Teen mom

When you're a teen, babies can seem gross. Until you have one

Photo Credit: Tony Fouhse

“You’re pregnant,” said the doctor.

My throat began to tighten. I found myself stammering about getting some fresh air, then running for the door.

I was 18 years old and on Christmas break during my first year of college. In an instant, I went from being a carefree student to an expectant mother. I didn’t want kids. Ever. I thought they were sticky, smelly and a boatload of responsibility.

Two days later, I went in for an ultrasound. My doctor told me, “You’re a little more pregnant than we thought.”

Four and a half months pregnant, to be exact.

When it came time to tell the father-to-be, I was terrified. Andrew and I had been dating for a little more than a year and our relationship was tumultuous at best. High school relationships aren’t exactly destined to last forever. When I told him, his face dropped, and his mood went from cheerful to devastated before I finished the sentence. One of the first things he said was “My life is over.” After all, he was just 17.

Somehow, we made it through that conversation and on to the next one. What were we going to do? Three choices were before us: adoption, abortion or adulthood.

As I had many times in the past, I decided to take the easy route. I wrote a note to my parents telling them I needed to go to the abortion clinic the next day. I cried all night. The next morning, my mom drove me to Ottawa and held my hand as I filled out a stack of paperwork. The waiting room was filled with teenagers, older couples, even children. As I sat there, staring at the calm faces around me, I realized something — I was not calm. I was on the brink of hyperventilation. I turned to my mom and told her I wanted to leave. I remain a committed supporter of choice, but keeping my baby was the path I chose.

I had so many questions about my future. I had no money; before getting pregnant, I had worked part-time at a convenience store, earning just enough to pay for car insurance and gas to get to school. I lived with my parents in a tiny house, barely big enough for the three of us. I could hardly take care of myself; I had no idea how I was going to take care of a baby.

I promised myself I would finish my diploma in journalism, and returned to college after the break for the start of second semester. I chose not to tell most of my classmates about my “delicate” state, mainly because I didn’t want any special treatment. After all, I was pregnant — not dying. Fortunately, I didn’t start to show until I was about eight months along, and most people thought I was just getting fat.

School was a welcome distraction, and I threw myself into my studies with much more devotion than before. I followed a meticulous routine, which I’m convinced kept me sane. I went to class, came home, worked on my assignments, and went to bed. I was tired most of the time (I even fell asleep in my car once in the parking lot at school), but at least I had something other than being pregnant to focus on.

I found myself isolated, at home every night while my friends went out partying. I couldn’t relate to any of them anymore. It was as though we had started on the same path, but I had taken a detour and ended up all alone. People I used to see every day stopped coming around. I felt shunned by other pregnant women because of my age, often receiving an awkward brush-off when I tried to start a conversation. The remaining five months of my pregnancy were the loneliest of my life.

Everyone in my quaint hometown of a few hundred people knew about my situation. There were some who judged harshly — one girl I went to high school with said my child would grow up to be a delinquent. Luckily, I have wonderful neighbours who chose to support rather than chastise me. My mom had to rent a hall for my baby shower because our house couldn’t accommodate the number of people who came.

I finished my first year of college with pretty good grades, and 23 days later, on May 16, 2008, my beautiful son was born.

Nobody told me about the crazy adrenalin surge that sometimes follows your child’s birth. I couldn’t sleep for two days — I just sat there and held him. He was so perfect, so magnificent and so very humbling. It took four days of careful thought before Andrew and I landed on the name Hendrick Jude — our little rock star.

Being young meant I had a lot more energy than many first-time moms, but still I struggled to keep my eyes open after just a few days. Plus, everyone I’d ever known came barging through my door to see the baby. When the excitement wore off, the magnitude of my responsibility set in. I was so frustrated one night when Hendrick wouldn’t sleep that I plugged my ears and held him close to my chest until he cried himself to sleep.

The next year was a blur. I went back to school in the fall and relied on a student loan to cover my living expenses. I rented a house down the street from my parents and lived alone with Hendrick — Andrew had moved to Ottawa for school. My mom, who was between jobs, offered to take care of Hendrick while I attended classes four days a week. I woke up every morning at 5:30 and made a stiff cup of coffee. If I was lucky, I had time to get dressed and ready before Hendrick woke up. When he did stir, I changed and breastfed him until he fell back asleep. I watched the news until my mom arrived around 7 a.m., and then I was on my way to class. The separation from him never got any easier. Every day that I was at school, I would call home to check on things. Most nights, I was up until midnight, doing homework that had to wait until after Hendrick was asleep.

I remember the wave of relief I felt on my graduation day. I wanted to bring Hendrick, but I knew he would get fussy during the ceremony, so Andrew stayed home with him. My parents looked on as I proudly reached out to collect the piece of paper I had worked so hard for.

Andrew also graduated — from the Grand Diplôme program at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa — and moved in with us, which made things a lot easier. Today, Andrew is working at a bistro and I’m a stay-at-home mom, the best job there is. My baby has become a toddler, and he has a favourite expression: big, big truck. Before I know it, he’ll be asking to borrow my car. I hang out with a few other moms now and, even though they’re older, we get along just fine.

Before I had Hendrick, I had my whole life planned out. I was going to travel the world, write books and have adventures. That script is now sitting in a landfill and I’ve learned to go with the flow. I think it’s funny when people ask me about my future. I always say, “How am I supposed to know what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone a year from now?” In my opinion, making plans is a waste of time because you never know what’s going to come your way. My career right now is motherhood and as long as Hendrick is happy and healthy, everything else will fall into place.

Being a teen mom is something I’m proud of and even though I didn’t plan it that way, my life turned out better than I could have imagined. I still can’t quite fathom the feelings I have for Hendrick. I finally understand what my mother means when she says she can’t describe how much she loves me. There truly are no words.