May 9, 2014

There's More Than One Way to Be a Mom: A teenage mother

The author of my last guest post in the Mother's Day series has chosen to write anonymously but I still want to introduce you to this friend of mine. She is the mother to five children and has been happily married for sixteen years. A Catholic convert, she just celebrated her 15th anniversary of joining the church. YEAH!!! I will also add that she is incredibly wise, kind, and compassionate.

“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
 Mother Teresa

As a teenager, my life was turned upside down when I became pregnant. I was a 'straight A' student from a Christian home (a good girl) and I was in trouble.   For four months, I hid my pregnancy from my family and my friends. I lived in denial, puked alone in my bathroom, cried myself to sleep every night, and tried to pretend like nothing was different about me.  I begged and pleaded that God would somehow make "this" all go away. I was alone and scared.

Outward appearances can be deceiving, I seemed to be a girl who had it all, but on the inside I was lonely, lacked confidence, and had very little self-worth. I believe that my parents were well intentioned in their parenting, but tired. My father worked nights and family finances were tight.  My mother often parented alone.  Life had been rough for them and their girls.  Quite often, I was allowed to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and with very little questioning as to whom I was with or what we were doing. This became the perfect recipe for a terrible crisis.

I will never forget the moment when my mother confronted me and I confirmed all of her suspicions.  Her little girl, the baby of the family, was having a baby of her own. I had bought into the lies of a young man who told me that my worth was in what I could give him- mainly sex. It shouldn't have been shocking when he suggested that I just have an abortion.  For my family and me, this was never an option. Regardless of the terrible mess I was in, my family and I held onto one sacred truth.  All life comes from God and is beautiful.

The first course of action was for my physical well-being and that of my baby.  My parents immediately made sure I was given proper medical care and attention so I could have a healthy pregnancy from that moment on.  There was a lot of discussion about how we would handle my pregnancy.  My mother wanted to send me away to a home for unwed mothers.  My father wanted me to stay home.  There was discussion about giving my baby up for adoption or me choosing to parent my child. We weighed the options carefully and I chose to stay home with my family and keep my child.

After the difficult decision was made, I became isolated from my school and my friends.  Actually, I no longer had friends. People laughed and stared, made rude comments, treated me like I was nothing but another statistic. I was ashamed and humiliated. I felt like a dirty failure and a poor excuse for a young woman.  I was sent to a special school for unwed, pregnant girls through the city's public school system.  It happened to be the same school where they sent the delinquent and problematic high school students - just separated by a floor. The girls there were often uneducated, unloved, and lived in poverty. These girls were not college bound, didn't know God, and had very little hope for a positive outcome or a hopeful future. I considered myself fortunate for the gift of my family, for the tutors who came to teach my accelerated learning classes, and for the women there who taught me basic mothering skills. I stayed at that school for my pregnancy and continued to attend there with my daughter until she was four months old.

My shame and humiliation didn't end when my pregnancy ended or when I left that school.  There was very little joy (outside of my immediate family) for the birth of my daughter. There were no baby showers and very few people visited me in the hospital. It wasn't a life celebrated.  If I dwell on this, it causes me a lot of pain.  I choose not to. I understand that no one wants to condone teenage pregnancy, but all I needed was a little joy.  I needed someone to celebrate with me because she was my baby.  I loved her.  I was proud of her.  I wanted to beam.  I wanted to show her off.   She was precious and cherished, regardless of the circumstances. 

I faced many challenges as a young mother.  I had a lot of broken relationships and a lot of emotional and spiritual wounds. People never stopped staring.  People never stopped the rude comments.  People still treated me poorly. Even to this day when I meet new people, some guffaw and proceed to tell me that I couldn't possibly have a daughter who is that old.  Throughout the years, I diligently took care of my daughter.  I finished school and graduated at the top of my class.  I went to college.  I made our lives better, but only with the help of God and his special graces. 

