Picture an average 14 year old girl whose main concern in life has gone from learning the newest dance for cheerleading to trying to conceal her nightly vomiting, her expanding belly, and her leaking nipples. She is terrified, alone, and pregnant. That scared, clueless little 14 year old was me. I had been “dating” my neighbor’s grandson for about 6 months. He was 4 years older than me, charming, and very handsome. He was also forbidden fruit. My parents had warned me that he was bad news and told me to stay far away from him. Of course, their disapproval only made me want to pursue him more. He would sneak in through my bedroom window when my parents were asleep. My life felt like a Romeo and Juliet love story. That is until one day I realized my period was late, and although I had only been getting my period for a little less than a year, I had never been late before. I waited another month. And then another. No period ever came, but lots of nausea and vomiting sure did. I knew what was going on. One day I was with my mom at her doctor’s appointment and decided I needed to know for sure. When the doctor called her back, I told her I would stay in the waiting room. As soon as the door closed behind her, I bolted out to the Walgreens next door and purchased a test. I took the test the next day when I was home alone. I placed it in a drawer and snuggled our family cat for comfort while I waited the longest 3 minutes of my life. Time was up. I opened the drawer and saw those two dreaded pink lines glaring back at me. I slammed the drawer back and buried my head into my cat and cried. What I was pretty sure of all along had just been confirmed. I spent a few days in denial before I finally decided to call up my Romeo and tell him. His response? Not the “let’s run away together my Juliet!” that I had hoped for. He told me he was going to kill himself when he hung up the phone because he did not want to go to jail for statutory rape. I tearfully pleaded with him, and we hung up with the understanding that he just needed some time to think. A few days went by, and I finally got a text one night to come outside and talk to him. We sat in his old beat up Honda for hours talking. He told me he would never leave me and that everything was going to be alright. Little did I know that was the last time I would see or hear from him until our child was 3 years old. I also would later find out that I was never his Juliet. I was only a cute little piece on the side while he was engaged and planning a wedding with an older woman who already had several children.
The days went by with no word from my Romeo. The days turned to weeks, and the weeks to months. I had told a couple of close friends about my situation, but I had to be really careful with who I told because I was a student at a private Christian school. I continued my daily life as best I could. I went to cheerleading camp, started high school, assumed my new role as a flyer on the high school cheer team, and was even the maid of honor in my sister’s wedding. At school I sat in Chapel each Wednesday listening to various Bible-Beaters preach about staying pure, being virtuous, and saving yourself for marriage. I have been an atheist for about as long as I can remember, so I didn’t feel as though I had betrayed the trust of some omniscient being that cared whether or not I ate lobster or coveted my friend’s new Nikes. I just knew that I had to get out of that school as soon as possible on my own terms before I was shamed out. My Christian school was almost an hour away from our house, so I told my parents that I wanted to go to the local public high school that was less than 10 minutes away so I could have friends closer to me. I also played up the fact that it would be much safer for me to drive myself to this local school when I was 16. I told them I was really unhappy with the Christian curriculum being forced down my throat and that I was absolutely miserable at my current school. None of these things were very far from the truth, and my parents needed quite a bit of convincing, but ultimately it worked. I was able to transfer to the local public school around October. By this time I was around 5 months pregnant, but my super tight abs from cheerleading kept my little bundle of joy hidden and pushed way back into my abdomen. So far back that every time I would lie on my back, I would nearly pass out. I wore a jacket most of the time and kept to myself a lot at school. I was generally accepted by the “popular” kids and most other cliques at my new school, but I never told any of them about what I was going through. I would see a few pregnant girls walking around the halls. They weren’t necessarily shamed or looked down upon, but they certainly weren’t the kinds of girls that I usually hung around with or could identify with. These girls owned the fact that they were pregnant. They would openly talk about their “baby daddy drama” and their plans to try to finish school and then get a good solid job at Steak and Shake. They were not the kinds of girls who had grown up going to parties at the Mayor’s house, carpooling in Escalades, and having play dates with the daughters of plastic surgeons and cardiologists. They lacked the one thing I was full of – SHAME!
I sat by a nice kid in art class named Demonte. He wasn’t affiliated with the kids that I sat with at lunch and had his own group of friends. But for some reason I felt I could talk to him. He listened and made me feel just a little less ashamed. I got to know him over the next few months, and he was the one who convinced me to finally tell my parents. Side note- after I came back from my maternity leave, I found out he had moved schools and no one knew how to contact him. I would love to tell him thank you some day. Aside from Demonte, I had told one of my old friends from my Christian school, Bree. She helped me as much as another 14 year old could, and I am so grateful for the little bit of support I was able to get from her. Other than a very small handful of people, I was very much alone in my journey as a pregnant teenager.
