far outside Currier’s budget.
Most babies grow up meeting other babies through daycare or playdates. Covid-19 has prevented Colton from having these same experiences. Before the pandemic, Colton had playdates with Currier’s friends’ children, but those children were all older.
“He was nine months old when he last socialized with a child his age," Currier said. "He’s 14 months now, but he hasn’t socialized with other babies. He’s socialized with people, but I just want him to have friends his own age. It’s about me finding friends with children too, but it’s scary to arrange playdates. We don’t know many people here, we don’t know what everyone’s doing in their everyday life. I’m just worried about how he’s going to be socializing with other babies his age once he does start going to daycare.”
Colton isn’t the only one who hasn’t been able to see people their own age. Currier had only been able to see one person her own age since the start of the pandemic, her friend Lyndsi Stone—yet Stone lives over 45 minutes away from Gorham, so they can typically only talk over FaceTime.
“Meeting friends my own age would be great, but it’s just not a priority,” Currier said. “I’ll have an opportunity to meet people when he gets older. He’s my only focus right now.”
Even when she has the opportunity to step away, she doesn’t want to. On Halloween, Jenn Currier offered to watch Colton for the night so Currier could spend the night with her friends, but Aubrey wanted to go home early for her son.
“I was there, and by the time it got late, I missed him," Currier said. "I wished I was at home. It wasn’t like I didn’t trust my mom to watch Colton; I do. I just missed Colton.”
When she had the child, a lot of people in her life couldn’t understand how much that affected her schedule.
“People would get mad at me for not making time for them anymore," Currier said. "They couldn’t understand that I have a life built around my son. If you can’t understand that I can’t come and see you because of that, then you can’t be a part of my life because Colton is my life.”
Aubrey Currier relies on her mother to watch Colton due to the absence of his father, Devin Scott. Scott’s absence is one of the primary reasons why Currier is unable to look for work or afford childcare. Currier moved out of Scott’s home in July after ten months of living together following Colton’s birth.
Currier had met Scott through a friend of her cousin shortly after she moved to New Hampshire. He had already graduated from high school and she had no afternoon classes, so they would meet up most afternoons after she went home. They started dating shortly thereafter. Less than four months later, Currier became pregnant with Scott’s child.
“I was mainly just scared because I had a lot going on. I had plans for my future,” Currier said. “It’s not like Colton ruined those things, he actually made them better. He made me want to achieve those things more. He actually sped up the process. I graduated a year early, and he’s the reason why I took the initiative to do those things.”
After finding out about her pregnancy, Jenn Currier was more supportive than Aubrey could have imagined. Aubrey broke the news to Jenn while the two were driving back to their home in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Jenn stopped the car at a rest stop and told anyone who would listen how excited she was to be a nana, Aubrey said.
Scott’s mother, however, was much less supportive. She refused to accept the fact that her son was the father and took months after Colton’s birth before coming to see him. Throughout her pregnancy, Scott’s mother expressed her doubts about Currier’s ability to be a good mother.
“She said I’m not going to be a good mom because I was so sick during my pregnancy," Currier said. "I didn’t work most of it because every job I had taken issue with me having to stop to puke. She used all this to paint me as lazy.”
On top of that, Scott also told Currier that putting Colton up for adoption was not an option. Scott’s mother told Aubrey that she could either raise him and fail as a mother and ruin Scott’s life, or abort Colton and suffer widespread judgment, Currier said.
During their time together, Currier said Scott was often emotionally abusive.
“He yelled a lot, and that upset Colton," Currier said. "Colton would associate any loud noises with anger because of Devin. He’d hear a pan fall to the ground and start crying because it reminded him of his dad. Colton’s gotten a lot better with loud noises since we left."
According to Currier, Devin was really good at playing with Colton, but he had a tendency to be negligent when it came to taking responsibility for his son. Sometimes Colton would get hurt while Devin was watching him.
Scott’s negligence and abusive tendencies could potentially be traced back to his history of substance abuse. He has been sent to treatment facilities on a few occasions, once leaving and promptly attempting to rob a pharmacy by threatening to set off a bomb. While he didn’t have the bomb or the gun that he claimed to possess, he was still charged with larceny of a person.
Since leaving Scott’s home, Currier has obtained a restraining order against him. He recently violated the restraining order, and his attorney has said that he will be pleading guilty and facing jail time for his violation, Currier said.
While most of Scott’s family has since detached itself from Currier and Colton, Scott’s grandparents have still actively been involved in Colton's life. They have tried to give Colton everything they can, from small gifts to setting up an education fund. They’re the only people on Scott’s side of the family who still associate with Currier.
Every night, the last thing Aubrey Currier does before she goes to bed is look at Colton sleeping in the crib next to her bed. She stands against the wall covered in photos she took of natural beauty, adjacent to the window overlooking the White Mountains, but this still is her favorite view.