Staying in Shelter
as a Teen Mom

Staying in Shelter as a Teen Mom with Sarah Tieleman

Jenna Mayne: Welcome to she is your neighbour, a show where we discuss the realities and complexities of domestic violence. This podcast is brought to you by Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region, a charitable organization in Ontario, Canada. I’m your host, Jenna Mayne. Join me as we talk to different people each week to learn how domestic violence impacts people from all walks of life. She is your neighbour, and we all have a role to play in ending domestic violence.

This episode is called staying in shelter as a teen mom with Sarah Tieleman. Sarah is an entrepreneur from New Dundee, Ontario, who runs a candle and gift company called so Rustic. In February 2021, Sarah partnered with Women’s Crisis Services on a candle fundraiser. She told us about her personal experience with domestic violence, and later that year, Sarah became a member of Women’s Crisis Services board of directors. This episode is part of our six episode Survivor series, which focuses on the experiences of survivors of domestic violence. In this episode, Sarah opens up about her journey as a teen mom experiencing domestic violence. She explains how she stayed at our Anselma house shelter in Kitchener, and now, 20 years later, she is actually a board member of women’s Crisis Services. It was really cool to hear how it was a full circle moment for Sarah when she joined the board of directors, and it was pretty awesome to hear from a board member and a former shelter residential. Now, before we get started, I’d like to note that the following episode includes a discussion of domestic violence and child abuse, which may be distressing or traumatic for some listeners. Please take care of yourself and don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it. I’d also like to thank Rogers for proudly sponsoring this survivor series.


Jenna Mayne: Hi, Sarah, thanks so much for being here today.

Sarah Tieleman: Hi, thanks for having me.

Jenna Mayne: I’m so excited to have you. It’s nice. We were just chatting earlier and saying how you’re on our board of directors, so it’s, especially exciting to have you here. So could you actually start by sharing a little bit about yourself?

Sarah Tieleman: Absolutely. So my name is Sarah. I am a business owner. I own Sew Rustic candle and gift company located in New Dundee. I am a mom to two boys, three year old and a 23 year old. So there’s a bit of a gap and I’m sharing this crazy thing called life with my best friend Kyle. And, you know, like pre pandemic, we were traveling and, well, we had a baby and, going places, road trips, antiquing, doing some home rental stuff. And then the world went a little crazy and we’ve, you know, like everyone else, been sitting here at home trying to entertain ourselves with Netflix.

Jenna Mayne: Exactly. Thank God we have Netflix, because that’s been getting me through.

Sarah Tieleman: Yeah, totally.

Jenna Mayne: Yeah. So, again, I really appreciate having you here today, and I know you’re going to share a little bit about your story with us, which I’m really looking forward to learning more about. So I wondered if you might just be able to start by sharing a little bit about your experience with domestic violence.

