Growing Up With Him by Omy
Those were the words I heard come out of my father's mouth when I finally announced to him that I was pregnant. It was in those two little words coming through the phone (I had told him on the phone because I didn't want to see the disappointment in his face when I dropped the bomb) that I heard all his disappointment in me that I had feared this news would bring. It was why I had waited until I was almost four months along to tell my dad the news. It was all the things he didn't say but I knew he was thinking, "Now she'll never go back to school, " "She's throwing her life away," "And just what are they going to do for money?" . They were all implied in those two words.
I was 18, had just dropped out of my second semester of college, and moved back to my hometown to be with my boyfriend. College hadn't been going so well for me, I didn't know what I wanted to study and so I was floundering. Having been a star student in high school, it was a shock to me to go to a university and suddenly be a tiny fish, not the best anymore, not anywhere near the best, even. So I had decided to "take a year off," to "find myself," whatever that may be, thereby losing my full scholarship to college. It goes without saying that this didn't make my parents too happy.
I had been waiting tables at a little cafe since returning home to Tucson, and had also failed to tell my bosses that I was pregnant- for fear of what they, with their presumably traditional values, would think of me. I held off making the announcement at work until I could avoid it no longer, so I was nearly six months along and beginning to show before I let them know why I had appeared to have been struck with a very bad stomach virus for an entire three months. During my whole first trimester, every time I smelled the strong scent of the coffee I had to grind every morning, or the odors of the German food we served at lunchtime, I had to run to the bathroom to throw up. Sauerkraut and bratwurst were bad enough when I wasn't pregnant, but now their smell had become almost intolerable. I don't know what they might have thought was wrong with me, but I had only just started the job when I became pregnant, and I was afraid I'd be fired if they found out. Yes, I know it's technically illegal for that to happen, but that didn't stop me from thinking it. Quite surprisingly to me, no one at my workplace seemed to care one way or the other about my newly pregnant, unwed teen status. I continued to work there right up until a few days before my son was born, and returned after three months of (unpaid) maternity leave.
Strangely enough, my boyfriend and I had begun the first stages of planning our wedding when I first realized I was pregnant. We had gotten engaged while we were still enrolled in college and, after a short rocky period where we'd broken up and subsequently gotten back together, we had decided that we were going to be married. We were planning on a spring wedding so that it could be before the summer heat waves came, but that would have put me right smack-dab in the ninth month of pregnancy, and there was no way I was going to be caught dead in a maternity wedding gown! So we opted to hold off our plans for a while. I had no qualms about people knowing I was having premarital sex, but the last thing I wanted was for anyone to think we were rushing to get married just because I had gotten myself knocked up.So it was decided. We'd wait to announce the wedding until after the baby was born, and for now we'd just concentrate on having a healthy pregnancy and birth.
I was directed by a friend to a low-income clinic that had a practice of 8 midwives. It was there I applied for and received ACCESS (state funded health-care coverage) and WIC (a food supplement program from the federal government for pregnant and nursing mothers). I was thrilled to have found a place that would allow me to get the unmedicated, midwife-assisted- yet- “safe” hospital birth and prenatal care that I desired without having to pay out-of-pocket. The only catch was that I had to lie to the person who helped me to fill out the application forms, saying that I did not live with the father of the baby, and that he was giving me no monetary support whatsoever. I knew that with both of our incomes considered, we would have been just over the income bracket to qualify. Without that insurance, I would have had no ability to pay for prenatal care, let alone a hospital birth.
Let me explain how I felt when I realized that my carelessness about refilling my birth control prescription after I moved back home (and our failure to abstain from having intercourse without a condom) had left me 18 years old and pregnant. With no college education, no real job, nor any serious ideas on what I really wanted to do for a career, I felt like a scared little girl who had been told that the rest of her life was now mapped out for her. That if I chose to have this baby instead of an abortion, I'd be giving up all my other dreams, whatever they may be. No chance at travelling around Europe with a backpack on $20 a day. No chance at returning to school on a scholarship. No chance at moving to New York to pursue my dreams of becoming a big-time editor. No chance at any kind of success, ever. This is what I (a scared little eighteen year old girl who felt that she may as well be nine, for all the life-experience she had obtained up to that point) felt as I read the positive sign on my pregnancy test that June night in the bathroom of my tiny one-bedroom apartment . I felt I was doomed to a life of poverty and shunned by society for being impure, unchaste, and making the WRONG decision. I felt that, no matter which way I turned at that point, it would be the wrong thing to do.