As I grew into womanhood, there were women and friends I encountered in my life who brought me closer to Jesus.  They loved me for who I am - a child of God.  They taught me that I am not defined by my failures.  Recently during a homily our priest asked two questions.  The first was, “Can you find joy in the unexpected?” The second was, “How can you bring the “living water” to those around you.  After reflecting, I realized that these women and friends had the courage to bring me the "living water" and to find joy. So I challenge you to ask yourselves, Can you bring the 'living water' to girls who are broken and in a crisis pregnancy? Can you help her find joy in the unexpected?

Some simple ways to do this....
            * Smile at her and look her in the eyes. Notice her for who she is, not for her failures and weaknesses.
            * Keep your comments to yourself.  Even the least offensive questions and curiosities can be hurtful. I've never met a young woman in a crisis pregnancy that didn't already feel enough shame and humiliation.
            * Ask her if she wants someone to go with her to doctor's appointments or pre-natal/birthing classes. Girls in crisis pregnancies are often lonely and afraid.
            * Celebrate the baby's life with a small gift; a baby blanket, a knit hat, assurance of your prayers for her, or a mother's prayer book.
            * Show her how to be a good mother.  You can do this by how you mother your own children.  If she is keeping her baby, she is watching and learning and really wants to be a good mom.  Show her virtuous parenting.
            * Offer to baby sit.  It can be very difficult for a young teenage mom to keep up with school work or participate in normal high school activities like playing an instrument, being in a choir, or playing sports.
            * Remind her that God is always good and she is always loved.


  1. In the comments section from the May 8th post, I mentioned I just learned my 18 year old grand-niece is pregnant, and has no plans to marry the father, and she wants to keep the baby. I asked for advice on how to best approach her without acting like I condone what has happened. This post seems to answer that for me, and I am very, very grateful.
    I AM so happy she chose not to abort. That really brought joy to my heart. I don't know how I feel about her trying to go on, now with a baby. Her situation sounds much like this posting; parents with financial trouble, she kept it a secret for 4 months until she couldn't hide it anymore. She did finish high school last spring, and she did not plan on going to college, but now she has a whole new set of problems to deal with.
    So thank you for the advice on the best way to let her know I love her, and she is not the sum total of her mistakes, and now that the baby is coming, that new life IS wonderful, in spite of the way it came to be. God bless.

    1. What a beautiful opportunity to show love and affirm life! I am sure that she probably knows that her circumstances are less than ideal, and that many elders in her world are not thrilled about them, so the opportunity to balance that out with some love and affirmation is a beautiful one! Shame can be so crippling. You have the power to really help shape her and your little great (niece/nephew)'s future by donating some faith, hope, love & joy - I'm sure that will translate into the love she shares with her child! God bless you and your family.

    2. I meant to reply to you last night...I don't know that there is a "right or wrong" answer to her situation. Everyone's paths are unique and my advice to you is to just give her love. Don't make her feel any worse about her situation, but instead maybe offer to pray with/for her. Pray that God guide her choices and shows her the right path. My only saving grace was that incredible feeling of certainty in the decision to give my child up for adoption. It was the light in my darkness. Every choice she has before her now will effect her for the rest of her life and that is daunting to someone so young. Help her know you will be there for her no matter what decision she makes.

    3. I will, to all you have recommended. And thank you for responding.
      I just found out today (from my brother, who is her grandfather) that, although her parents didn't discover she was pregnant until this past Easter, they thought she was due in August. She only just had a sonogram the week after Easter. But today, the OB/GYN called to make arrangements for the delivery, and only then did her mother find out she is due May 15th (a few days from now). So the family is really in a whirlwind.
      My heart is broken that she carried this secret for 8 months, alone. She must have suffered unknown mental anguish over all of this. I encouraged my brother to suggest she speak to someone, a health care professional, (maybe the doctor?) so she will begin to open up to someone (a counselor?, a group of young mothers setting?) because who knows what unknown thoughts and fears she may be having, and for her to have kept this secret for so long (I was afraid to ask how anyone did not notice!) just breaks my heart.
      Please say a prayer for her this Mother's Day. And thank you for these posts. They are so timely and helpful!