I was a little over 8 months pregnant when I finally told my parents. I rode the bus home on an overcast day. My mom was already home sitting in the living room with the curtains drawn. I can’t remember exactly what was said, but I remember saying that I had something to tell her. She guessed it right away and said that she had suspected but didn’t want to believe it. The disappointment in her voice was so thick you could have cut it with a knife and sold it for $5 a pound. She told my dad when he got home. He was also disappointed, but I remember he told me not to run away and not to hurt myself. My mom told me we would “take care of it.” I knew that would be her response, and this was partly why I waited so long. I have never been a religious person, and I am pro-choice, but I have always thought that I would not be able to live with the guilt of an abortion. Terminating the life of something so helpless and with the potential to change the world is just something that I would never choose for myself. The very next day, my mom drove us to an abortion clinic in Atlanta. I remember they had the monitor turned away from me so that I could not see the ultrasound. I did hear the heartbeat though, and I think they are the ones who told me I was having a boy. I remember the lady saying something like “oh honey, you are way too far along.” The nurse talked to my mom and told her that partial-birth abortions were still done in some state. Maybe it was Kansas? Wherever it was, my mom was trying to get us tickets there within the next 5 minutes. My dad is a deeply religious man who definitely does not wear the pants in our family. He finally put his foot down and told my mom that there was no way we were flying across the country to basically murder a baby. I remember my mom yelling at me, “See what you have done to our family! Your father is probably going to leave us now! You’ve destroyed this family!”
My memory is less fluid and more in bits and pieces after that. Kind of like watching a horror movie through the cracks in your fingers. I was in survival mode just trying to make it out of this situation with myself and my child alive. I remember going home and my mom locking herself in her bedroom for days. I remember her telling me that I had “killed her little girl.” I remember my dad buying me some maternity clothes so I would have something to wear besides my big blue jacket. I remember everything being taken away from me: my phone, my TV, my stereo, my privacy, my dignity. I wasn’t allowed to call anyone. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere but to school and back home, and I was never allowed to be left alone. My grandmother was dispatched to be my “keeper” when I came home from school. A 76 year-old conservative prude who was raised in a time when being an unwed mother was viewed as a fate worse than death was probably not the best person to be looking after a terrified pregnant teen. She would pick me up from school and make me “practice” what I would say if a boy tried to touch me again (which was just me repeating the word “no” over and over again). My dad would come home and she would say “look what I taught her! Look what we practiced today!” as if I was a dog she had taught some amazing new trick. She made me say “no” over and over again in front of my father. It was humiliating and degrading. I remember looking at new houses with my parents so we could get away from my child’s father. (We did not end up moving, and currently his father still lives in his grandparent’s basement lol). I also remember crying. ALOT. I had so much to mourn. I wept for the loss of my relationship with my mother, the loss of my innocence and childhood, the loss of the child that I had not even given birth to yet but I knew would never be mine to hold. I cried because I felt dirty, completely isolated, worthless, and stupid. I mourned the loss of life as I had known it for 14 years. I think I cried a lifetime of tears. To this day, even in my darkest moments, usually only one or two tears escape my eyes. Not for lack of sorrow. I have plenty of that. I think when you go through something that is so deeply painful, something inside of you just breaks. It heals eventually, but it heals a little lumpy and crooked. Kind of like a broken bone that was never properly set.
Shortly after coming home for the abortion clinic, my dad went through the newspaper and found two prospective adoptive families. The first one was a family with 3 children that lived close by and were looking to complete their family. I remember visiting them and thinking it was strange that they already had so many children. I also knew my parents would not want a reminder of the shame I had brought to our family living so close by. I remember my older sister calling me and telling me that she and her husband would raise my child if they needed to. I couldn’t put that on her, and again I think my parents just wanted this to go away. We chose a single mother from Long Island, New York. Her name was Peggy, and she had short red hair and was very spunky and confident. I honestly don’t remember too much about our meeting with her when she flew down to Tennessee. She was very prepared like a business woman pitching a grand idea. I think she actually did work in advertising. She even had a professionally made book about her family with the last names carefully removed and sparse details about location given just in case I turned out to be one of those crazy moms you hear about on the news who tries to snatch their child back after a few years. The book was titled something like “Your Gift of Love” and it said how my child would be so loved and surrounded by family even though he would likely be an only child. I was never allowed to know her last name or very much about her. All of our contact was (and still is) through an attorney. I did find some sense of comfort (if you can call it that) in helping this woman who really wanted to be a mother, but whose circumstances had just not yet provided her with the opportunity to do so naturally. I was never given the option to raise my own child, and I am ok with that. I had only recently outgrown playing with baby dolls; I could count on one hand the number of years it had been since I graduated elementary school, and the only experience I had with children was from babysitting a few times. I would have tried my absolute best to be a good mother, but there was no way I would have been able to give this child everything it needed and deserved. My parents would have kicked me out, and I probably wouldn’t have even finished high school. I didn’t want to bring a child into that kind of life. I was glad to have found someone who could give my child a financially and emotionally stable home with lots of love.
