A Mother's Fate
My mother was a teenage mother, as was her mother and so on. Perhaps this is why my mother could never quite believe that my passages into womanhood had truly happened. In accepting my maturation, she would have to accept her own. So, it was much easier for her to ignore it. For instance, when I began menstruating at the age of ten my mother did not believe me. “You just need to wipe better honey, that’s all,” she said as she dismissed me with a wave of her hand. How could a ten-year-old girl make room for tampons and maxi pads alongside her Barbie dream house? In the end, Barbie was thrown out to make room for feminine hygiene products and teeny bop magazines. Against my mother’s wishes, I had become a teenage woman. At least that is what I fancied myself to be.
Considering that I got my period at age ten, by the time that I was twelve I had the appearance and character of a typical teenage girl. Indeed, the horny teenage boys in my neighborhood were easily fooled by appearances and so it was that I lost my virginity when other girls my age were still playing with their Barbie dolls. I am not sure if I got pregnant from my first encounter with the Don Juan of my neighborhood or if it occurred in the following encounters, I only remember worrying the first month that my period was late. When it had not arrived by the second month, I was seriously in distress. No one expected a twelve year-old girl to become pregnant and so no one had ever lectured me about precautions or told me where to go if it did happen and so I turned to the only resource available, my sexually experienced thirteen year-old girlfriend.
“Hmm,” she said as she stroked my arm. “We need a pregnancy test.” Embarrassment and a genuine lack of money compelled us to shoplift the test from a discount store at the local mall. As we waited for the test results in the public restroom, I recalled a time when I had told my friends during our usual discussion of sex and boys that I was never going to have any children, at least not when I was young. So how could I be pregnant? I had hopes of going to college, becoming a teacher or a lawyer, and traveling the world. The life that I had constructed in my dreams did not allow for children. So, when the pink lines appeared in the test stick window I felt as if my dreams were completely shattered. I had been raised in a Southern Baptist home: abortion was not an option. I would have to carry this child, which was quite a burden for someone as young as myself. If my mother was frightened into dismissing my period at the age of ten, how would she react when I announced my pregnancy at the age of twelve? So, I did what any other scared child does when they know that they are in trouble…I hid the evidence.
In the months that followed this moment of truth, I put my mother to the test in order to find out whether or not she could handle the truth. When I told her about a pregnant eighth grader in my school or another pregnant high school girl she would reply, “If you ever get pregnant, I’ll beat your ass!” Needless to say, I grew even more terrified about telling her that I was one of those pregnant teens. However, by my fourth month, I knew that I could no longer bear this secret. I had to tell her. A mother is supposed to be there for her child. I did not want to be pregnant and I hoped that with kind words and reassurances, with mommy’s magic kiss she could make this pregnancy disappear as easily as the pain of a scratched knee.
When I finally told her that I was pregnant, she did not believe me. She could not tell me to wipe better, like she did when I began menstruating, but still she could not accept the truth. “I’m pregnant,” I repeated with sobs caught in my throat. At that moment she knew that it was no joke. As tears began to stream down her face, she hugged me and offered me her maternal consolations. No kiss could erase the pain of my pregnancy, but at least my mother would see to it that we survived. I knew that I would not have an abortion, but I was toying with the idea of adoption. When I mentioned this to her she shook her head and said, “No grandchild of mine will ever live with strangers. I’ll help you.” Unlike other young women who have had to face the decision of how to handle a pregnancy, I was absolved by my mother who made the decision for me. At the time, I was grateful.
We concealed my pregnancy from our friends and family until my swelling belly gave itself away. People were shocked and disappointed. My father was more disappointed than anyone. He thought that I should be sent off to a boarding school for pregnant teens where I could disappear and no one would ever know that I had been polluted by illicit teenage sex and pregnancy. By the time that he proposed this idea I was six months along and had come to terms with my future as a teenage mother. I felt that it was something that I had to do, that there was no other option for me. It would present a challenge, but not an obstacle.
I gave birth to a healthy baby boy the summer before eighth grade, at the age of thirteen. I was home schooled for the first quarter so that I could tend to my son and breast-feed. Once I went back to school, the embarrassment of leaking breasts compelled me to give up my breast-feeding. Being a teenage mother in junior high was all together embarrassing, as my schoolmates would often tease me about my ignorance of condoms. I also found that I had to give up the free time of my childhood in order to take of my son. I felt that it was my duty to be there, as a mother and I did not regret my decision to keep my child until I was faced with the decision for a second time.
The month of my high school graduation I found out that I was pregnant again. I was graduating from the top of my class at a school for so-called misfits--teenage mothers and dropouts, that is. I had been accepted to the local university where I planned to get a degree in anthropology and go on to graduate school to obtain a PhD. When the doctor told me that I was pregnant, I found myself in the same denial that had overwhelmed me the first time. However, this time I knew that abortion was my only option. I had begun to reconsider my pro-life stance during my senior year in high school and so I was not burdened with any scruples about morals or duty. I only knew that I could not be a single teenage mother again. The path of a teenage mother is not impossible, but it is difficult. My strength had carried me along that path once before, but I did not think that I could do it again. Having an abortion was the best thing for me at that point in my life. I had to have an abortion to preserve myself and the child that I was already raising.
I often feel silenced by our conservative culture and its ideals of motherhood. I feel that I cannot truly express myself as a person because I am a mother. The decision to have an abortion was a decision that I made on my own. In this way, it was the most liberating thing that I have ever experienced because I knew that I was deciding my own fate, much unlike my first pregnancy when my mother decided my fate. Allowing another person to decide my fate has caused me much grief over the years. There are times when I think about how things could have been different if only I had decided to give my son up for adoption. Of course, these thoughts generally arise in moments of depression and frustration. Most people do not want to hear mothers say that they might have made a different decision had they been given the option, because an utterance such as this implies regret. I do not regret my abortion, nor do I regret becoming a teenage mother. What I do regret is letting someone else make that decision for me.