I Am Not You - Yes I am
by Jessica Allan Lavarnway
Glancing around my obstetrician's clinic, I saw another young girl,
perhaps seventeen years old. And my first thought was, "I am not
I was not a teenaged mother.
Sure, I was nineteen. Sure, this was my second child.
But damn it, I wasn't a teenaged mother.
Every qualification I could think of didn't apply to me.
I was married. I had another child, yes, and she was born when I was
fifteen, yes, but she was my adopted stepdaughter. I had been to
college. I had been in the army. My husband and I owned a house. I
owned my own car, which was insured. I had health insurance, and a
VISA card, and savings I could draw off of. I was a stay-at-home
mother, my husband's and my choice.
I had grown up middle class, educated in private schools, and I had
been attending college two weeks after my older daughter had been
born, unbeknownst to me. I had military experience, and emergency
medical technician credentials. I chose not to work.
I volunteered at a local hospital and made charitable donations to the
Salvation Army and the United Way. I was not on AFDC. I met none of
the "low-trajectory" qualifications named in Kristen Luker's book
"Dubious Conceptions". I had read the book in college and found it
interesting, if, at the time, irrelevant to my own life.
I was not a teenaged mother.
I didn't have a low paying job at Wal-Mart. I had a G.E.D., by
accident of having gone to college early. I was married. I was not
on WIC, Medicaid, AFDC, or food stamps. I had an education. I didn't
have a boyfriend who beat me and drank the rent money. I even had to
take clomiphene to get pregnant - if there's one way to confirm that a
pregnancy was "intended", it's to take fertility drugs to make it
Unlike this poor, miserable creature sitting in the waiting room, I
was not a teenaged mother.
She and I were the only young women under the age of 25 or so in the
waiting room. As I watched her, fascinated with her morbid situation,
I saw a tear slip off of her cheek and drop onto the copy of Parents
magazine that she was reading.
Damn it. I have nothing in common with you. Don't make me pity your
situation. Damn it, damn it, damn it. I knew my empathy would be the
end of me.
And, girding myself, I walked over, sat down and introduced myself.
Her story I won't relate here, for it is hers and not mine. But it
was no more "typical" than mine. No story is typical. They are all
the combination of accidents of fate and choice over circumstance, and
it is too horrible to categorize one as "typical".
Once I married a man with a two year old daughter, my friends from
college hastily decamped. They quickly predicted that I would become
a complete drudge and no fun to be around.
They may well have been right. I try not to think of how true that
very well was, being a housewife and mother. And, in my reluctance to
find someone who wasn't as educated as myself, unlikely to understand
the books I read, the cultural references I made, or anything I did, I
spent six months in the seclusion of my own home, occasionally taking
my daughter to the playground, rejoicing in my growing belly and the
kicks that came, tentatively, but they came.
My friends from the military quickly dispersed, as is the nature of
military buddies - the relationship is, at best, transient. They were
now in Germany, South Korea, North Carolina, and Kentucky.
So I spent those months alone.
Was I in any way superior to them? No, but in my insecurity, and my
fear of becoming a typical "teenaged mother", I wanted to think I was.
Eventually, towards the end of my pregnancy, I made friends. They
didn't read as much or as often as I did, they had none of the
educational aspirations I did, and they had never married, but were
living with a boyfriend and children, invariably in convoluted
stepchild/biological child arrangements.
But I saw myself in them.
They delighted in their children as much as I did in mine. They tried
as best as they could to have natural childbirth, as I tried. They
loved pushing their preschoolers on the swings, as I did. They
expressed interest in what their older children did in school, they
saved money for the hope of giving these children a better education,
and they constantly reminded them to go out and make something of
themselves, to chase their dreams, to try to be happy.
As I did.
There is no age limit in parenting, and there is no certain age that
you have to be before you can be a good parent. There is not, as I
once preferred to believe, a minimum education level that you needed
to attain, or a certain economic level, or anything else.
All that it takes to be a good parent, teenaged or otherwise, is to
give freely of yourself, to love your child more than anything else in
the world, and try to do your best, day by day.
Whether you're fourteen or forty, the same rules for being a good
mother apply. I wish every mother in the world the best of luck, for
it's the hardest job in the universe.