Sarah Tieleman: Absolutely. So, like I said, I’m a mom to two boys with a bit of an age gap. Guess we’ll just rewind a little bit. So before, I, was 15 years old, and I fell in love with the guy that had the car, with the friends, the job, the freedom. He said all the right things, took me to all the right places and treated me well. He made me feel so grown up. And at 15, that was a pretty big deal. and we got pregnant twice and we miscarried twice. But the third time, we didn’t miss Gary. And that’s sort of when his tune kind of changed. And he moved out of his home, his parents home, and moved into his sister’s. And, he was very much against, you know, having a baby. And, you know, we just kind of put it on the back burner. I guess we thought maybe we’d miss Kerry again. And, we just continued on living a life. And he became increasingly agitated and violent and obsessive with things that I did in war and where I went and who I talked to. And, one night we went out to, all ages event. And I had gotten my hair done that day and got professional makeup done. And he was very upset that I had been looking that good, going out in public. And, upon returning home that night, I experienced my first ever brush, with, assault and domestic violence. He, had me pinned to the ground repeatedly, kicked me in the back, holding his hand over my nose and mouth. And that moment, I remember it so vividly that I go right back there when I think about it. And, I remember in that moment, I tried to get the attention of his sister, who was sleeping at the time, to come and get him off me, do something, help me in some aspect. And she did. And he, you know, stopped. And she. She didn’t do anything further. I went home to my parents the next day, and I was fooled by his remorse. And I went back the day following. He was going to change. And I believed it. And why, like, why wouldn’t I believe it at the ripe old age of 15. I believed everything. So fast forward a couple months, and, he had gotten his own apartment, and I moved in, and it was very freeing. We felt like this newly married couple, and I felt like the adult that I pretended to be until he asked me, are you still pregnant? And I was. And we were at the point of no return. and he became very angry and went back to the person that assaulted me in his sister’s spare bedroom, locking me in our apartment, taking the handset of our phone with him when he went out at night, you know, demanding I perform sexual acts that I wasn’t comfortable with, treating me like property and not like. Not like a person. And, you know, that was. That was scary for me. I didn’t. I didn’t see a way out. I didn’t see a way other than to just live through it. And I did live through it, but it resulted in black eyes, fat lips, bruised cheeks. And, that’s when I sought refuge at Anzalma house and stayed for a couple of days. I managed to leave. went to insomnia, and then eventually I went home to my parents and became a mom at 17. And, when our son was born, he wanted to become a father. He wanted, you know, he was, you know, actually overjoyed that he was going to be a dad. And the thought of his rage coming out on our son never crossed my mind, and it should have, because he assaulted our four month old baby when he was in his care for less than 45 minutes. And that’s, you know, that’s when my life completely, completely changed. And he was charged with child abuse and he got probation. And then I, on the other hand, lost custody of our son and had to live with my parents and prove to family and children’s services that I was a good mom and capable of parenting. And I did, however I made that happen. And it wasn’t an easy task, with what felt like all the odds were stacked against me. It was like. It was the biggest challenge, but that was my son, and that was. That was, you know, I was. I was going to give him all of me. So 23 years later, he’s the best fight I ever fought. And the road that we took to get where we are now had so many challenges. You know, at times it felt like doors were slammed in my face, and every time I tried to open a new one, it felt like I was going to fail. Made lots of poor choices and bad decisions. And then I had an awakening of sorts. My son was going to school, and I wanted to be proud of his mom, proud of our life, and not embarrassed. And I wanted him to have everything that he could ever need in his life. So at that point, I went back to high school, finished, and got my diploma. I went on to attend college three times. And, you know, although throughout my life, while I have had a supportive family, I’ve leaned on my community for guidance and support. And it’s because of that that has, you know, grown me as a person and made me who I am today. And, yeah, I feel like being on the board of directors now. It’s come full circle, completely full circle, and then sharing this story with you all. And there’s lots of different layers that we won’t get into, but, it’ll take a lot more time than we have today. But that’s what led, me to ensemble my house.

Jenna Mayne: Thank you for sharing that, Sarah. I know it can be really difficult to share these really personal moments, but I think it’s really powerful and it’s really empowering for. For women who are listening, who are going through similar situations and to hear how you were able to make it through. So thank you for that. What kind of struck me about your story, too, was how young you are. I think sometimes people think about domestic violence happening to older married couples. They don’t think about it happening to 15 year olds, but the reality is, it does happen. And we know that violence can escalate when women become pregnant, too. So that was another kind of interesting piece of your story. I wonder if you want to elaborate on any of those pieces a bit more.

Sarah Tieleman: I think, one thing that really stuck with me, like, when I was, writing notes of what we were going to chat about today, was that rewinding back to when I was in the thick of that situation in my life, there wasn’t the Internet. I mean, there was. But it wasn’t as complex as it is now. And there wasn’t as much, readily available information and resources for someone going through what I was going through. And it was, you know, there wasn’t a lot of counseling agencies that were able to help someone in my situation. There weren’t a lot of. There was only one option for shelter. There was only one option for young teen moms. There wasn’t a slew of places that I could reach out to. There was only so many community services available at the time. So, you know, today, there’s so many resources and options and places to go and people to talk to that I think that you, you know, there is an upper hand to be had if you are facing domestic violence.

