What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.
Today’s guest post is by Natalie Slack.
I want you to know that the judgment and shame starts immediately. I remember the long, slow drive home from the drugstore, pregnancy test tucked in my purse and I remember the never-ending three minutes while I waited for the double line indicator of what I already knew – I'm eighteen. I'm unmarried. I'm pregnant.
My childhood was full of love and God and church and abstinence education. “Every time you have sex you give a little piece of your heart away,” my mom would tell her five kids and I believed her. It also seemed that sex before marriage was the ultimate sin – that anything else was forgivable, temporary, and forgettable. There was an unspoken pressure to perform – keep my straight A's, finish college early (I'd graduated high school at 16), and eventually marry the right man and become a Proverbs 31 wife.
My sophomore year I went to a conservative Christian college with a thick “guidebook” of “covenants” I was meant to keep but within a few months of moving away from the shelter of my parents home I met a boy and fell in love. And a few months later I was driving that long, slow drive home from the drugstore wondering how this was happening to me.
My boyfriend immediately stepped up and helped me plan a wedding. Despite my rocky confession to my parents (I wrote a letter and fled the state!) they determined to support and encourage me as I stepped into new roles – wife and mother. Though our wedding was small and hastily put together, we believed that God would carry us through the next seven months before our firstborn son arrived.
I had no idea the judgment that I'd endure the moment my belly popped out. Despite the wedding ring on my finger I still was an eighteen year old girl that looked like an eighteen year old girl. I was a statistic, and I knew it. With my college education on hold, working as a barista for minimum wage, and with an ever growing stomach – I felt like I wore my sin for all to see. “Lots of people mess up in this way,” our pastor told us during our speed session of pre-marital counseling, “Only you guys got caught.” And I felt “caught” - like somehow my premarital sex would cause my child to be scarred, my marriage to be doomed, and my motherhood to be tainted. This wasn't a role I had asked for or wanted, and now I'd fallen into it, feeling both unwilling and unworthy and so very ashamed.
From nosy grandmothers at grocery stores to the slow snub of many of my previous single friends, it seemed as if everywhere I looked people no longer held me in the same regard. Because I was young and pregnant I was perhaps less intelligent. Because I was young and pregnant I was irresponsible. Because I was young and pregnant I would never amount to much. As the judgments of others began to weigh heavily on me, I began to believe these lies too. At a time when my life was really just beginning I felt like my dreams were over. I didn't know how I'd recover or survive.
What I want you to know is that being young and pregnant is hard enough without your judgment. I want you to know that encouragement and support is what young pregnant girls or young mothers are desperate for. That affirmation and speaking life-giving words can make the difference.
At twenty-one I had my second son and at twenty-three my third. When I am in the grocery store now, I am still aware of the eyes that question my age, my marital status, my motherhood. I've been asked if I'm “the nanny” before, and many times “are they all yours?” And people are quick to assess how young I must have been when I had my oldest son, now a lean, smart and confident almost-seven-year-old. I've learned to make jokes of my age, since most of my friends have a decade on me. And I've finally begun to accept the life-giving words of encouragement that my family and friends speak to me. “You are a great mom,” they tell me. And even though I spent the first part of my motherhood doubting and denying that this could ever be true I am beginning now to believe.
I want you to know that you could play a big part in building up a young mother. When I would visit the playground with my one-year-old in tow I would hope and pray for someone else to speak to me, to reach out to me. Regardless of your age or status you can find a commonality with a young mom and you may be the life-giver she needs.
I am a student, a teacher, an artist, a creator, an encourager, a communicator. These are the gifts I bring to the world. I am also a mother. I was all of these things at 18. And I will still be all of these things at 40. Though, with my head-start, I might just be a grandmother then too :)