As I said before, my memory of these last few weeks of my pregnancy is not the greatest. However, I do recall the day of my son’s birth vividly. It was a Friday night around 10pm. My due date was a week or two away, and I had just finished my last day of school per my doctor’s orders. I was glad to be done hiding by growing belly from my classmates, and sitting in class was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. My parents had told my teachers that I was having very involved “stomach surgery” and I would be out for a while. Peggy and her mother were scheduled to fly down a few days before my due date. I’m not sure if my due date was a little off because of how long I had hidden my pregnancy or if he actually did come a little early, but I knew something felt different that Friday night. I felt a little crampy like I was getting my period. Then I felt a little trickle of something. It wasn’t the gush of water breaking like in the movies, but I certainly knew something was happening. My mother quickly dismissed it as Braxton-Hicks contractions and told me I would be in a lot more pain if I was in labor. Still, something told me to start packing. I packed a little bag of essentials without even realizing I had done so. I guess instinct just told me to get ready. I went back to my parents a little later, and they begrudgingly took me to the hospital. The pain got worse as we drove, but I was still not in enough pain to convince my mom that I was in true labor. When we got to the hospital, they examined me, and said that I was already 8 cm dilated, and they were not sure they could give me the epidural at this point. This baby was coming and he was coming NOW! Thankfully they were able to give me the epidural. Everything happened so fast that I ended up giving birth with my parents in the room which was the last thing I ever wanted! I only pushed a few times, and he was there. I heard him crying, but everything was dark. Then I realized that there was something over my eyes. My mother’s hands were covering my eyes so I would not see him. I know she thought doing this would cause me less pain, and I am still not sure if it would have been any harder or easier for me if I had seen him. I never saw nor held my sweet baby, and that is a very difficult reality for me to face. I always wonder if I robbed my child of something he desperately needed in his first few moments on this earth. Peggy and her mother flew down from New York that night on a red-eye flight. They told me they had named him Jack and that he was very healthy. He had scored very high on all the tests that are given to newborns. I was so relieved to hear this since I had virtually no pre-natal care and spent a lot of my pregnancy being tossed around (and sometimes dropped) in cheerleading.
I remember I had to stay in the hospital a little longer so all of the legal paperwork could clear. My parents had me moved up to the amputee floor so that no one would see me on the maternity floor. I walked my laps around the halls with people who were missing their legs and feet, but I didn’t feel that much different from them. I was missing a part of me too. My sister was a life saver during this time in the hospital. She came down from North Carolina and stayed with me night and day. She made me laugh when I thought I would surely never laugh again. She was my protector, my advocate, and my friend. My family’s general opinion of my sister and I is that she is the emotional one, and I am the strong one. I would like to remind them that emotional and strong are not antonyms. She was strong for me when I couldn’t be strong for myself. I needed her emotional nature to help me process the deepest feelings of sorrow and grief that I have ever experienced. She never made me feel ashamed and loved me unconditionally. I had been alone in my journey for 9 months, and it felt so good to have her there with me. I know she would have been supportive if I had told her about my pregnancy sooner, but I also know she would have told our mom, and my story would have a very different ending. My parents found me a therapist after Jack was born since I had some depression. I went to one or two sessions with her, and then unfortunately she died! Just my luck! Other than my sister, a few close friends, and the dead therapist, I walked my journey as a birthmother without much support and without ever meeting another birth mother for 10 years until I found Birth Mom Buds. At my first retreat, it was such a surreal and wonderful feeling to be surrounded by so many strong women who understood me on such a special level. I am the only birth mother from Tennessee, and I know there must be more of us, so I am starting a BMB chapter here. I am very excited to find fellow Tennessee birth mothers and give them the support that I wish I had received much earlier.
My adoption story has much more in common with the older generation of ladies in our birth mother group than it does with some of the younger girls who have open adoptions with frequent visits, pictures, and updates. Mine was a closed adoption, but we had an understanding that I would receive updates and pictures at least yearly. Unfortunately, I have not received any updates since Jack was 3. It is very difficult for me not knowing how he is doing, what he looks like now, or even if he is alive. I try not to dwell on those thoughts and try to live my life in a way that would make him very proud if he ever chooses to find me. I want him to know that my decision to place him was never about what was in my best interest. It was all about him. I loved that little boy (and still do) more than I could ever hope to love myself.