16 & Pregnant: My Story

I’ll admit straight off that I had my own stereotypes about teenagers who had children. I thought they were ‘irresponsible’- I mean we all know you can end up pregnant if you’re sexually active and not careful right? I had a picture in my head of the girls who ended up in that situation, and the picture in my head did not look like me.

I was from a good family: upper middle class, fairly privileged. My parents were both intelligent and successful people, and we had a pretty solid home growing up. When I was about 15/16 my parents split up, but only after my brother and I had told them that we already knew that they were staying together for us, and were OK with them divorcing. It was not at all a traumatic divorce, no custody battle, no conflict, no major disruption.

In school I was a great student. I heard frequently from my teachers that I had a lot of potential, and after hearing that enough I sort of put it to the test and realized they were right. I finished on Honour Roll with a bunch of awards for academic achievement.

I was pretty popular. I was involved in tonnes of groups, and knew everybody. I had friends in all the cliques- the greasers, the stoners, the jocks, the hicks... I had tonnes of really good friends.

When I started dating, I was dating older guys (they were supposed to be so much more ‘mature’, right?). But then there was this one guy. He was completely not my type, AT ALL- he was a little bit Brooks and Dunn, and I was a little bit Rage Against the Machine and Ben Harper. He wasn’t even someone I would really be close friends with normally, but I met him through mutual friends (which isn’t saying much as we come from a small town where basically everyone is a ‘mutual friend’), and he started hanging around a lot....and then a lot more...and then a lot more. When I eventually clicked in that he was hanging around because of me I’ve got to admit... it felt good to be wanted. And he became pretty intense about us fairly quickly. This guy actually once drove back from a job he was doing in Sault St Marie after a few months of dating because he just wanted to be close to me. Looking back, it’s easy to go ‘wait a minute...that’s actually pretty creepy’, but at the time I was only really focused on how it felt to be so valuable to someone. I did not ask myself why a guy who was done highschool would be dating a girl in highschool, or why he couldn’t find a girl his age, or why he would drive from Sault Ste Marie just to be around me....this was really new to me: being... needed. I’m not going to lie, it made me feel important.

He made it clear he wanted to marry me early on, that he didn’t see the point to dating at all if the end result wasn’t going to be marriage. We used to argue about it. My parents had just divorced and I wasn’t really that sold on the idea of marriage. But he was extremely persistent, and would actually get really upset if I implied I wasn’t going to marry him. I felt like ‘wow’ this guy really, really loves me and wants to be with me forever.

At a certain point I told him that I didn’t want to be in a sexual relationship, and I was really clear about why. I had a lot of different reasons, reasons that I thought were perfectly acceptable/reasonable. But more than anything I wanted to know that the ‘love’ we had wasn’t just a physical thing, that there was more than that, that I was worth more than that, that he would be just as intense about our relationship without the promise of sex. We argued about that too. He told me that he had proved he loved me, and that I couldn’t really love him if I didn’t want to give myself to him like that. He told me there was no difference between what I was asking for and just being friends. He told me that if I didn’t want to be with him physically it had to be because I was sleeping with someone else. It ended up sounding a lot like I was just being selfish to a person who was only trying to love me, a person who was committed to spending the rest of his life with me. And you know, when I say it like this is sounds a lot more manipulation- plain and simple- but I really didn’t see it that way then. Eventually the guilt wore me down, and I gave up on something that was important to me, to give him what he wanted. It set a precedent for the rest of our relationship too. I showed him that what he wanted was more important than my values, more important than my beliefs. That what he wanted from my body was more important than what I wanted for my body. Pretty big thing to give someone.

So it was a little over a year of dating, just after graduation that I realized that I was pregnant. It was a pretty big shock, and not just because I had felt like sex wasn’t really something I had chosen, but I felt like we were being careful. I still remember hearing a statistic that condoms and birth control combined are 99.9% effective in preventing pregnancy, and that offered me a lot of safety. I thought I was doing everything I could to be safe, responsible. And I think it was more than that... I just didn’t expect to have a child as a teenager. That wasn’t how I pictured my life- it wasn’t something I considered, or thought was part of my plan. I assumed that wasn’t going to happen to me.

But it did. I was 17. When I realized that I was pregnant I took 2 weeks, and told no one. I actually set out that chunk of time for myself so I could be rock solid when I told everyone, because I knew that I would keep the baby. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the options. I knew I had choices. I could put my child up for adoption, I could have an abortion, but there wasn’t a moment that I seriously considered either. It’s hard to describe, but I just knew- with every fibre of my being- that I was a mother from that time on, no matter what happened. From then on I would always be a mother.

So I got strong and told my family. My parents weren’t thrilled of course- in fact my mom was absolutely furious, but supporting me was more important than anything else. My aunts gave me hand-me-downs from their children, and maternity clothes. My grandmother became like a second mother. But as supportive as everyone was, there was definitely not a sense of celebration: no baby showers, no congratulations, no one calling with best wishes, and definitely no sense of joy.

