From the magazine: Sowing grace

After her shifts, Laura Bratcher loves to spend time with her daughter, Piper. Bratcher said Piper has autism spectrum disorder and often gets bored of things quickly. (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston)

Motherhood can be a differing yet connecting experience for women. The challenges they may face within society and the resilience they may gain can alter their identities. While all mothers are different, their lights shine through in different communities and their experiences can be bridging for women.  

Abi Fitzgibbon, a junior from Springfield, Illinois, said that motherhood has changed who she is. 

“Motherhood really let me grow into myself and who I am,” Fitzgibbon said.


Fitzgibbon got pregnant at 19 years old by her partner, Noah Namvong. Together, they have a baby girl named Scout. She raises Scout with her partner while being a full-time student and working part-time at a hotel.  

Fitzgibbon said she did not enjoy her pregnancy experience. She said she was bombarded with unsolicited advice, and people would imply that she didn’t actually want her baby due to how young she was.  

“Before I got pregnant a lot of women in my life were like, ‘I love having kids,’ and then as I was pregnant, they were like, ‘It’s awful, isn’t it?’” Fitzgibbon said.  

Fitzgibbon said that she had planned on having an all-natural birth. When she went into labor, she experienced back labor and caused sharp pains throughout her entire back. She decided to try morphine instead of an epidural and said that made her feel better for an hour, and then the contractions came back. 

Springfield, Illinois, junior Abi Fitzgibbon walks through her apartment complex with her daughter, Scout Namvong, on Wednesday, Oct. 4. Fitzgibbon said she likes to take Scout on adventures with her. (Photo by Brodie Curtsinger)

“After that, I was on all fours on the bed connected to four machines and screaming; when the nurse came in, I stopped screaming just long enough to be like, ‘I want the epidural,’” Fitzgibbon said.  

Seven hours after this, Scout was born, Fitzgibbon said.  

She said her life has changed a lot since having Scout. She found herself being gentler with her while also being more aware of boundaries with other people involved with Scout’s life. 

“I have to be a lot more strong and a lot more defensive because I am on the offense consistently,” Fitzgibbon said.  

Fitzgibbon said she wants her child to view the world through a lens of gentleness and kindness. She said she and her partner have a book titled “A Spoonful of Honey” that she reads to Scout often to strengthen these ideas.  

“It says, ‘All of the flowers are waving with love’ as one of the lines, and that is definitely the impression that I want her to have,” Fitzgibbon said.  

She said motherhood to her is including Scout into the life she already has. She and her partner take her camping, climbing and exploring. She said it would be wrong of her to stop doing those things for herself and would also be wrong of her to not take Scout along.  

“When I became a mom, I remember her dad was a bit worried because he thought, ‘There’s so many things that you’re gonna want to do,’” Fitzgibbon said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, she can come, too, we’re a team in this.’” 

She said taking Scout into nature is one of her favorite things to do. 


“There was a moment where I held her up, and we were looking at the trees and thought, ‘Wow, this is what life’s about,’” Fitzgibbon said.  

She said Scout has been an easy baby, and she fits into their lives  well at three months old. 

“I feel like she has been here forever,” Fitzgibbon said. “We’re best friends.” 

Fitzgibbon said working while being a student is hard because she finds herself constantly missing her baby. She said her studies of family and consumer sciences pair well with raising a child, but she dislikes working from 7 to 11 a.m., especially since she had to start working again 11 weeks postpartum. She said these stresses began to affect her relationship with her partner.

“For a while, I could only focus on school, work and baby, so Noah took the brunt of it, and I was super short with him,” Fitzgibbon said.

 She said she has gotten better at time management, but having to go back to her usual responsibilities after having a baby was hard.  

She said relying on the support she receives from others has helped her overcome the stress of these struggles. She said she practices affirmations like, “My body is strong; my body is capable.” She said after having Scout, she knows she can overcome anything.  

“When I have one of those moments where things are getting really hard, and I am being pulled in every direction, I come home, and I get to see her little face,” Fitzgibbon said. “Scout makes it easy.” 

Fitzgibbon is also the president of the Feminist Student Union at WKU. She said this is a very important organization to her, especially after having a child. She said since Scout is a baby girl, it has made her realize how important feminism is because she wants Scout to grow up in a loving world. 

“Many women deal with struggles in their daily lives just because they are women,” Fitzgibbon said. “I want to see a change from that.”

She said that women’s issues have become paramount to her because women should not have to live in a world where they are in fear just from being women. 