Jenna Mayne: Yeah, that’s a good point. It’s just how the resources have changed and just knowledge and understanding of what’s out there too.

Sarah Tieleman: Yeah.

Jenna Mayne: and I know Anselma House looked a lot different at the time. It wasn’t the same building it was today. It would have been a different. Yeah, a different experience staying there altogether. So I wondered if you could share a bit more about your experience at Anselma House.

Sarah Tieleman: I mean, it was 23 years ago, it was a bit of time, but, you know, I remember it was very welcoming and I, at the time I didn’t want my family to know what I was going through. So I did go there first and, you know, sort of reach out to like, what’s next for me? Like, I’m now I’m pregnant. This man doesn’t want to be with me. And they sort of guided me to the direction of, you know, Ontario works and St. Monica House and all the different other organizations that I leaned on to get through being, you know, a teen mom. They had these programs called morning munchies where we’d go every Tuesday morning and like, learn about healthy eating while you’re pregnant. And I connected with so many different resources from walking through one door and that door was the door of Anselmo. And I don’t quite remember like the actual experience itself of, you know, staying there overnight. I kind of, I think maybe sometimes when it’s, it’s a memory that is entangled in so many emotions, you just sort of block it out a little bit. So I remember that, that it was because of that connection that I was able to reach out to services that helped me in my parenting journey.

Jenna Mayne: That’s great. I’m glad once you got there, you were able to get those resources and kind of help you move forward. Something else that you had talked about was just the kind of the obsessiveness and the control that was displayed in the beginning as things started to escalate and even just around what you were wearing, where you were going, that kind of thing. And I think that can be a red flag that people don’t always know about in the beginning because it’s not something we’ve talked about historically a lot. And people sometimes think physical violence is, you know, the, the only type of violence. But I’m wondering if you could talk about some of these earlier, pieces where the control was displayed.

Sarah Tieleman: I. I was going to say that even as of late in the last 23 years of dealing with my son’s biological father. Even when we weren’t together, you know, going to court for child support and custody and all that fun stuff, he was still trying to control me, even though there was no way that I was ever going back to him. you know, even in our last meeting, at the courthouse, when our son turned 18, I, want to say my son, actually, when he turned 18, it was. It was kind of like, you know what? This is it. You can’t ever, ever do anything to me again. We. We have parted ways. Our, you know, our child is of legal adult age now, and your assistance is no longer needed. so it was just. I think it was like a. Like a whole lead up of him thinking I was his marionette and he was going to, you know, do what he wanted with me for as long as we were connected as biological parents to this child. I did feel like once our son turned 18, it was like, okay, you’re done. You’re no longer in my life.

Jenna Mayne: Yeah, that makes sense. And it makes sense that the control still continued after the relationship ended, because, unfortunately, we know that this happens to women. you know, it depends on the situation. Sometimes it could turn into stalking behavior. Sometimes there’s still the control through the children.

Sarah Tieleman: Oh, he never had any contact with my son. But I will say that every time I had to have a meeting of sorts with him or any type of communication, I was terrified. I was terrified. Just, what’s he going to say? What’s he going to say to me? How am I going to respond? What is that response going to be? I, try to calculate, you know, come up with things to say back that were, you know, one up from. From something that he would say to me and even. Even sharing the story here on a podcast. I was a little nervous that maybe, what if he hears it? And then I thought, you know, what? So what? Because then he’s going to see that I’ve come. I’ve come out on top, I’ve come out ahead, and it hasn’t changed me. It hasn’t changed the course that I’ve taken. It’s made me a better person. I’ve learned from it, grown from it, and I’ve, you know, helped others go through it by providing an ear to listen and guiding people through uncomfortable, difficult situations.