The first thing my boyfriend said (and I’ll remember this for the rest of my life), was “I feel so sorry for you Jane”.

And that sentiment sort of attaches itself to you in one way or another. When you have a child at a very young age there are a lot of people (in fact, most people), who don’t know what to do or say, so they don’t say anything at all. Even the people that were supportive of me weren’t really sure what to say- they didn’t want to condone teenage pregnancy by being positive about it. So I felt really alone. Extremely alone. All those friends I had didn’t really get what I was going through, and I didn’t really feel like I understood what they were going through either.  Gradually I just stopped seeing them. My boyfriend quickly became really agitated all the time. He didn’t seem to care what I was going through, what ‘we’ were going through. Sure, he chose to ‘stick around’, but he wasn’t really there, and the part of him that was got pretty nasty. Of course, there were a lot of people who really disapproved and made their opinions known. His parents refused to acknowledge that I was going to have a baby, and created this feeling that we were supposed to be punished for having a child. Now, I am not able to interpret the divine will of God. I don’t believe that’s up to me, and I would argue that it’s not up to you either, but his parents did not feel that way- they told us quite matter-of-factly, that we were going to Hell.

One really unfortunate effect of this kind of judgment is that young parents can end up being really isolated and depressed at a time when they really need help, support, and empowerment to do what’s best for their child. I’ve tried to do what’s best for my son, but there were times when I really didn’t really know what that was, or how to do it. There were times when I simply didn’t have the means.  It’s hard to figure out what’s best for a child’s development when you haven’t really finished developing yourself.

Noah’s father and I tried to stay together. We thought that was the responsible thing to do- to give Noah a two parent home. Unfortunately, the two parent home we gave him was not a very good one. We lived together on and off, mainly because our relationship often became completely unbearable, and we just didn’t know how to handle it. We thought we had to try to stay together, but being together was painful for everyone, and even at the best of times we were really limited by so many things.

I was sad a lot. Noah actually said to his grandmother when he was very little ‘mom cries all the time’.  And that’s not just a young child’s perspective, it was true. I was sad, and my boyfriend was mad. All the time. It was very early on that Noah’s dad started punching walls, hitting things, and breaking things when he was mad (which seemed like all the time). He was so frustrated with everything that we did and said. I thought that I was causing him to be that mad, that he was just reacting to me. I changed what I said, how I acted, what I did, where I went, who I talked to. I tried to change everything about me just so he wouldn’t be so mad, so frustrated, so stressed all the time. But what I didn’t realize was that I was teaching my son that he was responsible for making his dad mad. I was teaching him that he had to change everything about himself too. That was the example I gave to him, without even being aware of it, or knowing what else to do. Our home was a scary place sometimes and I remember thinking “Is this what it’s supposed to be like?”, and “What am I supposed to do?” I was completely lost, and alone.

I thought that things were bad just because there was so much stress... It was incredibly difficult at times to make enough money to support our lives, especially early on. There was babysitting, rent, groceries, utilities... And I really resented being away from my baby all day so I could go earn barely enough to pay the bills. This was also the first time I’d been away from home, in a major relationship, living with someone, handling the financial responsibilities of a household, working full-time...and trying to figure out how to be a mom all on my own.

I’m lucky that my family supported me, but that’s not always the case, and no matter what your family is like and how supportive they are this changes your relationship with them. When you start a family it’s natural to sort of retreat a bit from the external world and be more involved in your intimate life with your family. Because our family life was very negative at times it became a downward spiral that pushed me away from my family and friends. Outwardly it looked like we were doing OK, but the reality was very different, and it was  hard- VERY HARD- to know what to do about those difficult situations when I’d never been through them before, and when I’d become cut off from people who could have helped.

For the rest of your life, you have no real peer group. People my age are at a very different stage in their lives. The parents of my son’s friends are older (and they can also do the math). You can easily end up on the outskirts- it can be difficult finding people you relate to, or who relate to you, or even just to get past some of those judgments that people have about teenage parents.

And there’s the relationship. This person you’ve had a child with (whether you like it or not) is now a reality for your child and for you for the rest of your lives.

If I had the decision to make again I would never, ever decide not to have my son, but I would choose to wait and give him the parent I am now, but right from the start. I would choose to give him the solid family home I’m able to provide now: the example of a strong, healthy, loving marriage I have with my husband, the strong loving family we are, and the stable home where there are no holes in the walls. I would choose to give him the mom I am now- mature, strong, confident, educated, settled and self-assured. I can’t do that. And the challenges that he’s faced, and continues to face in life are something I can’t go back and change. I can only do my best now, and I know that my best at 17, 18, 19 years old as a parent was a completely different ballgame than my best as a parent now. 

A child deserves this kind of best their entire life.