“I don’t want Scout to have to be a feminist, I want her to be in a world where those changes have already been made,” Fitzgibbon said.  

She said motherhood has become her identity, and she views herself as a mom first before anything else. She includes motherhood at the top of her resume because caring for a baby is her full-time job.  

“Scout is more important than anything; my priorities have definitely shifted,” Fitzgibbon said. “Whatever happens, I always just think, ‘Scout comes first.’” 

 Embrace Grace is a church-led global program that helps women who are single mothers or are experiencing unexpected pregnancies. It provides emotional, spiritual and practical support through their groups, according to its website. There are two Embrace Grace groups within Bowling Green based at local churches that serve women in the community. 


Melanie Stephens, the co-leader of the Embrace Grace group located at Lakeview Fellowship, said that motherhood is her world. 

Melanie Stephens had her daughter, Courtney, when she was 16 years old. At the time, Stephens was in an abusive relationship that she said she should have left sooner. A small part of her kitchen is dedicated to her passion of cake decorating. (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston)

“It kind of got me through some rough patches of my life,” Stephens said. “I feel like having the children and being a mother helped me cope with different things that were going on; I mean they’re my everything.” 

Stephens said that while she was married for 17 years, she was a single mother of two due to the relationship’s abusive nature. She had her first child with her now ex-husband at 16 and said she felt as if she did everything on her own. She had her second child with him two years later. 

She said she decided to leave him in 2011 when her children were 12 and 14.  

“It was a mess. I kept thinking I’ll do what the Bible says, and I’ll forgive,” Stephens said. “But you know, you can get away from that sort of relationship; God doesn’t expect you to live like that.” 

Stephens said it was a struggle for her to learn she didn’t have to live with abuse. 

“My kids wanted me to go, so that kind of gave me the strength. I just learned that I didn’t have to struggle anymore with the feeling that I needed to stay,” she said. “You learn how to walk away, and it’s still a struggle because then you’re doing it legit all by yourself, but God was there so I didn’t have to worry about anything.” 

Stephens said when she first found out she was pregnant, she was nervous but had sound support from her parents that helped alleviate her fear.  

“It was so scary at the time. I kind of just relied on my parents to help and teach me what I needed to know,” Stephens said. “You do have those moments of, ‘Oh crap,’ you know, but it’s also a lot of happy moments.” 

Stephens said raising her daughter became her new normal. Although, she thought she had to follow traditional norms, which harmed her view of motherhood.  

“I thought I had to be married to have a kid, so when I got pregnant, I thought, ‘We have to get married,’” Stephens said. “You don’t have to do that, but it took me 17 years to figure that out. Raising her through all that was just normal to me, and I did what I had to do to survive.” 

Stephens said her daughter is now married and has three children of her own. She said she sees a lot of herself within her daughter. 

 “She’s just like me and is one of my best friends,” Stephens said. “She grew up with me as a mom, but I learned so much about so many different things.” 


Courtney Moore, Stephens’ daughter, said that she hated seeing her mother endure the pains of single motherhood. 

“I hated seeing her struggle financially, but she always made sure she provided for my brother and I,” Moore said.  

Melanie Stephens comforts her granddaughter, Ainsley Moore, early in the morning on Sunday, Sept. 17. Every Sunday, Stephens and her family attend service at NewLife Church in Bowling Green. (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston)

She said that Stephens impacted the way she views motherhood, and she believes she is a better mother because of her mom.  

“Let’s be honest, she was a teen parent, she could have easily chosen the easy way out and chose not to continue her pregnancy, but because she chose life over fear, I am here today,” Moore said. “Now I am here today with three beautiful babies of my own and one angel baby.” 

Moore said that being a mom was something that she had always dreamed of.  

“Now that I have kids of my own, I understand the love that a mother has for her children,” Moore said. “It’s unconditional, and it’s a feeling that you truly can’t explain until you have kids of your own.” 

She said that her children call Stephens “Nana,” and the love that they all have for one another is unquestionable. 

“They’ve got her wrapped around their little fingers,” Moore said. “She spoils them to no end, and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without her. She lends a helping hand with them anytime we need it.” 

Stephens said motherhood has made her into the person she is today. She said it is an honor to be a mother, and it has made her look at the world through a different lens. Stephens is now remarried and has gained four stepchildren from this marriage, making her a mother of six.

“It made me grow up; it made me realize other people depended on me,” Stephens said. 

