I got pregnant when I was 16, and had my daughter when I was 17.
I once watched a Dr. Phil episode where he talked about how the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until we’re roughly 25 years old, and that it is the part of the brain that processes the consequences of our actions. This is why you can’t rent a car until you’re 25, and your insurance rates lower at that magical age as well. This is why when you’ve just celebrated your 17th birthday and you find out you’re pregnant, you don’t freak out, not even a little.
My boyfriend at the time was 22, had been my next door neighbor for several years. My family had just sold our house and were staying with friends a couple of hours away until we got things settled for our move out-of-state. He drove me to the grocery store for a pregnancy test, drove me to the gas station down the street from his house, and waited in my truck like the gentleman he was, while the underage girl he’d been screwing went into the dirty bathroom and took the test. It was negative.
Two weeks later I was still late for my period, still throwing up, and I went with my best friend to a hospital to “Get a real test done,” she said. That one was positive.
I drove straight to my boyfriend’s house and told him. I took him around the side of the house by the garbage can for some privacy. He was elated, actually.
I drove back to my parent’s and I can still remember my mom’s face. There were about eight other people in the room, non-family members, so not much was said. A few ladies congratulated me. I’m sure they talked about me later. It was my mom’s look of disappointment that has stuck with me. Now, having a teenager myself, I would consider that face to be a sadness, of knowing just how much work was ahead of me, and all the millions of things that I would never in a million years think would be coming into my life. See, her prefrontal cortex was fully developed, and she had a lifetime of experience and four children to back it up. She also knew she’d be helping me raise her, and I’m sure that weighed heavily.
My boyfriend drove up to where my family was staying and proposed the following evening, asking my parents for their blessing. My parents said it was my choice. I said no. I said I was too young, my family was leaving the state and I wanted — needed — to be with them. I said not now; I said come with us. He became angry, indifferent, and left.
I didn’t think much of it, he was a moody guy, and two weeks later when my family moved to Washington state, I said my “See you laters” and assumed I’d see him later. The deal was that I would drive back down with some friends in a few months to stay with him for a while, until it was time to have the baby and then I’d go back to my family’s new home in Washington State and stay with my parents for the birth and subsequent I-need-help time. I childishly assumed he wanted to be with me and raise the kid with me. I thought he would love to have me come back and have us be a little family.
Three months later I drove back to him, three states away, and ended up spending the bulk of the pregnancy there. My first night back with him I found out he’d been cheating on me, with several different women. His response? It was my fault because we could have been married and happy.
This, this was where I freaked out. I was raised to believe that I would find a man, preferably get married first but you know life happens, and have children and then stay, stay forever. That’s what love was and yes, we did this a little out-of-order, but this was my man and I had to make it work.
I cried and sobbed and threw a nice little tantrum, the child that I was, and that only seemed to make it worse. When my stomach was becoming too big to fly, he drove me home to my parents with the agreement that he would fly up a week before the due date and stay for two weeks.
He arrived, the due date arrived, but baby did not.
I was such a hippie back then — okay, still a little bit of one now — and planned on an at-home birth. We did not know the gender of the baby. Three days before he was supposed to fly home, and granted I was begging him to extend his flight (which he refused), I began having contractions after dinner.
They started 10 minutes apart, and then after a few of those they went to seven minutes apart, then quickly five minutes apart. We called the midwife that lived 45 minutes away starting to worry as things were accelerating quickly. My family; mom, dad, brother, and two sisters, were living there at the time with another family that had five kids. Their three daughters, the mom, my mom, and my two sisters were all very excited to watch this thing called childbirth. I was young and didn’t realize what all this entailed and thought it would be educational and fun. (Ha! My little sister to this day still does not have kids!) The midwife and her doula arrived and we had ourselves a little party.
My boyfriend started complaining about a backache, having gone to work with my dad and his construction crew that day, for fun, and while my contractions became one minute in length and one minute apart, he started whining quite heavily and making a nice little scene on the bed, while the midwife had me walking around the cramped room.
My dad had been sitting out in the hallway, crying, completely consumed by the overwhelming emotions of his teenage daughter in such pain. There were eleven people present in the room, and everyone in the house could hear. I felt so dumb, I couldn’t believe all of this was happening to me. I felt so on display, too open. I wanted it to be me and the dad and have him hold me and tell me we’d get through this and that he loved me, and instead it was a whole bunch of people giving me opinions on what I should do, how I should sit/stand/lay down/get in the bath/push/not push/eat/not eat/drink/cry/sound/look/be. I was so miserable, so embarrassed, so ashamed.
To make matters worse, the midwife wouldn’t let me cry high-pitchedly, she said the shrill sounds create more stress and strain on the baby, while deep guttural sounds were soothing and would forward the process. My family still refers to this as the Donkey Delivery.
Having been dilated to a three when the midwife arrived about midnight, I was very saddened to hear that after eight hours of hard contractions I was still dilated to a three. At that point I think everyone in the room was dilated to a three. The labor had begun at 9:00 pm and was keeping us all awake and I was at my wit’s end of pain and exhaustion when the midwife decided to put me in the birthing chair and try to massage the cervix into opening.
