“A baby who was having a baby.” Those were the doctor’s words at my first prenatal appointment. I was only 15; I was a baby.
Teen pregnancy has a sordid stigma. I wasn’t promiscuous, or careless, or trashy. I wasn’t doing anything different from many of my peers. Similar to most teens, I was dramatic, impulsive and adventure seeking. Consequences were simply not tangible. It couldn’t happen to me.
But it did happen to me. I hit the condom-breaking lottery. My prize? Stretch marks, morning sickness and an episiotomy. My 15-year-old body would never be the same.
More than ever, I felt like a child — a petrified little girl thrust into an adult world. Was I strong enough to handle this? Instead of worrying about junior prom, I would be worrying about affording diapers. While my friends were up all night gossiping at sleepovers, I would be up all night soothing a screaming baby.
Each night, I cried myself to sleep. Each night, nightmares roused me, “Maybe it was a dream?” No, it was real. This was my life, “a baby with a baby.”
Lying awake, I’d wrestle with reality. My vision of the future had been dashed. My heart was too fragmented to imagine a new one. Each night, I would climb into my parents’ bed desperate for a sense of safety, longing for reassurance that everything would be ok.
My parents were my rocks. They protected me, guided me and supported me without judgment. They were the only comfort I could find for my physical, mental and emotional pain.
Teen pregnancy is humiliating. Whispers echoed in my ears when I waddled past. The chastising looks singed my core. My rigid exterior was a facade. I cared deeply what other people thought of me. It hurt.
I was embarrassed, ashamed and scared out of my mind. Well aware that I was fodder for gossip, I retreated into a self-imposed confinement for months.
Not even old enough to drive, my mom took me to every doctor’s appointment. I was fortunate; I needed an advocate. I was too timid to speak up or ask questions. My spirit had been trodden and my voice deserted me. My bulging belly paired with a baby face drew enough attention already.
It’s difficult for any woman to go through labor and give birth. Now add a mountain of judgment, rude commentary and gawking strangers on top of it. There was only one nurse in the maternity ward who treated me with decency and kindness. It was terrifying.
I clung to my bed like a skittish mouse, hiding. Too scared to press the call button, too afraid to ask for water. Determined not to be the loathsome pregnant kid in room 201. The emotional pain inflicted by the staff was worse than the physical pain of labor.
A dormant power from somewhere deep within propelled me forward. Then again, once you’re 7 cm dilated there’s really no turning back.
Everything changed the first time I held my daughter in my arms. My heart fluttered; a switch flipped inside me. I was someone’s mom. This tiny life was entirely dependent on me. Nothing else mattered any more.
Hurtful words and callous stares were clouds. I was so close to the sun, they were irrelevant.
Emotion swelled within me, yielding an intense love I never knew existed. With conviction, I knew that I would follow my parent’s example. I would support her unconditionally, love her with devotion and be her rock.
Strength simmered inside me. My voice began to reemerge; I would need it to advocate for her. I would be her champion and assure that she had the life she deserved.
I had vision again. I could see our future together and it was glorious.
I knew I was an adult when I realized that being a teen mom was the best thing that ever happened to me.