Stephens said Embrace Grace has impacted her deeply, even though she only joined the program last year. She said she lost her friends in high school due to her pregnancy and thinks joining a group like this in her youth would have helped her.  

“I had my mom and dad and one friend that were very supportive, but everybody else just kind of backed away, and I never talked to them,” Stephens said. “Embrace Grace is just a group where we can just gather and talk, whether it be a lesson, or we just need to vomit words. I think it is a tremendous program.” 

Stephens said Embrace Grace creates a welcoming, safe space for women to speak their mind by keeping everything confidential while providing the comfort that they can rely on others for their needs.


“It’s so they know that support is there – that they are loved and strong and going to get through this with the help of other women who have been in their shoes,” Stephens said. 

Stephens said outside of Embrace Grace, she runs a cake business named Cakes by Melanie. She started it 20 years ago and has worked to grow it since. She currently works out of her home but hopes to open a cake shop in Bowling Green soon. 

She said she started decorating cakes for her children’s birthdays, and it formed into a passion of hers. After her children grew up, she gained more time to partake in her own hobbies, and her cake business was born.

Stephens said if she were to give advice to new mothers, it would be that they are stronger than they think they are, but it is always OK to ask for help.  

“You don’t have to be miserable; you can do it,” Stephens said. “We’re here to help and support you — whatever you need, just ask. All you got to do is ask.” 

Embrace Grace has brought together many mothers who struggle with differing issues. Laura Bratcher, who serves as a testimonial for the group, said that motherhood is a blessing for her. 

She said she gives testimonials through Embrace Grace for other single mothers. These testimonials are where Bratcher helps women with issues similar to ones she has faced in the past through fellowship. 

“It was one of those things where I didn’t know my life didn’t have much purpose until I became a mother,” Bratcher said. “I realized, ‘Oh, this is it,’ and it fills my heart with love, motherhood does.” 

She said being a single mother is a lot of work with no one to help financially or trade off with if she feels overworked. 

“Being a single mom, you have to juggle it all, and I think one of the hardest parts is making all of the decisions,” Bratcher said. 

At 38, she had her daughter, Piper, who is now 7. She said her daughter has special needs. Bratcher said her birth was traumatic and she got sick for a long time due to a heart condition that she has now overcome. 

“She has autism, which adds another layer of difficulty, but also another layer of beauty to the whole motherhood thing,” Bratcher said. “We’re super close, and I’m her person … she is thriving.” 

Bratcher said amid her struggles, the most difficult one to manage is solitude. 

Laura Bratcher plays with her daughter Piper Bratcher in their backyard on a Sunday evening. Bratcher usually works the morning shifts as a server at LongHorn Steakhouse, so her afternoons are reserved for her daughter. Piper loves to pay outside and swing on her swing set. (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston)

“A lot of people overlook the mental struggles,” Bratcher said. “Loneliness is a struggle for a lot of single moms that I think is overlooked because there are so many struggles, but it is one of the hardest.” 


Bratcher said since becoming a mother, it has grown into her identity. 

“Being a single special needs mother, it becomes your personality,” Bratcher said. “You can try to incorporate other aspects of your personality or identity that defined you before, but there’s not much time for that. Motherhood is my identity now.”  

Bratcher said her daily life has become centered around her daughter, Piper. She drops her off at school, helps her with homework and takes her to occupational therapy. Occupational therapy is a type of therapy that helps children or adults with physical, mental, emotional or developmental challenges learn how to do everyday tasks or activities. Outside of caring for Piper, she works at LongHorn Steakhouse and spends much of her spare time at church. 

She said she also enjoys outdoor activities such as camping and kayaking but hasn’t had much time to partake in those activities with how time-consuming motherhood is. She hopes to one day take Piper along but cannot currently due to safety concerns.

Bratcher said that God has shaped and molded her into the person she is today, while Embrace Grace has strengthened her relationship with God by providing a space for her to worship freely. 

Bratcher said Embrace Grace is a way for her to give the support she needed while pregnant to others in the same situation. 

“It helps so much emotionally to know that someone else has been where you are,” Bratcher said. “Maybe none of us know exactly what we’re doing, but I’ve been where you are, and I got through it, and I’m here to tell you that you can, too.” 

Bratcher said she advises new mothers to give themselves grace and allow others to help them when they need it.  

“We’re all doing the absolute best we can, and don’t feel like anybody’s judging you,” Bratcher said. “Admitting that you need help and then allowing people to help you is easy, and you can do it, and you will thank yourself for doing it.”