Almost 30 years ago, I left my house in Lake Isabella, California in thin pajamas and sneakers. My birth mother and I drove 30 miles, a little over an hour away so I could in the course of a few hours leave my teenage life behind and become a mother.
This is my story of that night.
"Your condition is contagious. We don't want that, do we?"
When I was 17, a junior in High School. I became a series of statistics. Numbers on paper, all of them leading to what the adults in my life would presume would be a dead end.
In 1990, I attended a very small rural high school whose graduating class barely made up enough people to fill a few pages in the yearbook. There were a few things that stood out about those kids who were able to take the proud walk across the stage.
They were mostly white kids, going to college somewhere far far away, and none of them got pregnant or claimed the pregnancies that did happen.
I was one of the few that did not walk. That wasn't allowed in my school, since I would be returning home to my baby and a life they wanted to ignore.
When I discovered I was pregnant, my high school advisors immediately removed me from the school and I was pushed into a home school program and asked not to return to the campus.
They asked me not to speak with other students and it would be great if I could politely not be seen. The high school librarian had already attempted to advise me to get on the weekly bus she drove to the Planned Parenthood. I had refused and after that I was asked to leave.
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Why share my story?
Almost 30 years have passed and still, there is a haunting of shame surrounding the young women who choose to raise their babies who come from teen pregnancies.
Not much has changed.
We need to do more to teach our young men to respect boundaries, teach our teens about contraceptives and make sure they are using them, and we need to be the village that cares for those in need. Casting them out, that's not the way.
It smelled sterile and yet gross, the mixture of blood, urine, sweat, and bleach made my terrified stomach rollover. I wasn’t ready for this. My mouth was so dry.
I swallowed to try to bring up something to make my tongue stop sticking to the top of my mouth but this only proved to make my throat ache instead. I stood there in my PJ’s and sneakers waiting for someone to come and comfort me, make me feel better about this day and this situation.
Instead, they walked passed me and their cold stares judged me silently.
“She’s just a baby” I heard them whisper.
I heard my birth mother demanding that someone pay attention to us, to her. Why was she here? Why now? Go away… you are the reason this is happening. He was in my house because of you!
I just wanted to go home and pretend this wasn’t happening. I wasn’t here, I wasn’t doing this. I wanted to go back to high school and maybe try out for the cheerleading team again or see those girls who were once nice to me and ask them to take me back into their group.
Standing there I tried to think about anything else. I wanted to be thinking about the homecoming dance, my dress, maybe Danny would take me.
No.. not now, never again. Things had changed. Now I was here in a hospital instead. No boy would ever want to hold my hand and sing along with me to bad Hair Bands as we drove back roads to ride motorcycles and dreamed of endless summers.
Now the sounds of crying and stench of desperation surrounded me and I gagged at the memories of the whole last year of my life. I should have never have trusted anyone, I knew better. I shouldn't have gotten in the car, I knew nobody would come looking for me. And they didn't. For 2 weeks I was a missing teenage girl, and not one person came looking for me. I walked out of the tall summer grass broken and lost, and my world changed in ways I would never imagine.
“Come in here, get undressed and someone will be in to check you in.“
The nurse spoke coldly as she threw a green hospital gown my direction before she hurried out of the room, thrusting the thin curtain around the bed. I stared at the curtain as if that would give me some privacy or dignity.
So far in the last year, I had learned the hard way that I deserved no dignity, perhaps never did. Every set of eyes that looked at me after I told the police what happened seemed to have the same gaze… disbelief and annoyance. It was better not to believe than to accept that there were monsters living among them.
As I was left alone to undress another wave of pain and sickness washed over me and I leaned over the hard creaking bed and clenched the blankets and sheets as hard as I could.
My eyes slammed shut as I pushed my head down into the bed and let the pain come and go. Breathless I tried to force air back into my lungs even as my body seemed to want to force everything out of me in those few seconds.
This is what I deserved, I asked for this.
Once changed into the sheet with sleeves, I crawled into the bed and hoped that somehow someone would take mercy on me today and be kind. I looked around at the machines and monitors, the other bed was empty for now and I could see the lights of the city still burning in the darkness. It had been an hour's drive from our house driven in silence.
We had known this day would have to come and pretending that this was a day to celebrate wasn’t in us. I had made the choice and I was going to stick with it, nobody was going to change the facts now. I would not be forced into an abortion.
“The doctor will be in to check you over. Then I am going to get you hooked up.“
Another nurse came in along with my birth mother and her latest husband. Ridiculously, she was also very pregnant and none of them looked all too thrilled to be here.
They pasted on plastic smiles and carried on conversations about how this was going to be a good day while passing looks between them that spoke otherwise.
The head nurse looked down at me, her dark eyes almost as dark as her skin gave me a look of something close to pity. Grabbing my thin pale arm as if snatching a piece of meat from a plate, she roughly scrubbed it down with her cold pads of alcohol. Unsure of what was happening I looked around trying to see what was coming next.
“Do you have to give me shots?” I asked timidly, wondering how many needles I would have to endure before I could get out of here.
I had had no prenatal visits, no sweet pregnancy and delivery classes to prepare me for any of this. Just a pamphlet that was given to me after another forced visit to Planned Parenthood to try to talk me into ending this.
