- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Someday, newborn Victor Alexander Buford might ask his mother: How did you find out you were pregnant? Why is my daddy not around? What was your life like back then?

She hopes by that time - years from now - she will know what to say.

Elizabeth “Lyzz” Buford believes the decisions she made in recent months, the way she changed her life before her son was born, will ease the pain of telling him the story.

“When he’s older and starts asking questions about my past, I’ll just tell him I did some pretty stupid things that got me to where I was at this point,” said Lyzz, 22. “I’ll tell him how hard it was and explain it to him, without making him live it.”

She may start by telling him how much she wanted him, even though she was homeless and could barely care for herself. She may tell him how she refused to end the pregnancy or give him to someone else.

But there is no way to skirt the embarrassing details. The pregnancy wasn’t planned. The guy, a casual fling, never made her feel safe or loved. The day the pregnancy test read “positive” she was living in a Kansas City flop house with 10 others. She wanted to run away, to get drunk and high, something she did a lot back then.

Instead, she fled, in the dead of winter, to a homeless shelter in another city, and then to Springfield, far enough away that she could think. She arrived homeless and alone - except for the baby growing in her belly.

She initially embraced the streets, making friends and learning where to get food and supplies. She slept on an abandoned loading dock and then camped behind a west-side Walmart Market. She took up with a new guy, gaining a measure of protection.

But as the weeks wore on and the baby inside her continued to grow, a determination set in. The only way to keep her baby, she figured, was to make a better life for herself and get off the streets. She wanted to prove the naysayers wrong.

“At first, I was trying to make a point to prove to everybody else that I wasn’t who I appeared to be and that I had something going for me,” she said. “Then it turned into I only had myself to prove all that to - the motivation I gave myself.”

Lyzz said she wouldn’t have been able to think clearly if she hadn’t stepped away from drugs and alcohol, a decision she made after learning she was pregnant.

“That frees your mind. You’re not stuck and focused on one thing,” said Lyzz, who has admitted smoking meth in the past. “You have more time and energy and money to spend elsewhere.”

She started by accepting help from the two people who told her they’d always love her, no matter what. Her relationship with her long-divorced parents, who lived hours away, was damaged. But the prospect of a grandchild had changed things.

Her father, a Sunday school teacher and former cop, sent what money he could and offered encouragement through texts. When Lyzz felt low, she’d call and he’d read Scriptures into the phone.

“She is 200 percent better off than she was. This baby is the best thing that ever happened to her,” said Ron Buford, her father. “It has given her something to hold on to.”

Lyzz’s mom was weary of getting too involved. Still, Erica Herman, a social worker who has experience helping the homeless, set up an account at Walgreens so Lyzz could get her prescriptions filled; paid for monthly bus passes; and encouraged her daughter to get a job and apartment.

“She helped a lot with the emotional and mental stability that I needed,” Lyzz said. “She has helped with making sure I’m going through with stuff.”

By the start of spring, Herman rented a pay-by-the-week, one-room apartment on Grant Avenue for her daughter. Lyzz moved in, found a job at McDonald’s and started making long bus trips to and from work.

“I surprised the hell out of myself,” she said.

Lyzz accessed community resources, like the Pregnancy Care Center” and said “yes” when others, including the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, wanted to send a community health nurse her way.

With the help of her mom and a family friend, she had enough money to put down the deposit for a two-bedroom place on the west side, where rent is based on income. She signed a one-year lease, moved in June 2 and pays $178 a month.

“I told her she’s my hero. I am very proud of her,” said Erica Herman. “She did this. I just pushed her in the right direction.”

As Lyzz’s due date approached, friends and family helped her find a bed, a couch and a dresser. She started getting Victor’s bedroom ready - organizing the bottles, diapers and hand-me-down baby clothes she’d been collecting.

“For his life, I want everything to be different…,” Lyzz said. “I want him to be in a safe place and I want him to know he can talk to me about making good choices - you know, just to not have to go through everything I did.”

On June 29, the day Victor took his first breath inside a CoxSouth delivery room, Lyzz’s mother was by her side. Her father was a few feet away, cheering his daughter from the other side of a privacy curtain.

“I feel like they have missed out on a lot and I’ve missed out on a lot of their life, too,” she said. “…It just seemed like they were the ones who were supposed to be there, not anybody else.”

Out in the waiting room, other members of Lyzz’s new support team came and went - a longtime family friend, a young mother who had also been homeless, and the guy she hooked up with after moving to Springfield. They are no longer together.

When Victor was a few days old, Lyzz and her mom brought him home from the hospital. She is enjoying all the “firsts” with Victor and developing a new routine, one centered on meeting his needs.

She recalled how the first time she held her son and heard him cry, her mind went blank.

“It was joy that I overcame a lot and he has too, since he was with me for most of it,” she said. “Just the fact that we were both healthy in the end, especially him, I was really happy.”

Lyzz says she finally has something worth protecting: a home of her own and a baby who needs her. But, that doesn’t mean staying off the streets will be easy.

“I’ve had a couple people tempt me to smoke meth again and (say) ‘Come over here and we’ll do this with you or we’ll help you,’” she said, sitting in her apartment. “And I just come back here, lock my doors and I just stay in.”

But Lyzz said she is no longer alone. She has a “big support system” and a tiny reason - all of 10 pounds now - to keep making good decisions.

“If I feel like I’m slipping back, I can say ‘Hey, I need to talk,” she said, holding her son, “because I don’t want to ever not have him.”

___

Information from: Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com

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