Things teenage moms get used to hearing:
“I know you love him and all, but wouldn’t you prefer it if he hadn’t been born?”
“And now you’ve got your very own real dolly to play with!”
“Oh my goodness, that’s very young, isn’t it?”
“Oh, so you’re NOT married then? Oh. Okay. Wow.”
Things teenage moms should have said at the time:
“Um, no. You can’t love someone and wish they were never born. Are you on crack?”
“Um, no. He’s a real person, like. With glands and stuff. And organs. Not made of plastic, I promise. Incidentally, are you on crack?”
“Why yes, yes it is.” (With apologies to Phineas and Ferb)
“No, funnily enough, it’s possible for one to become pregnant at 15 and yet still be responsible enough not to compound the problem and complicate the issue by marrying an unsuitable person just for the sake of appearances or to give my child a name, because, get this – you’ll love it – he HAS a name already, quite a nice one. Are you QUITE SURE you’re not on crack?”
When one is a Teenage Pregnancy Statistic in the bad old 1990’s, one becomes accustomed to all manner of nosy parker and judgmental comment. One tries to grow a thick skin, and one gets on with the business of being a Mom. Mommy. Mother. Good words, magic words which do make it all worthwhile, if you let them.
One forgets, eventually, why some people do a double take and the theatrical side-eye at you and baby in the street. Zip’s not down, skirt not tucked into panties, no spinach in teeth – what are they looking at?
Ah yes, it dawns. Me. The Bad Girl. That Girl, She’s The One I Told You About. That Poor Baby. Tsk and Tut. Very Sad. And so on.
Everyone wants to hear The Story. Meeting someone for the first time, you mention your child’s age, they do the math and the eyes widen. Then they want to know. So you tell the story again. For some moms, maybe, The Story becomes all they know to say of themselves, because nobody listens further than that. Nobody asks more than that.
So here’s my story, told my way.
I was fifteen, a good girl – don’t roll your eyes – I was! Well-loved and educated, from a happy and stable family, well-versed in contraception, I still fell pregnant, because sometimes it happens that way.
There was drama. There were tears, and snot and the gut-wrenching pain of having disappointed, hurt and scared my parents. There was fear for the future. There were choices to be made. Decisions were made outside on the grass behind my garage; a sunny August afternoon, my mother hugged me and I knew it would be okay.
My boy, my gorgeous, chubby-cheeked wide awake son was born on 11 April 1994 and I cried tears of happiness, adrenaline and abject terror, as only a new mother knows how. I marveled at his perfection and promised him the world. I worried that I couldn’t give it to him. I cried some more.
I tried sohard to do it all Right. Doing it 100% A-plus Gold Star Perfectly would atone, somehow, a little – for the judgment and stares I still felt from the world (or imagined I did. Same thing, in the end).
There was, surely, A Correct Way To Mother? A Method Approved By Trustworthy Authority Figures? I’m couldn’tbe, in fact, expected to figure this out for MYSELF, could I? What madness is that?
Fairly standard first-time mom angst, then.
Like I said, you get on with things. The Story fades into the background of daily Mom Life – you stop seeing yourself as That Girl and magically transform into His Mommy. Until someone new comes along and demands an explanation of your life – and so The Story is trundled out again, tired, battered and more than a little old. You silently rebut all their stupid questions with “Are you on crack?” but of course you don’t say it, because sad teenage pregnancy statistic or not, your parents didn’t raise you to be rude.
It’s 17 years later, and there is no more Story. There is only Us. We simple Are. Our life together has been a good one; for all the gloomy predictions of unfulfilled potential, neglect and perpetual ringworm, my son has turned out well. I did have something to do with that.
I am over being ashamed. I am over watching for the side-eye. Let them look. If you must judge me, please judge me for the kind of mother I have been to my child, because that’s where you’ll find out who I am really am.
Tracy Engelbrecht is a South African writer, author of “The Girl Who Couldn’t Say No: Memoir of a Teenage Mom”, mom of two, and founder of a local support group for young moms. All proceeds of the online sale of her book go towards supporting the group.