I was young, carefree, innocent, and brave. I had several things on my mind: school, work, family, and sex. I was naive. I knew what sex was, what the probable consequences were, but I did not think any of it would happen to me. I was invincible.
I was at the dinner table one late winter day, eating my favorite meal, mole con pollo. I abruptly got on my feet and ran to the bathroom, I was nauseated by my last bite. How could that be? I looked at myself in the mirror. In my mind there was a question. There was disbelief. Could it be possible?
I did not share about my feelings or symptoms. I talked to everyone as usual and life went along normally. A couple of weeks later when the nausea returned I gathered the courage to tell a friend about my greatest fear. Days later we walked into a Walmart, grabbed a cheap pregnancy test, and before leaving the store unboxed it and waited for a result. It was merely an affirmation of what my gut was already telling me. I was pregnant. I had no reaction. My worry was not any greater and excitement was nowhere to be found.
From then onward, things moved too quickly. I kept quiet. I did not have the words to tell anyone else about my situation. My dad questioned my constant hunching over while I sat on the couch, the decline in my appetite, my distance from everyone. He walked into my room one early morning before heading to work. It must have been about 6 a.m. He spoke softly to me, knowing I was no longer in a deep sleep, and asked if I was pregnant. Just like that. I felt my stomach drop and my heart beat uncontrollably. My mind raced and I thought to myself, this is it: I can end all of this pain and tell him the truth. But I could not. I could not bring myself to tell my father, the man who had always encouraged me to follow my dreams, who had worked his whole life to provide for my siblings and me, that I was pregnant at 15. I shrugged and moaned, tossed and turned, and finally mumbled a doubtful “no.” It was over though. There was no way I could continue to hide my growing abdomen from my parents. A few days later my mother called me, expressed her concern, and bluntly asked if I was pregnant. I broke down and admitted to it. There was brief silence over the phone and then a cry. How painful it was to hear my mother cry. It was painful for all of us, a mix of emotions and tears, and feelings of failure and betrayal.
My parents were heartbroken and I knew I had betrayed them, but those feelings and wounds healed with time, forgiveness, and unconditional love. I changed my mind about leaving school behind and wound up being passionate about education. After that summer, I did not return to my high school because after some research my dad enrolled me at a teen parent program in town. It was there, in the four-hallway building, that I found myself. Along with dozens of other girls, I navigated the worlds of parenthood and adolescence. It was a strange feeling, being a parent in a teenage environment. The expectations of mothering and maturity were on my shoulders, and although at times I felt old and mature and ready to take on the world, other times I felt like what I was, a teenager trying to understand my place in this world. Even others were confused whether to treat me and my peers as mothers or as teenagers. We just asked to be treated with respect.
Later, with my child in arms, stepping out into the world, I felt misunderstood and judged by those who knew me as a young parent. No one knew my story, yet strangers who saw me with a child in my arms made assumptions about how or why I got pregnant. It was also in that place though, the small four-hallway building that housed dozens of young mothers and their babies, that I found some of the greatest support away from home. I met teachers who continuously inspired and motivated me to pursue my dreams, to complete high school and to attend college, to accomplish all of these things not only for my child but for myself.
My parents deserve great credit: from the moment they found out about the tiny fetus growing within me they insisted I finish high school. They were my greatest support all along; the world has a lot to learn from them. As young parents we are judged and misunderstood. Assumptions are made about us and our families. It needs to be known that we have a true desire to do our best as parents. We do as we have seen done or as we are told to do. We are malleable, and oftentimes easy targets. The world needs to know that a young parent is that, a teen and a parent. There is no way to be one thing and not the other, and that is okay.
Through my journey of being a young parent I have learned a lot about others as well as about myself. I have heard the stories of many other young parents, several similar to mine and some very distinct. Each of us has a story and hopes and dreams for our children. That is one thing I know for certain, that from the moment my daughter was born I loved every inch of her. My desires for her are that she loves herself, that she asks questions, and that she pursues her own happiness. For myself, I hope to keep learning and growing as a woman and as a parent. My journey as a young parent began at the age of 15 and now, although my teen years are behind me, the label is still mine. I will always be a young parent, a teen parent. I own it.