Jenna Mayne: Yeah, that makes sense. And I’m wondering, what kind of led you to join the board of directors for women’s crisis services? Like, I think, you know, so brave you’re able to get through something so traumatic at such a young age. But like you said, it’s really come full circle at this point, and now you’re on the board, so I wonder if you could share a bit more about that.

Sarah Tieleman: Yeah, I think that, ah, connection sort of happened by way of happenstance, I guess you would call it. Like, it was just sort of fell in my lap at a time that I wasn’t looking to help out an, agency. But, I’m really glad that I did. It came up in conversation around the passing of Jennifer Campbell, and we did a Campbell fundraiser that she was so heavily involved in women’s crisis services, so we rallied up some money and got, donation in her name. And then the conversation was brought to the table about, hey, you know, what did you do in your past life? Or how did you get here? And, we talked about my education and my work experience, and then there’s, you know, some talk about they’re looking for a board member and you might be a good fit. And I sort of thought, you know, this could be like a really good way for me to have my story come full circle, come back to the place that I started sort of thing, and, and, give back to the agency that gave me so much.

Jenna Mayne: Yeah, it’s amazing. I think it’s fantastic that we’re able to have survivors on the board, who’ve been through this. I think it’s, it’s a whole other level of understanding.

Sarah Tieleman: It is. And to have somebody, like you said, like somebody that is a survivor, and not only am I a survivor of domestic violence, but I’m a parent of a, ah, child that was a victim of child abuse. And to have like a real, you know, living, breathing, walking, you know, person that’s walked in those shoes on the board, I thought was something that, you know, I could bring a lot to the table and I could bring my story to light. You know, maybe, you know, even if one person hears my story, then my job is done. And if it helps them in their healing process, or knowing that there’s more to come that’s positive, then I’ve done what I came to do.

Jenna Mayne: I’m wondering what impact this experience had on your life growing up in the directions it took you. And I know you have your own business now and everything, but I imagine it was quite a difficult journey to get there with everything you went through. And I wondered if you wanted to talk about that a bit.

Sarah Tieleman: I think, like growing up as a young mom with having dealt with domestic violence and still having him be sort of a part of my life for so many years. I did put up a guard, and I had a lot of trust issues, and I was really insecure, and I was afraid of, like, ridiculous things happening to me that were never going to happen. but, you know, it did lead me to going to school for social services, and then I ended up working for Ontario works, and it was just like, again, like, I have since helped the agencies that helped me, so it helped me. I volunteered with St. Monica house. I’ve got a talk coming up at, one of their other locations. And working with you guys and just paying it forward. I pay it forward in so many different ways with my business. We do a lot of charity fundraisers, and we give back, and it’s just sort of my way of saying thank you to the community that raised me up.

Jenna Mayne: Yeah, the Jennifer Campbell fundraiser that you had mentioned earlier was really special, and she was definitely a big supporter of our organization. So, it was pretty amazing you guys were able to, work on that and create that and then have some of the proceeds come back to us here and help other women and kids moving beyond violence. So, that was a pretty fantastic example of that.

Sarah Tieleman: I was thrilled to do that, and I was really happy. Like, when I, you know, we went to the bank and we got the money out and we wrote up the checks to her family and to, to your organization. It was just really moving to know that we were able to do that, not just for one cause, for multiple.

Jenna Mayne: Oh, exactly. What a difference, it can really make when we all kind of work together on that kind of thing. I’m also wondering, I know since you were such a young woman when you went through this experience, and you were also a young mother going through this as well, I’m curious if there’s any kind of words of encouragement or anything you would like to say to women going through a similar situation.