  2. Bonnie, these posts have been so amazing. My heartfelt thanks to you and to the mothers who wrote them. I feel like my eyes have really been opened and my perspective changed. I have just ached reading them. But it's good not to keep this truth in the dark.

  3. This was really beautiful and honestly and actually, quite helpful. The mother who wrote this is nothing short of a true hero. And her daughter is so lucky/blessed to be given her.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. A local pro-life group I've helped with provides group baby showers to women with unplanned pregnancies. Your story has reaffirmed the value of these to me, and I would encourage other pro-life groups to consider finding ways to celebrate the unexpected.

  5. Thank you. Thanks for helping me realize I need to check myself and my behavior and always be a little more patient with my kiddos, especially around young mommas. This has been my favorite series. Lord, may these women be blessed for their vulnerability!

  6. To the mother who wrote this: Thank you for sharing your story and Congratulations (many years late) on your baby girl!

  7. Thank you so much for posting this. I too was in a similar situation, finding myself pregnant and unwed in my very early twenties. I was so ashamed to tell my family, to whom I had always been the goody two shoes and high achiever. It was an emotional roller coaster for me as I dealt with all of the feelings of what to do and where my future would go. Luckily, my boyfriend at the time was very supportive, and we decided to keep the baby. Not long after, we dove into a deep reversion to the faith. That man is now my husband and we have our fourth child on the way. I cant imagine life without my six year old son and I am so glad I made the choice to open my heart to God and treat my pregnancy as a gift rather than something to be ashamed of. I will always have a heart for any young woman who finds herself pregnant and scared.

  8. Heart softened by these posts. Thank you Bonnie, and anonymous for sharing your story. :)

  9. Helped a college student navigate a tough pregnancy when I worked in campus ministry - so surprising that she was actually even considering abortion, but even though she was from a devout family, she was the youngest of 5, very rule abiding generally, had always been the baby and a good girl, and had a longtime hs boyfriend who was the baby's father - in this situation, the shame and fear of breaking through those expectations of the family almost drove her to a terrible outcome for her and her child. It was so intense to watch the way the fear and shame were crippling her and leading her to denial (did NOT want to hear about fetal development facts) and how that broke as a small group of us tried to show her love and care, and our awesome NP at our health center, a mom of teens herself, totally affirmed her goodness and gently helped her agree to a sonogram. Her transformation was incredible - she was in love with her child as soon as she saw those fetal images and she instantly went into mom-mode. I'm sure her road was tough - she didn't return to campus, and having only met her that day, I didn't keep up with her story though another student gave me a few updates, but the greatest lesson for me was one of mercy and acceptance, and how central that is for each human heart, especially those who are already in a position of vulnerability or shame.

    Thank YOU, Anonymous Mom, for sharing your pain and blessings with us through your post! Happy Mother's Day!

  10. This is absolutely incredible. I am so sorry you had to go through the hardship of feeling alone. Looking back at my high school years, I can't imagine I would have exactly gone out of my way to help a pregnant friend in need. I pray that I do a good job raising my future children to show love and kindness and nothing else if they face a similar situation.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us!

  11. It is terrible that the young women in these circumstances (including me) are/were the only ones walking around with the "Scarlet letter" in their belly, growing for everyone to see. I felt like you were telling my story up to the point of your decision to keep your child. Thank you for having the courage to share your painful story and words of advice.

  12. Gosh, this made me cry!

    Every life deserves to be celebrated! Thank you for having the courage to share this!

  13. This is so touching. Sometimes, those who are pro-life are often the least life-affirming when young girls really need it. I am so happy this woman was blessed with a loving family. I pray for those who aren't.

    My own story is similar- financial difficulties, hidden pregnancy, little joy- but I was a little older and halfway through college., so I definitely had it easier. And, my sons father (my soon-to-be husband) stuck it out and we both grew into parenthood together.
    Even through our mistakes, God can spread goodness and love.