It’s funny because I hadn’t even realized that I was about to be a teen mom until I saw the way that people were treating me. I was 18 years old and pregnant but as silly as it sounds, I didn’t think that I fit the stereotypical teen mom image. I thought because I had already graduated high school and had a decent-paying full time job that I was different. I thought the facts that I knew how to take care of a baby and was excited about becoming a mommy would overshadow my age and exempt me from judgment. It wasn’t long before I learned that this was not reality. I started to pick up on the disapproving looks and head shakes from complete strangers upon discovering my belly. There was the occasional bold cashier who would flat out ask “how old are you? You look too young to be having a baby.” There were also the awkward moments when I would be out and run into someone from my high school and have to decide whether I would wait for them to ask or volunteer that I was expecting. Unsure of what their reaction would be, I would usually just pretend that I didn’t see them and quickly go in the opposite direction to avoid interaction.
But I couldn’t completely hide from friends and family and their reactions were some that stuck with me the most. “Your poor mother-she already has to take care of you and now she has to take care of your baby.” This statement from a family member really threw me off because I had no intention of relying on my parents for financial support. In fact, I had already gotten an apartment and I was just awaiting my move-in date. I couldn’t process why someone would draw this conclusion about me without any basis. This statement was the most-telling preview of what was to come. I realized at that moment that I would be judged on sight far more often than I would be afforded the opportunity to show who I was and what I was about. I would be judged for my decisions and never given the chance to dispute false perceptions. I realized that I was exactly what I thought I wasn’t – a teen mom. I also had to come to grips with the fact that even I had a negative perception of the holders of this title. Having experienced the judgment firsthand, I was beginning to understand just why I wanted to separate myself from the group. I just wanted to be looked at as a mom, not a new mom and definitely not a teen mom. But I was learning that you don’t get to control how others view you.
Aside from the overwhelming judgment that I was facing, I was actually really excited about becoming a mommy. I was reading all the mommy-to-be books that I could get my hands on. I had internet access in my apartment but my laptop was pretty crappy. Plus mom blogs weren’t terribly popular (if they existed at all) at that time so I was much more limited with relatable references online. I assumed that my obstetricians were giving me all the information I needed. I had no idea just how much additional guidance I could have used.
Sure I was reading and learning what I could but it’s hard to learn what you don’t even know you don’t know.
I didn’t know that I had options for labor and delivery. Luckily, I had been in the delivery room when my sister delivered my nephew the year before so I had witnessed a live birth and had some reference for what to expect there. Of course I knew that some women opted for the epidural and some didn’t but I had no idea about the reasons behind either choice. It never even occurred to me that this was something to research because it just seemed so matter of fact: either you want one or you don’t. No one ever presented this to me as a choice that I needed to make. If anything I was told that I would definitely get the epidural. “Okay – I guess I will probably get an epidural,” I concluded. I knew that some women had to have cesarean sections. I assumed that I was not likely to need one but it never occurred to me to try to understand what circumstances may put me in the position where that was the best option. There was so much about birthing that I simply did not know I didn’t know. But my daughter had a closet and dresser full of super cute clothes in a nicely decorated nursery. Those were the things that I thought deserved my focus because that is what I had always observed.
When I went in for my first prenatal appointment one of the doctors in the practice told me that my due date was October 8 based on my last menstrual cycle. My confirmation scan showed that I wasn’t as far along as we thought and my due date was changed to October 13. My 40 week appointment was scheduled for my original due date of October 8. The doctor that I saw that day started talking about induction and I had to explain that my due date was not until October 13. For whatever reason, she overlooked that in my chart. I managed to talk her into allowing me to stay pregnant.
Yes, I had to convince my doctor to allow me to do something with my body.
I wouldn’t truly appreciate the trouble with that statement for years to come. My next appointment was on October 12. I was really exhausted and ready to deliver my baby. I was scheduled to see one of my favorite doctors so I was completely infuriated when I arrived at the office and he wasn’t there. The receptionist circled the wrong office on my appointment card (let’s just say my phone still flipped so appointment cards were how you managed your handwritten calendar) so I had gone to the wrong location. The office was about to close and they almost sent me away when I protested and very clearly (and loudly) proclaimed that I was 40 weeks pregnant and I would be seen today. There was still one doctor left in the office – my least favorite. She told me that she was going to check my cervix. “Okay good,” I thought. But it wasn’t good. It was incredibly painful. Painful and disappointing when she told me “I’m sorry dear, your cervix is still closed and pretty thick. We’ll have a nurse call you tomorrow to get you scheduled for induction in the next week.” I left that appointment with my daughter’s father and we went to get food. When we parked at the restaurant, I could not even move. I just broke down crying. I felt so defeated and overwhelmed and uninformed and uncared for and exhausted. I knew that it was my responsibility to educate myself on anything I wanted to know but I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t even know what questions to ask. I wasn’t looking for anyone to do the work for me I just needed a shove in right the direction. I was lost. And I was embarrassed because I thought these were things I should know somehow and maybe that’s why nobody is talking about them. I was so worked up that I didn’t even notice that I was starting to have contractions.
