Lifetree Cafés nationwide to screen, discuss short film about Lake in the Hills family dealing with teen pregnancy

Separated from her husband and no longer living under the same roof, Sheri Challender was already in a difficult place in life when she was dealt another blow.

Her daughter, only 15 years old and a high school freshman, was pregnant.

“When we found out Kylie was pregnant, of course any parent would be shocked,” Sheri Challender said. “You have no idea what direction you’re going to go in.”

Kylie Challender had seen the shows like “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant,” and how challenging those young parents’ lives were, but thought that couldn’t and wouldn’t happen to her.

Until it did.

“I found out I was pregnant, and all of a sudden I wasn’t invincible anymore,” she said. 

The Lake in the Hills family’s story will be told this week in a short video titled “A Family Divided: Finding Peace by Letting Go,” which will be played across the country as part of Lifetree Café events. 

These hour-long “conversation cafes” are held once a week in various locations, including Crystal Lake, Marengo and Huntley, and are designed to provide a place for people to hear stories and talk about topics relating to life and faith.

Although the cafés began as a ministry effort, local director Sheila Halasz said they are open to everyone.

Halasz runs the Lifetree Café that meets at Conscious Cup Coffee Roasters on Route 14 in Crystal Lake, which is where she met Sheri Challender, who works there. 

“We just knew she had a really interesting story, and we saw that a great impact could be made on other people,” Halasz said. “The pregnancy is part of it, but it’s not all of the story.”

Sheri Challender said she had difficulty finding support for the parents a pregnant teen.

“What you don’t really see a whole lot of is the impact on the whole family,” she said. “It’s a whole family event; it’s not just the teenager who goes through this.” 

The separation between Challender and her husband only compounded the issue. Challender had moved out, and Kylie had stayed in the home, living with her dad, Cris. 

“How are we going to deal with this when we’re not living under the same roof?” Sheri Challendar said.

Abortion hadn’t been an option to Kylie. Although her parents considered it one, she was about four months pregnant when she told them. 

So they began to push for adoption. They met with an adoption agency and began searching for a family.

But not long before her due date, Kylie decided she couldn’t go through with it. 

“Thinking of having the baby and watching the baby leave my hands and go to somebody else, that was just breaking my heart,” Kylie said. “I just kind of came to realize that I would never be able to give up my child.”

Through a blog she had started, momofapregnantteen.com, Sheri Challender also began to realize that adoption wasn’t just an easy solution. A family wouldn’t just take the baby and things would go back to normal.

“What a discovered through my blog in hearing from other families that had been in our predicament, is that is not how it works,” she said. “You get to the other side of the adoption, and the mother grieves the loss. I heard from a woman who was 53 years old still grieving the loss of that child.”

The entire situation is described best in one word, Sheri said: upheaval. Finding out Kylie was going to keep the baby was like being told her daughter was pregnant all over again, Sheri said, and it was difficult to find acceptance. 

But even Kylie’s father, Cris, who had been pushing the hardest for adoption, came around. He made a batch of a home brew beer, calling it a “baby brew” and threw a shower of sorts with his friends, asking them to bring a baby item over – new or old, it didn’t matter.

Sheri had moved back in by then to help Kylie and the baby. Eventually, the couple ended up reconciling. 

Dominic was born July 10, 2013, weighing 7 pounds, 7 ounces.

After her son’s birth, Kylie was homeschooled for several months at the beginning of her sophomore year before returning to Huntley High School. She will be a junior in the fall.

When people found out she was pregnant, Kylie said, she lost some friends, but others wanted to talk to her because she was a novelty, a pregnant freshman. 

She never got negative attention to her face, but behind her back, it was happening.

“I still get dirty looks, but now I just don’t pay attention,” she said.

But she still feels the judgement and the bullying. 

“A lot of kids are tough critics, and I felt it was important to show the inside of what goes on with a teen pregnancy,” Kylie said. 

That’s a point her mother also wants to get across: You don’t know the situation unless you’ve been in it yourself.

Another family member also experienced a teen pregnancy, and at the time, Sheri couldn’t understand. How they could be so excited? How could they be so accepting?

"You don’t know what they had to go through to get to that point, like we did,” Sheri said.

In addition to the regularly scheduled 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday, Halasz said a special showing of the Lifetree Café video will be held for high schoolers at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Conscious Cup. 

A diaper drive also is being held, with the diapers being donated to Informed Choices, formerly known as Tri-County Pregnancy and Parenting Services.

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