“IV, that’s how we do it. IV.. it stays in.. don’t pull it out.” She snapped at me as she jammed my hand under her armpit and braced it there, locked in place as she prepped to insert the needle. Instinctively I tried to pull away only to feel her clamp down on me like a vise.
“I….I… I don’t want it. I don’t.. do I have to?” I hear my voice sputter out childlike as I looked around for help. Today I was going to have to get used to doing things I didn’t want to do, this was the start of it.
After the needle was pulled out and inserted repeatedly due to my apparent wandering veins, finally something was found along my thigh, making movement impossible without the dull throb of pain reminding me to keep still.
My doctor was kind as he did his best to calm me about what was happening and recommend I calmed down with a healthy dose of morphine.
Supposedly it was for the pain and anxiety, but truthfully I knew it was to make me sleep.
I did sleep, I slept deeply between moments of pain that drug me out of my dream world for 30 seconds at a time.
I became delirious, the drugs were too much for my tiny body. Nobody seemed to notice or even care that nothing was making any sense to me anymore.
That’s when she came…
My Gram's Visit
I hadn’t told her what was happening. I didn’t want to. I felt so much shame and guilt, I couldn’t let her think of me like that. I wanted her to love me. We had always been so close, I was her special girl. We spoke briefly over the phone that year. She’d left the summer before, life with us.. with me.. had gotten too hard. She needed a break and her sons wanted her to be closer to them, not taking care of a 15-year-old and her rebellious mother. The fights between my Gram and my Mother had gotten bad, threats were made, tears were shed, and she had given up and left me there. I couldn’t tell her that I had screwed up and made things worse. I only told her that I was doing well, still keeping up my good grades and trying to be a good girl. Though in truth I was good, I was always good. Life wasn’t.
I opened my eyes as the pain pushed me back into awake and gasped as I saw her sitting at the edge of the bed. We were alone, just she and I. I couldn’t hold back the tears, she would know now. “I am so sorry… I wanted to tell you but..but.. I couldn’t.”
Gram patted my covered leg and shook her head. “Don’t you worry about that now, Honey.”
I kept my eyes on her as the pain settled back down. “I can do this.”
I watched her pick up her crocheting needle and yarn, starting to work on a vibrant purple afghan. “I like the colors.” I said as I watched her. This was something I’d seen her doing my entire life, sitting calmly and working the yarn into something beautiful and comforting.
“I didn’t know what color to make it, but I hope it will keep you warm.” She said softly, her voice was always calming and gentle.
For the next couple of hours she sat there with me and we talked about everything that had happened. I apologized over and over and as usual she would tell me that it would be ok. People came and went, nurses, the doctor, my mother and step father, but I just kept focused on her. I needed her so badly, I had for months. I ached to be tiny and crawl up into her arms and have her hold me close and stroke my hair as she did when I was a child.
The pain came harder, the morphine wasn’t as strong anymore and I reached out to hold her hand as the time between pain came less and the pain lasted longer and harder.
“Time to focus.” The nurses and doctors shouted at me. I was trying, but I felt so out of it. I kept watching her pale blue eyes as they pushed my body down on the bed and pulled me to the edge. Why couldn’t they just let me take a break?
“PAY ATTENTION!” The nurses ordered as two of them grabbed my knees and forced me into a strange position. Suddenly I started pulling out of the haze and back into the situation. “I don’t know what to do!” I screamed through the pain that began burning through my body. Everything tensed up and I felt the vile taste of vomit start to push up from my empty stomach as everyone seemed to be on top of me and pushing me down. I struggled and pushed back, unable to scream as the air was forced out of my lungs.
“You can do this!” I heard voices cheering, even though I wanted to snap back that this was NOT a cheerleader moment.
I couldn’t see what was happening, just the fierce determined look of the nurses and somewhere the doctor had come in and was also moving about the room, now no longer a gentle caregiver but a soldier preparing for battle. “When I say push, do it with everything you have… do it and it will be over… ok… get ready… annnnnd… PUSH!”
As instructed I did… I felt my Gram’s always cold hand up on my forehead as I clenched down and pushed with every ounce of strength left in me. Again, pushing as if I could just get rid of everything that had happened in the last year in those moments. Again as I forced my body to accept this change and demanded that I was no longer a child, no longer able to make excuses, no longer was I going to just sit back and let life screw me as it had! I am DONE with being a puppet! I am DONE with doing what I am TOLD! Pushing as hard as I could, pushing away the last minutes of my childhood. And then… it was over…
Suddenly I felt hollow, sunken, and deeply afraid. I looked around for my Gram, she’d gone. Perhaps she was with the others who had also left me there alone as they all rushed to the other side of the room. The sounds were confusing, my ears were ringing. The lights were so bright and the waves of morphine still in my body were making me tremble and itch. The nurses had left my knees and they felt weak and shook harshly on their own.
As he was laid down over my chest and the weight of him and everything that had happened pressed down into me, I cried. I cried for the moment of first seeing my son and this knowing that he was my savior. I cried for getting to spend a few hours with my Gram, who now I knew was only with me in spirit as she had never left Texas. I cried for knowing that I was barely 17 years old and now I had become a mother. I cried for this little miracle that I didn’t know I wanted so much, and yet as he looked up at me it was as if HE knew all along.
A week later the bright purple afghan arrived in the mail with a letter from my Gram. I called her and told her everything, she said she knew and it was ok. I knew she was there with me that night and as I wrapped my sweet little baby and I up in her love, I knew I would be ok.