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I Was A Teenage Mom

I was a teenage mom. It was a different world in 1970. Abortion was not an option – at least not for a frightened 17-year-old in a small Wisconsin farming community. The friendly middle-aged male counselor my parents took me to explained that I had about three choices. I could drop out of high school, forget about college, get a job as a waitress and get married. I could give the baby up for adoption. Or I could commit suicide. I was sitting in his office because I had been contemplating door number three. It actually helped to have my choices laid out in such a straightforward manner. But it really pissed me off. I didn’t get to give a speech at my high school graduation. I had been so distracted during my last semester that my grades suffered. But I think everyone at the school was relieved that they didn’t have to deal with the embarrassment of an “unwed mother” at the podium. So I paraded across the stage, my graduation robes bulging. Number three in my class. And it really pissed me off. My daughter was born during a mysterious procedure – I wasn’t conscious for it. When I woke up, my belly was gone, but my boyfriend was there. He had courageously suffered through the tense, 45-minute ride to the hospital with my parents, even making them stop so he could pick some wild flowers by the side of the road. We were too young to get married without his parents’ consent, and they had turned their backs on us completely, dismissing me as, well, a woman of stained virtue. We looked at our baby through a plate glass window, but they wouldn’t let me hold her. I’d just get attached, they said. It really pissed me off. All of it. I guess I stayed mad for a long time. I think I might still be mad. All I knew was that the world needed to be a better place, somehow, than the one that put me through that emotional wringer. And if I had anything to say about it, there were gonna be some changes made. This story has a happy ending, sort of. When she was in her late 20s, my daughter contacted me. There were financial and emotional costs, but she managed. She told me her upper-middle-class childhood in a stable home was everything I had hoped for her. She told me her parents made a place for her to be emotionally and physically well. And she told me she was so glad to find me and talk to me, because her life just didn’t look like theirs. Her emotions and desires had led her well outside the boundaries of the comfortable life I had chosen for her. But there, outside those boundaries, she found me. And she told me she was very glad we had met as adults, when we could appreciate our similarities without the scars of a difficult childhood. But you know, I think we’re both pissed off. Instead of choosing to express that through some kind of violence, we’ve both dedicated our lives to working for change, to make it better somehow for moms and kids, no matter what their ages or circumstances. Because the system we have right now is just not right. The relationship between a healthy mom and a healthy child in a healthy culture is warm, loving, gentle, not rushed, not stressful. That relationship is sacred. It’s sheltered in a network of caring adults in an extended family and a protective community. And who among us gets to experience that? What lucky baby gets to feel that secure? What lucky mom gets that much support? If we really want to address the issues of crime and poverty, creating a culture where healthy moms and healthy babies can enjoy a gentle, loving, unhurried relationship during the early years of life would be a damn good place to start. What would happen if we recognized this issue as a crisis, and threw a ton of resources at the problem – like, say, as much as we regularly throw at people like Blackwater or Halliburton for, um, some stuff. Until that happens, people like my daughter and me are going to continue to be pissed off. And we’ll make choices based on that.