I went into labor later that night. I was still disappointed with my experience earlier but I was excited that I was going into labor on my own. I called the answering service and found out that my favorite doctor was the one on call. I told her that my contractions were about 5-7 minutes apart but not unbearable yet. She told me to take my time but head to the hospital soon. I felt like I needed to take a bath. I was feeling so much of the intensity in my lower back and I felt like the water would be soothing. I had never heard of water birth or laboring in water at that point. I just instinctively knew that water would be good to my body. After taking a bath and grabbing a few more things for my bag, we headed to the hospital. When we checked in, I was so relieved to see that my nurse was the same nurse that helped my sister deliver my nephew the year before. She was amazing, so gentle and caring. I felt so relaxed knowing that she would be tending to me. I spent my entire labor in the hospital bed hooked up to the fetal monitor, with an IV and receiving antibiotics since my group b streptococcus culture was positive. I assumed that’s just how hospital births go. I did not know I had other options.
I labored all night and into the next morning. By the time I was 6 centimeters dilated the contractions were too intense for me and I opted for the epidural. I was pretty disturbed by the size of the needle and the stern warning not to move even a tiny bit under any circumstances. “Oh no! What if I start having a contraction?” I thought. “I’m going to be paralyzed!” Of course that didn’t happen and the relief that the epidural brought was incredible. I was able to relax and even doze off a bit. I didn’t know that my contractions had stalled. So the nurse came in and said they were going to start a pitocin drip to get the contractions started up again. I knew enough to know that pitocin typically makes the contractions more intense but I wasn’t too worried because I had the magic medicine flowing. A few hours passed and there was a shift change. I got a new nurse and she was cold. She clearly was not impressed by my age. She came in with another nurse to change my fluids. We started having a casual conversation about my progress and out of curiosity I asked “how do you know when it’s necessary to have a C-section?” The accompanying nurse sharply replied “What are you talking about? You’re not having a C-section, you’re almost ready to push.” I thought to myself, “okay, I guess that may have been a dumb question.” I wasn’t implying that I needed one, I was simply curious about the indicators. I decided I wouldn’t make any more small talk with the mean nurses. I was just trying to focus on getting through the delivery.
The doctor came and checked my cervix and I was finally fully dilated. She broke my bag of waters and said it was time to push. I realized that my sister was not in the room. The hospital had a policy that only three people could be in the room at a time. My mom, daughter’s father and his mom were currently in there. I was so emotionally frazzled that I was able to close my legs even with the epidural and halted delivery. “What’s wrong?” the doctor asked. “I need my sister to be in here,” I responded. This is how I planned for my delivery to go and with so many other things gone wrong, I was not willing to compromise on this one. I wasn’t super comfortable speaking up at this time but I wasn’t willing to miss out on the support that I envisioned having. Everyone looked around at each other and then my mother spoke up “I’ll leave.” “No, you will not,” I quickly answered. “I’ll go,” my daughter’s grandmother volunteered. As she walked out to get my sister, the nurse sternly said to me “you really need to get serious here. You are about to have a baby – you need to focus.”
I can’t remember ever feeling more small.
The tone of her voice, the delivery and the words have always been what stood out to me most about the birth of my daughter. At a time when I am literally about to do the most powerful thing any human can do, another human, another woman felt the need to strip me of my dignity and “put me in my place.” She didn’t care that I didn’t feel safe or secure or comfortable without my sister being there. The last words that I heard before pushing out my daughter were not encouraging or empowering, they were demeaning. It took years to understand the effect that experience had on how I chose to mother. Instead of being uplifted and filled with confidence, I felt beatdown and belittled. I hated the way I felt but at the time I attributed it to being a teen mom. “That’s what I get,” I tried to rationalize the inexcusable behavior. I figured I should expect to be treated that way.
When my sister came into the room, I could tell she had been crying – upset that she was about to miss the delivery. I was glad that I had spoken up so that I could have that part of the birth go as planned. A few pretty uneventful minutes later, my daughter was out and on my chest. I couldn’t believe it. Three pushes? That’s it? What about all the sweating and screaming and panicking? I didn’t realize that there was a wide variety of birthing experiences and that birth was insanely dramatized for television and movies. I was holding my little girl five minutes after I started pushing, on my due date and she was perfect! I didn’t see anybody else in the room. Nurses were buzzing about, the doctor was repairing a minor tear and family was watching me but I didn’t see or hear any of them. I only saw this beautiful baby girl that I was now responsible for. I started my journey into motherhood on the defense. I thought about the unpleasant experiences I had throughout the pregnancy and labor and realized the mean nurse was right. I needed to get serious. I knew in that moment that I would leave no room for anyone to tell me to “get serious” or “get focused” in relation to my daughter ever again. People may be able to label me a teen mom but they would never have grounds to call me a bad mom – I would make sure of it.