Sarah Tieleman: I would say that, you know, if you would have told the 15 year old me that this is where I’d be right now, if, you know, fast forward 23 years, I would not. I would not have believed you. but really, I think what’s important is to not be embarrassed of reaching out for help, not to be embarrassed of your situation. you just never know what somebody’s dealing with. Just walking around, you have no idea what’s weighing heavily on their shoulders, but, reach out, lean on your community, connect with the resources. You know, one door opens, so, so many. So just even, like I said, walking through one door and saw my house, it opened up so many other doors that, that helped me get, you know, got my name on housing and, you know, got connected with childcare subsidy and got myself back to school. It was just so many, so many. Like the domino effect. So many things happened because of that. So just reach out. Reach out to anybody that will listen. Make sure you have a backup plan. Not a backup plan, but, like, an exit strategy, an emergency. Emergency plan. And ask for help. Ask for help. And, don’t be afraid to ask for help. And don’t. If you. If you’ve got that one red flag, if you’ve got that. That funny feeling, just go with your gut. Go with your gut. You know, you can trust yourself more than you can trust anybody else.

Jenna Mayne: Yeah. I like what you said about the emergency plan and reaching out for help, too, because I think, you know, a lot of people will say, why doesn’t a woman just leave? Like, people don’t always understand all the complexities and the barriers to leaving, right? But the other flip side of that is leaving is a really dangerous time. We know that’s when violence is most likely to escalate. Women are more likely to, unfortunately, be killed in these situations as well. not to mention women in rural areas that are even higher risk because of weapons on the property. So I think there’s so many different risk factors to consider, too. So that’s why I think it is so important to get help. Make a safety plan. If you’re in this situation, don’t necessarily try and do it on your own, if you can help it. Not everyone, is able to, in the moment, access these supports. But I think that’s a really important piece you highlighted there.

Sarah Tieleman: And I think a lot of things, like, some women might think, oh, what about my things? What about my stuff? What about my kids toys? Like, they are just things. They can be replaced. You can’t be replaced, you know, or, how am I going to get my kids there? Like, what about the car seats? What about the strollers? You know, what, put $20 in your shoe and, you know, underneath your. The sole of your shoe and just get out. Just go and you’ll figure it out. You know, you’re not going to get arrested for jumping in the back of a cab because you are escaping domestic violence and you don’t have a car seat, right? Just go. And, you know, it’s. It’s so very freeing once you do go and you can just take that deep breath of like, I’m out, I’m out, and I’m safe.

Jenna Mayne: I wonder if you could talk a bit more about that. What it feels like to be. To be out and be safe and maybe how that feels in contrast to what you went through.

Sarah Tieleman: I’m not gonna lie. Like, you know, it’s not like it never goes away. It’s not completely freeing. Like, you know, you’re. You can say, oh, you know, I feel so free doing this. I feel, you know, it’s been so many years since I’ve been in that situation, but I still. There is a, you know, a smidge of me that is afraid of him, you know, who knows? So I just. I feel like, you know, it is. It is freeing. It is, like, liberating. I do feel very proud of myself and all the obstacles I’ve accomplished, but there’s still that teeny weeny part of me that is afraid. But then I think, no, sarah, you’re not going to let him win. You’re not afraid of him. Look. Look what you came through. Look what you went through. And it’s not even, like I said, there’s layers. There’s so many things that happened because of that situation, like fighting to get custody of my son back when I didn’t do anything. that in itself was like the worst, the worst path I’d ever been on. And then finally getting him back and getting my own established apartment was like, wow, I did it. Look it. Look what I did. And then looking back at, you know, what I have now? I have this successful business, and, you know, I’m in. I’m helping other organizations. I just think, like, that part of me sometimes seems like that wasn’t really me. It wasn’t really my life, but it was. It really was me.

Jenna Mayne: Yeah. I think it can be jarring sometimes for people to look back because you almost feel like a different person, in a way, because so much has changed. But I think when someone takes so much from you, you kind of are a different person in a way at that time.