I thought long and hard about having an abortion. I wasn't fundamentally opposed, in fact I had always assumed that's what I would do if I was faced with an unplanned pregnancy. When it came down to it though, I didn't feel that I could go through with terminating a pregnancy. I went to planned parenthood to hopefully talk to a counselor or a nurse and get some advice. Of course, no one can make that kind of decision for you, so all I got from them were several pamphlets from various organizations, advertising their counseling services. One of them was from a catholic social service, and the other an adoption service. I think I had hoped that planned parenthood would push me into getting the abortion so I wouldn't have to make the choice myself. My boyfriend was supportive of whatever I wanted to do, but strongly leaned towards us having the baby. He was very excited about the prospect of having a child. As young and financailly unstable as we were, I knew that we'd be good parents and I had known for some time that I wanted to parent children with this man. I just thought we would have more time to prepare ourselves for the task. We decided to have the baby.
As it was, we were thrown in head first. We had no classes or preparation, save the six hours of childbirth classes that were paid for by the clinic, and the multitude of reading I'd done over the course of the pregnancy on the subject of childbirth and parenting. I'd always been one for reading, and I spent the majority of the pregnancy (when I wasn't sleeping or working) reading all I could get my hands on about epidurals (didn't want one) waterbirths (wanted one-the hospital didn't allow them), breastfeeding (all for it), and infant care. I, like all mothers before me with the time and opportunity to do so, spent countless hours folding and refolding tiny socks and onesies and tiny little baby blankets in anticipation of my precious little one's arrival. My boyfriend spent many hours working two jobs (he took on a second one as a way to help our savings grow) in his anticipation of the huge cost of raising an infant. We moved into a place with a second bedroom, a house right next door to my parent’s house, fixing it up as best we could to suit us. We were thrown into a storm of sorts, but we made it out okay.
My son is now seven. I have recently had another baby, and our first is a very proud big brother. He's no longer a baby, soon to be entering the second grade (my GOD, can it be?) but a very caring, sensitive, artistic, bright young boy who loves to read and to draw his own comics. I know he's a great kid because we get nothing but compliments from his teachers and other adults who come into contact with him. He loves to cook with me and is always into some art project or another. He is such a special and amazing kid, it's been so incredible watching him grow and mature into the boy he is today.
I am now 26, a full-fledged adult this time around at parenting our newest baby, and I have felt that we are treated differently now. No one says I am too young to have kids and strangers don't automatically assume I don't know what I'm doing as a mom. I also get offered much less unsolicited advice. This may be because people can see, as evidenced by my older child, that I am old hat at this parenting thing, or perhaps it’s that I am older now, and less likely in their eyes to be perplexed by the whole affair. I know firsthand that no matter what age you have your children, there is certain to be a degree of doubt about whether you are doing the right thing, right now. I was with my sister as she birthed her first baby when she was 29, and she was every bit as scared as I was when I had mine at 19. She just had enough sense to accept the support that was offered her, rather than to shun it in an attempt to prove that she "could do it on her own". No one raises a baby on their own, and if they do, my hat goes off to them. It is a huge undertaking, one that requires many hands to pull off. All I can say is accept all the help that is offered, and if none is offered (as I'm sure is the case for many women) make sure that you go out of your way to do everything possible to create a community of support for yourself. Reach out to other moms at your doctor or midwife's office, or local clinic, or your high school's teen mother group. Go to story time at your library and hook up with other parents of young kids. That is absolutely the best thing we can do for ourselves and for our children. No one should have to do it alone.
I no longer worry that we aren't going to be great parents, I know we already are. It's been a long time since I have felt the cold judgemental stares of strangers as I get on the bus with my baby. And my father came around, to be present (in the other room) at the birth of my son, and is now a very proud grandpa to both of our children. I don't want to sound cliché or “happily ever after”, because of course there have been hardships involved in becoming parents so young. But looking back, I don't think I would have chosen any other path for myself. I can't imagine my life without my child. I guess in many ways I have grown up alongside him.