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What it's like to grow up knowing you were an 'oops baby'

Stephanie Land is a writing fellow for the Center for Community Change. Her work has been featured in Vox, The New York Times and The Guardian. She lives in Missoula, Montana, with her two daughters.

I grew up knowing my mom thought I was an accident

I grew up knowing I wasn't meant to be. My mom talked about my conception in explanations and excuses. They were both 19. They'd only been dating for a few weeks. It was her first weekend away. Dad had just bought a shiny orange car with black stripes down the center. She didn't know she could get pregnant her first time.

They got married three months later. As I child, I distinctly remember her pointing to a large portrait of her and my dad on their wedding day. She smiled, holding a bouquet of flowers and a small bible. He stood proud in his blue tuxedo.

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"There's Mommy, and there's Daddy," she'd say. "And there's you!" She'd point to her slightly rounded belly. I felt happy that I was there with them. That I was a part of that. I must have been 3 or 4 at the time.

My parents did their best. I grew up oblivious to their dislike for each other. Dad worked as an electrician, and Mom put herself through college, getting a bachelor's degree, then a master's — the first in our whole family to get any sort of college diploma. But I knew Mom wasn't happy. She talked a lot about how she'd wanted to be a flight attendant, and travel the world.

Though I never singled myself out as the cause, I knew "we" collectively — my brother, Dad and I — made her unhappy. We were not the life she wanted.

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I asked a lot about the beginnings of my parents' relationship as a teenager. I imagined their love story to be something of a "love at first sight" fairy tale. Mom shrugged, said they sort of liked each other and explained that I was a surprise.

Over the years, as I grew older, started dating and got closer to the age she'd found out about me, she admitted that she'd sat in the parking lot of an abortion clinic, but couldn't go through with it. She'd deny saying this later on, but I never forgot it, or forgave her for telling me. What if she had? Was my whole existence really just a choice?

At 16, I got in a car accident that nearly killed me. In the months after, I kept writing in journals, or Word documents that I'd erase, and even in college application essays, "Why didn't I die?" My life seemed too fragile, or fleeting. I was the result of an inability to get out of a car. Now I was the result of a seatbelt I didn't remember putting on. I craved tenderness from my family. I needed reassurance. I didn't want to simply be there anymore. I wanted to be wanted.

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When I found out about my own surprise pregnancy at 28, getting an abortion never crossed my mind. When my daughter started asking questions, I never used the word accident.

She was conceived on my birthday. I told her I deliberately chose to be her mother, and over the years I explained what that meant. I tell her she's the best decision I ever made. I tell her she's my gift.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

I grew up knowing my mom thought I was an accident
Image: fcscafeine/Getty Images
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