Sarah Tieleman: Yeah, exactly. And I think for me, like, having this conversation, I know I said it already, but it is closure. It’s. He always said, you’re never going to amount to anything. You’re never going to amount to anything. And I think. Part of me thinks, I hope you hear this so that, you know, that you did not change my life in a negative way. I took that negative and I made it a positive, and I did that myself, and I did amount to something. And this 23 year old young man, you know, you can’t take any credit.

Jenna Mayne: For that, yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And I think that kind of speaks to why that this conversation is important to you. And I don’t know if there’s anything else you wanted to add there about why this is important to you, to kind of talk about it now.

Sarah Tieleman: I think, you know, just like I said earlier, if one person hears my story or hears, you know, what I’ve gone through, and then it just. It just sparks that light. For them to get help and reach out, then it will have been worth it. Worth every ounce of pain, every challenge, every struggle. If I can help one person get through what I’ve gone through, if somebody hears this and then picks up the phone and calls or tucks that $20 in their shoe so that they can catch an uber or catch a cab or whatever just to get to safety, I think for me, it’s just to make an impact and reach as many people as I can. And I think also for me, I didn’t get a lot of help because there wasn’t a lot of resources, you know, going through life as a single parent. And, like, I did have a very supportive family, but I think moving forward, I just kind of toughed it out and sort of just grew through what I went through. And now that there’s so many available organizations out there, I think people can really benefit from them.

Jenna Mayne: Yeah, I think so, too. And so part of this project and this podcast, it’s called she is your neighbour, to emphasize the fact that it can happen to anybody in any neighbourhood, no matter who you are. But the other part of that is we really want to encourage people to be good neighbours and think about what we can all do and how we can all play a role to support those going through it. So I’m wondering, your thoughts on how you think we can all be better neighbours to women and kids experiencing domestic violence.

Sarah Tieleman: I think just always have an open door policy. You know, you’re always welcome at my house if you, you know, if you’re. If you’re fleeing from domestic violence or, you know, you’re. You’re uncertain if your situation is going to turn into something, you know, something violent, something potentially that’s going to harm yourself and your kids. You know, you show up on my porch any day, anytime I’m. My door is open, and I will be as much or as little as you need me to be. I think some people think, oh, you know, I don’t want my neighbours to know because they’re going to be nosy and they’re going to pry, but I think, you know, if you have that non judgmental open door, I’m here for you whenever you need me. I think people will be more willing to reach out and look for help. And I think, too, like, you know, when you say it’s, she’s your neighbour. I’ve got a huge following on Instagram, and now all my followers and whoever else listens to this podcast, they’re going to know. And you look at someone and you think, there’s no way they’ve gone through that. But now you know. Now you know, I have. Now you know how many other people are living with this or dealing with this that haven’t had an opportunity to speak out?

Jenna Mayne: Exactly. I think it can be easy to assume that domestic violence happens to one specific person, and we just don’t even know the amount of stories that are out there and the amount of people that this affects.

Sarah Tieleman: Yeah. And I think the biggest thing that I would say to somebody that is in the thick of this is that don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. You know, fear is. Fear can be your worst enemy. Don’t let fear, hinder your decisions. Like, you can get through this and you don’t need to be afraid. You are stronger than you think you are.

Jenna Mayne: Thank you so much, Sarah. I really appreciate you being here today and sharing this with us.

Sarah Tieleman: You’re so welcome. I’m so happy to be part of this. I’m happy to be sharing my experience and my knowledge with the board of directors. I’m honored to be on the board. It’s great. And I hope that I’ve reached somebody that might have needed to hear this story.

Jenna Mayne: Oh, I think you definitely have. Thank you so much.

Sarah Tieleman: You’re so welcome.

Jenna Mayne: That wraps up this week’s show, but the conversation is far from over. We want to hear what you think. Use the hashtag, she is your neighbour on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, or Twitter, and join in the conversation. We all have a role to play in ending domestic pilots.

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