When I got pregnant my senior year of high school, I honestly never thought much about how being a young mom would impact me in the ways it has. I remember growing up, thinking, I would NEVER want to fuck up and be a teen mom. To be pregnant in high school, not married, to be a single mom, those were not positive things for me to be. I grew up around conservative ideals of motherhood and female sexuality. I hid the fact that I was on the pill and having sex with my boyfriend. Of course, some of these would good boundaries, but I wasn’t hiding them to establish healthy boundaries with parents (I don’t think I really knew what healthy boundaries with parents was). I was hiding my sexuality because I was terrified they would hate me.
So, coming close to 14 years ago, I got pregnant. I was also on the pill. I had sex for the first time, literally, the month prior. My pregnancy was a horribly lonesome time. I hid my pregnancy from everyone. I wore baggy clothes and acted as if nothing was different. I felt ashamed and I blamed my morning multivitamin for my morning sickness. I would throw up in gym and band class. Band would end and here I was packing up my flute quickly, feeling the urge to puke, and running to the garbage can or bathroom … leaving class without permission. I was hiding saltine crackers and PowerAde in my locker, eating and drinking them quickly between classes. Trying to keep the puke down. Looking back, it is amazing how I survived. Seriously. When I see teen girls pregnant, I usually think: fuck, I hope you have support because it’s fucking rough. Now, I’m 32. If I was pregnant now, I think I would be scared, but not as scared. And I wouldn’t be so ashamed and alone.
Not only was my teen pregnancy completely horrible, but so was my social situation. I had a lot of conflicts with my parents. I moved out my senior year into my own studio apartment. I worked full-time at McDonald’s and after graduating high school; I got a second job at Bingorama. My daughter was due in September. But I honestly was not paying much attention. The more I hung out with my punk, queer friends - the more I felt less crazy and the more I could ignore what situation I was really in. My boyfriend got into drugs, again, and we broke up shortly after I graduated high school. He still had a year of high school left, but dropped out after getting released from the school for teens with legal and mental health problems he was attending. He was supposed to do adult learning classes, but never did. I felt so depressed and betrayed. He was a manipulative, controlling abuser, but I still loved him and I never realized how abusive he actually was until many years after I left him.
The whole summer I was pregnant, I worked, hung out with my punk, queer friends, and slept. That’s all. I would stay up watching VH1 reruns of “Where Are They Now?” and “Hollywood Story.” My ex-boyfriend got into selling drugs and eventually was caught. He was arrested the weekend before I was due. I spent the day before my due date hanging out with his then new girlfriend, raising money to bail him out of jail. She didn’t know I was pregnant until his mom called, screaming at him about the drugs, my pregnancy, and him being arrested. I sold CDs and movies, I put my graduation money up for collateral, and his friend put her car up for collateral after speaking to the bonds people.
He got out of jail until his trial.
Here I was: 18 and pregnant, not married, baby-daddy just got out of jail. In many ways, I just kept thinking about how typical this was. Of course this is my life. Of course I would never think my life would go this way, but it did. Of course this is what I was told not to be and this is how I end up being.
I gave birth to my daughter, unassisted on September 25, 2001. Her father was there. He rapped Ol’ Dirty Bastard, which I screamed “owie” the entire time. When she was born, they placed her on me and honestly, I didn’t have this deep connection. That deep connection people talk about, I was detached from the situation, looking in. I was so ashamed and I did not develop a bond immediately. But I do remember when I saw her; I started to cry because she had super huge eyes, she was so small, and the nurse said, “she recognizes your voice.”
When I was pregnant I did consider abortion and adoption. By the time I found out I was pregnant, it was too late to get an abortion in the state I live. As far as adoption, I went as far as visiting the adoption agency in town and looking at potential parents. I remember looking through the binder, thinking … I have to decide, of these people, who my baby should go. How is this even possible? Am I not worthy? What is going on? All these decisions only felt like a Band-Aid to the situation I was in. I felt forced into making a decision I wasn’t prepared for! And each of those potential decisions … it was a forceful decision being placed on everyone around me. I even had hospital staff urging adoption or foster care. I had a social service agency forcing adoption. I had nurses telling me how hard teen parenting is. No encouragement, what so ever. I was so confused and scared and alone.
In the end, I decided to keep her, even though I was so scared and confused and felt alone and felt like I was making the wrong decision. I felt I was going to fuck up her life. I was a teen mom. I was poor. I just graduated high school. I had no degree. Her baby-daddy was not reliable and he was abusive. He was a drug addict and an alcoholic. He called me a “whore” when he called me from his house while I was at the hospital after I was confronted about his behavior and recent arrest. I told everyone about his recent arrest because people saw it in the newspaper. I told no one that he called me a “whore.”
I moved into my mom and stepdad’s temporarily. I still had my studio apartment, though. I lived with them for about a month and actually found a new job that started a month after my daughter was born. So I decided to do that. It paid better and it was full time and the hours were the steady. I secretly got back together with my baby-daddy. However, eventually people found out. He was in and out of jobs. He couldn’t keep one. He actually ended up going to jail for the drug charges. He was sentenced to 18 months and all but 6 were suspended. I spent two days a week visiting him in jail with our daughter. I wrote him everyday and wrote to the judge, asking for early release. He did get out about a month early.