Not even 30 minutes later my dear cone-headed child was in the world. She was blotchy and covered in a disgusting cheese-like substance I was not prepared for and swollen. Her head had been in the birthing canal for too long and I thought she would be brain-damaged at this point because there was no way a head was coming back from that. Her ears were pointed like a little elf. She was a weird-looking thing. And all I knew was that I was tired, and in so much pain. This quick assessment of the baby that had just left my body happened in a matter of seconds. The midwife yelled “It’s a girl!” and her daddy cut the cord.
Not even one minute later I feel another contraction and my eyes bug out and lock with the midwife. “What? Is there another one?” She laughed and said it was normal, that I would still have contractions for one to four days after the delivery, and that is what makes the uterus go back to its regular size, so we want it… I lost all my remaining sanity. I was sobbing. I was done. I had no idea it would be this much, it was sensory overload.
She said that I would have to deliver the afterbirth, the placenta, still. I had no clue what that was. “You know, the bag she’s been in, and the rest of the cord.” I was expecting eight more hours of labor to get this unknown thing out of me, so when the urge to push came, I thought I better get started. The midwife, who had been sitting on the ground in front of me, was turned to one side and when she swung back around to face me, my little tiny half-assed push sent the placenta hurdling toward her with a speed reserved for Olympic baby deliverers. The placenta THUNKED into her chest, and the entire room froze. My mouth was hanging open, my eyes glued to her face. I started yelling “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” and after what felt like two hours, however could only have been seconds, she started to laugh.
If this isn’t a commercial for birthing classes, and waiting to have kids until you’re old enough to realize you should learn a thing or two about the process, I don’t know what would be. There is so much to having a child; the pregnancy and its quirks and pains and nausea and mind fuck, and then the delivery and all of its nuts and bolts. There’s nothing like pooping in front of 11 people before you’re legally allowed to buy cigarettes, that just kind of ruins your self-esteem. I highly recommend educating yourself before deciding to go through childbirth, just talking openly about all the disgusting things with the matriarchs of your family would be a good start. I am an advocate for having only family members that are near and dear to you in your birthing room. Have the dad, maybe your own mom or a beloved sister. That would be good. The event is hard enough without adding all the energies and dramas of handfuls of people to it.
Eventually I was left with my daughter and her dad. We tried to sleep. We were interrupted every half an hour and people would take the screaming baby to walk her around so we could get a nap in. The next day was his flight out, and he still wouldn’t change it. He had one more day of vacation time from work that he was planning on spending at his house with his roommates, and I begged him to wait that extra day with us so he could spend more time with his daughter. He said it was important to get home and celebrate with the roomies.
We went to the bank to notarize her birth paperwork and ended up fighting over her name. He refused to budge on having her first name be Maria, which half of everyone in his hometown is named, half of his entire country is named. I wanted something else, but that ended up being her middle name. He also laid down the law that she would have his last name, and again, I did not understand the ramifications, the years and the lifetime of explaining this name at every doctor appointment and school meeting, the one that did not match my own, that did not fit, that would not be easy to change without fighting him in court or thousands of dollars worth of adoption processes when I finally found her an actual father that loved her, raised her, wanted her. If I could go back to this moment, and put MY very deserving foot down, and claim the right to name my own child, I would do it in a heartbeat.
My parents, siblings, and the father, the baby, and I drove about an hour in the direction of the airport and got a hotel room that next night. My milk came in about 2:00 am with eight people sharing the same hotel room. It was excruciating — no one tells you that either. Pain and soreness up in your neck and glands, down under your arms and your entire chest. Heat, and there’s a pulse to everything.
We drove daddy to the airport the next morning and he went home to celebrate, without us. I spent the next six months of my life not sleeping, my family helping me with a colicky, screaming baby at all hours of the night because I did not have the mental capacity to handle any of it. I lived and breathed that baby every waking second. This is the part they don’t explain, however I don’t think you have to explain this to an adult. I could be wrong. When I finally had the courage to leave this boy-man two years later after continued fighting and cheating, heartache and pain, and years after that when I allowed my heart to open again, and a few years later being willing to marry, and two years after that deciding to have another child with a man who I was SURE loved me, I damn well knew what I was committing to by giving birth and choosing to raise another human being.
My girls are a decade apart, exactly, and I can tell you that having a child at 17 is a million times harder than having a child at 27. It could have everything to do with the dad’s role. It could have nothing to do with the prefrontal cortex. It could be because of maturity and wisdom, and a less selfish heart. It could be that my first-born was an actual shithead. Well, the second one was too.
Regardless of why, deciding to create and raise another human being is a commitment like no other you could make, it’s a decision to be hyper-vigilant for every second of every day and night for the rest of your life, having to put someone else before yourself at all times (especially before you even know who your self is), and I would highly recommend waiting until you are pretty darn sure before doing this.
I may not have been prepared or went about this parenting thing in the right order, but I chose to have my children. Both of them. And I have chosen everyday for the last 20+ years to have them and love them and make sure that they know it above all things. I make sure to follow-up any yelling match with a grumbled “It’s okay to be angry with each other, because you know we still love each other, right?!” And they grumbly respond “Yes.”
My daughters are loved, and I know they feel beloved. This, this is the most important part of being a parent, no matter your age. Give them a foundation of love, and how you ended up there doesn’t matter so much.