“Before I got pregnant, I was full-steam ahead in life,” said Carolina Pichardo, cofounder with Mary Targia of the educational and inspirational New York-based organization and website YUM (Young Urban Moms).
“I’d received a partial scholarship to New York University, after traveling abroad and interning at the New York City Public Advocate’s Office and Tor Books Publishing.”
But when she found out she was pregnant, the resulting harsh remarks and judgmental looks threw the slim, stately Harlem-born Pichardo off her track—for a while: “I just became angry. I didn’t know what to do with that anger, so I simply worked hard to prove those around me wrong.”
With some of the same rebel instincts that had propelled her parents to immigrate to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic—where her mother was a teacher and her father a doctor—she stayed in school through most of her pregnancy. She took a semester off after her daughter Lyanna (known as Lulu), now age 11, was born. Then she returned to earn her bachelor’s degree in communications from NYU “with leaky boob stories galore.”
Like so many teens who become pregnant, Pichardo and Lulu’s father tried hard to make it in a relationship. They were engaged for a time, but the pressures of school, work, and parenting were too much. Plus—as I know from being in that situation myself—the stress of being parents before being emotionally mature is immense.
Eventually, Pichardo’s life reached a point where the young woman, who as a girl had been her “parents’ biggest pain” could look back and help others.
I should reveal here that Pichardo and I originally connected at a BlogHer conference in 2010. After I appeared on a panel there, she touched my heart when she wrote this to me in an e-mail:
I’m writing to actually thank you for your keynote presentation. It was inspiring and so great to hear from a fellow-YUM. That’s short for a Young Urban Mom. Although you may not directly identify with that phrase, in our books you’re a strong representation of it.
We identify with women that have gone through that struggle of finding their own identity, while also building those of their children. I’m actually a single mom of one, but I continued to attend school and work as an editor for an various publications. Mary Targia, the co-founder of the website, is the mother of one and also worked full-time as a digital marketing professional. She went on to become one of the top talents on Madison Avenue and founded her own consulting company.
We hope that these stories inspire and motivate young mothers everywhere to accomplish their goals without fear, anger or resentment.
Pichardo’s enormous empathy for other young moms comes of course from her own experience with early pregnancy and parenting, with all the pain and shame and pure hard times that entails. But it also comes from another deep source, as the guardian to her autistic younger brother, and from helping her parents struggle with learning a new language and culture.
Plus, in the “Use what you’ve got” category, otherwise known as the No Excuses Power Tool #3, Pichardo says that because she was always small and slim, she felt she had to compensate with a big brain and smarts—“a strategy that seems to have worked!” she deadpans.
She’s teaching Lulu to trust herself and have the strength to follow her dreams, because, “She’s gonna have to be strong to attain both.”
I had the pleasure of keynoting the first YUMs conference at Uptown NYC September 8th, where Pichardo seemed to be everywhere at once, MC’ing the speakers, making sure refreshments and books were available, and organizing childcare for the children who came with their parents.Afterward, I turned the tables on her (she had interviewed me for YUMs’ website soon after No Excuses was published). I asked her to describe her proudest moment with YUMs.
“I would say seeing how many people relate to the mission and message. It demonstrates we were right all along. We [teen moms] aren’t alone at all!
“I would often not mention I was a mom…fearful that I would be labeled or “seen” differently. It took a lot for me to shed that fear. It wasn’t until I started seeing how many other moms there were, and how I wasn’t at all different from other parents…
“We are always defined by statistics, numbers and research of all sorts but in the end—we are all just mothers. We are mothers who love our kids just the same—if not more, because they provide us with a stronger incentive to fulfill our own destinies.
“That has always been it for me,” Pichardo says with emphasis. “Making sure other YUMs have a platform to share their stories.”