When he got out, things changed. I thought things would better. I thought him going to jail and missing out of our daughter’s infancy would make things better. Looking back, I felt so much better when he was in jail. Life was better. When he was out of jail, he was back into drugs and alcohol and rarely helped, but I wanted things to work out so much that I kept going with it. He was on probation, too. We ended up moving to a bigger city together and I enrolled in a community college for graphic design. It took me about two years to get my associate’s. During that time, I met other single and teen moms through a website called girl-mom.com (RIP!). Some of the moms lived in the city I did. I slowly started to open up about the abuse I was experience. He was cheating on me, verbally and emotionally abusing me, and he had raped and sexually abused me. I had no context to figure out what exactly was going on and so much of it became so internalized that I just KNEW it was my fault. I had no context to take a step back and realize I did not deserve this and neither did my daughter.
Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore. He moved out to “work on our relationship” into a mutual friend’s apartment. During that time, I found some incriminating things on our computer, so I ended the relationship. I finally fucking ended the destructive, horrible relationship. And even though it was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done, I felt so fucking free. I remember it took me about 2 hours for me to tell him. We sat on the couch and he kept asking me what was wrong, I kept crying, and I finally told him, and he got so angry with me. He blamed me, screamed at me, packed up his stuff, throwing random statements about how horrible I was, and left. He tried to keep coming back. He kept texting me … saying he loved me, that nothing will change that. He would pound on the apartment door for, what seemed like hours. I never opened it. I pushed through. I never went back, even though I wanted to. Of course, that wasn’t the first time I had tried to break up with him. I had tried to do it before. It was hard because I truly fucking loved him. I loved him for a long time after we broke up, too. I wanted to help him, I wanted him to have a better life. Only years later, I found out that was not in my control or was it my responsibility.
I was barely financially making it in that city, so I moved back to my home state. I transferred colleges to work toward my Bachelor’s and ended up graduating with my BA in sociology and women’s studies (double major). During this time, I worked really hard on my mental health. I took a break from drinking, started counseling off/on, and developed healthy relationships. I also went to a parenting class and set firm boundaries with my baby-daddy. In fact, my daughter and I don’t talk to him anymore. She even called him out over the phone for his bullshit and lies. It was so brave and amazing!!
In 2010, I was also accepted into a graduate program for a Master’s in Counseling. During those two years, I worked part-time, went to school full-time, and entered outpatient eating disorder treatment. My eating disorder was something that I have had most of my life and I got to the point of not being able to take it anymore. I was driving an hour away to go to my appointments and working, going to class, and doing my internship. I graduated in 2012. But I wanted more … I wanted something different, so I applied for a Master’s in Public Health program and was accepted. Public health was where I realized that is what I wanted to do. I focused all my research and work around women’s issues, including birth control, abortion, maternal health, and teen pregnancy. I graduated this year and now I work at the local domestic violence organization doing research and attending court to ensure offenders of DV and SA are being held accountable. I also help run survivor groups and take part of various community activities. It is such a great fit for me!
Like many single and teen mothers, I was also poor this entire time. I’ve been on all kinds of public assistance to help us out! I NEEDED food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and heating assistance. We would be starving and homeless without it. Medicaid helped me go to eating disorder treatment and helped pay for my daughter and my asthma medicine. Food stamps provided us nutritious vegetarian foods. Housing helped us have a decent apartment close to her elementary and middle schools. We walk, bike, and take the bus as often to save money on gas and I try to teach her to not rely on cars so much.
When I look back at how I have been in my life. I grew up in an abusive home and that cycle did not end. I ended up with an abuser. I got pregnant as a teen in high school. I went through a whole lot of shit to get to where I needed to be. I never felt strong. I always felt weak and like a huge failure. But I also knew, so desperately knew that I DID NOT want my daughter to end up where I did. I wanted her to have a mom who left abusive relationships; got the help she needed, didn’t feel so ashamed of her choices, and could go far in her life because I knew that she could.
And on the other hand, if I never had my daughter, I do not think I would have done ANY of this. I think I would have stayed where I was. I probably would not have gone to college or graduate school. I honestly would probably be using harder drugs, I would have never started recovery from my eating disorder.
I must say that I would not have gotten to where I was without the support I had. I had the moms from girl-mom.com. I had the support of friends and partners. I have had the help of counseling and recovery. And while I do not get along with my mom, most of the time, she helped me at the beginning with watching my daughter.
I would not have gotten to any of this without becoming a teen mom, as well. I truly believe my life was saved because I become a mom as a teen. My daughter gave me the motivation to make MY life better, HER life better, and ours.
I can never say enough that encouragement and support goes a long way. Seeing that others can “do it” (whatever that is for a person) is also just as important. I remember seeing former teen moms going to medical school or enrolling into a PhD program or getting super amazing jobs or raising their special needs kids on their own. They’re all important. So whether teen moms want to go to college or not, I think they’re all amazing. Teen moms need support and when they get it, I see them go to amazing places. They’re my fucking heroes.