There have been a ton of articles written on the statistics of having a baby young, how it effects education, livelihoods, economic standing and the success of the child. There has been almost nothing written about the experience of being a young parent. I knew I would be tired, poor, dirty, afraid and alone. Even if I hadn’t had access to the internet, strangers and loved ones alike had no trouble pointing all of that out. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how affected by other’s opinions I would be.
When I peed on that stick for the first time, I wasn’t elated, I wasn’t even happy. There wasn’t a joyful embrace between my boyfriend and I… it was an ‘oh shit’ moment. We were 20 and 22 respectively, we had minimum wage jobs, car payments and full college course-loads. We had a lot to consider.
Fifty or one hundred years ago, it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary to be 20 and pregnant, 20 unmarried and pregnant yes, but 20 and pregnant not so much. Honestly, it wasn’t even that weird for members of my Mother’s generation and even in my generation I was too old for reality tv. Regardless, I stuck out.
I wasn’t shocked when I lost my job, that was more recession related than pregnancy related, I wasn’t shocked when I switched from a brick and mortar university to an online, for profit college. I knew abject poverty was coming. I was discouraged, but not surprised when I moved home, or when my mom took over my rent before that. None of it shocked or hurt me, not like the loss of friends and family, or the blatant disrespect and disregard from doctors and medical professionals. A decade later, those are the things that still wake me up in the middle of the night.
My best friend, a woman I’ve known and been close to since I was 5 years old hasn’t spoken to me, hasn’t seen me in a decade. She was shocked when I didn’t have an abortion… shocked to the point that she disappeared. (Side note: this is not a pro-life manifesto. I’m very pro-choice and I will fight for anyone’s right to choose. I chose not to exercise my right to a safe abortion and to be honest I still occasionally question that decision. Not to say that I don’t love my daughter more than life itself; just that I could have done so much better, just 5 years later). The choice not to abort is still one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if there were impressions in the pavement, at the back of the Planned Parenthood parking lot, across from the library where I used to study after school. My car sat there, with me in it, pondering my life, my daughter’s life, my now husband’s life for what seemed like years.
My oldest Daughter was born at 34 weeks gestation, exactly 7 days before my 21st birthday and exactly 3 days after Christmas.
The nurse didn’t take me seriously when I told her my water had broken, that I was bleeding. After all it was Christmas Eve, I was too young to know my body, I just wanted a Christmas baby (her words, not mine). Even after I explained that I understood the crap shoot that having a holiday adjacent birthday was, even after I pointed out that I knew my anatomy, she insisted that I had peed myself and sent me home to rest.
Three days later my daughter was born, turns out I’d had a slow amniotic leak, resulting in a premee with a massive lung infection. She spent a month in the NICU with a doctor who felt that addressing my parents was more appropriate than addressing me. More than anything I wish that I had understood my rights as a person and as a parent at the time. Had I known how to advocate for myself and my child, she likely would have been born healthy and on time. I was young, I was not stupid, I had taken care of my body, I didn’t do anything to warrant the treatment I received, in a well-respected hospital in California… one of the best places to give birth in America.
Today my daughter is a vibrant 10-year-old, a big sister two times over, she has had a relatively normal middle-class life, and for the past 8 years she’s been supported fully by her parents, not the state, not family members. People make mistakes, sometimes those mistakes are beautiful, a little grace goes a long way in situations like mine.