I found out that I was pregnant in a Starbucks bathroom. I was 18, which tells you why I was taking a pregnancy test in a public bathroom instead of at home. It felt like an emotional grenade had gone off. I don’t think I was even speaking coherent sentences to my cousin who had somehow been dragged into this moment. I called Matt and blurted it out. He seemed even more dazed then me and the conversation finished with us both saying something like wow, WOW, going to go process, talk to you later. Then I basically remember physically leaning on my cousin for support as we walked home through the rain, me crying, laughing at how insane this was, crying some more, and rambling on about finding some prenatal vitamins.
I went up to the room I was staying in, a room that I had spent so many summers in as a child. I was still a child. I wanted to make my choices for myself before I got back home and had to hear everyone’s opinions. I wrote and planned in my notebook and weighed my options, announcing them in a cryptic, poetic blog post. Whatever it took, I was going to do this.
I called Matt, who had already decided that he was in. My control issues had led me to calculate how I could pull this off on my own if everything went to hell or if he didn’t want this. It didn’t and he did. We were already engaged and he wanted to push up the wedding and just go for this. I was pretty resistant to that but somehow he changed my mind. Shortly after, we were planning to get married a few months out.
The gossip flew. People swore they had seen this coming and they knew all the reasons. This was back when there were still ways to anonymously be a jerk on the internet and I received several lovely messages about how I was ruining my life, that I didn’t know what I was doing. Our wedding was turned away at the church I had been baptized in because they didn’t support us there. It was kind of ugly. We kept going anyway and found out a lot about the power of family and true friendships. We found a kind priest who got to know us and believed in us. We found friends to help us hand-make our wedding decorations and who were willing to help make the wedding happen on a budget. Looking back, it was crazy. I get that. But somehow, it also wasn’t.
When I went into labour with my son, I was terrified. We had done the classes and this was nothing like the candle-lit massage, DVD-watching experience we were expecting. It was a very traumatic birth but he arrived safely. I don’t have the words to describe what I felt for him. I didn’t even want anyone else to hold him. I couldn’t sleep because I was too busy peaking over his bassinet to make sure he was ok. I was so in love with my sweet boy. I was also in pain for months after the birth and had what I know now was postpartum depression, spending many late nights in my in-law’s basement, where we were living, watching House Hunters and crying. I hoped that one day, we could give our soon a real home too. I very clearly remember holding him one night, promising him that I would take care of him and give him the life I knew he deserved.
But how. My husband had been in school before we were married, didn’t have a job yet over the course of the wedding, and was now a manager at a job that paid our bills but wasn’t going anywhere. I had worked as a server at a breakfast place for a year, saving up my tuition to go to school for journalism. That money and a car that was older than we were was all we had. I let the school know that I wouldn’t be attending. We were able to find my husband a job in another city and decided to move, away from our supportive families. It was right then that I found I was pregnant with my daughter. They would be 13 months apart.
This did not help to quell the worry and sentiment of the general public that we were crazy. Complications with our lease moved us to a part of the city that had an extremely high crime rate, which my husband kindly did not tell me until much later. He worked so hard. He would be gone in the early morning, long before we were awake, and sometimes wouldn't be home until after dinner. The babies would be waiting at the door for him, in their little diapers, excitedly calling, “Daddy! Daddy!”. His hands were always dirty, always cracked. I was alone almost all of the time because we only had the one car. I was stuck inside in the cold weather and my depression had gotten bad enough that I was ok with that. It was a real effort to take the kids for walks or down the street to the free (because that was all we could afford) programs at the library. We shopped at the bargain stores and used canned ingredients to make large batches of prepped food that we could freeze, because we couldn’t handle anything else. We spent our lunchtimes Skyping our parents and my best friend and drove back home for many, many weekends so that we would feel less alone. I started working at a gym in the childcare department so that I could take my kids. That is where I formed some much-needed close-by friendships and found fitness.
Eventually, we found a job back home and moved. Nothing was the same anymore and, of course, we were the only ones with kids. I continued to spend a lot of time alone and worked different serving jobs to help us keep it together. I realized how bad my mental health had gotten - well, Matt realized it - and I got the help I needed to be myself. Eventually, I was coaxed into forming new friendships and we started a mom’s group together. I became very involved in my community and started to sing for fun. My love of fitness continued. My babies grew older and I grew into my own version of motherhood. I still longed for more of life outside of being a mama and, years later, that turned into getting into the fitness industry to help other women get out of the dark place that I had been in.
I still go to Starbucks but now it’s to put in hours on my business. My husband still works hard but we no longer live in his parent’s basement and he has a job he excels at and enjoys. We have bought a fixer-upper and are making it ours. We have four beautiful kids now and they take the music lessons and play the sports I wasn’t sure that we would ever be able to give them. What’s more, they are happy.
Young mama, if you are where I was ten years ago, I need you to know that I made it. I used to wonder when it would be safe to say that. I now realize that there are many people who were older than I was, more qualified, further along in life, that still do not have what I have. Your age and your state in life do not define you; your courage and your determination do. If you want to do this, let me be the one to tell you that I believe in you. Shut out the voices that are telling you that you’re a failure, that your life is over. Young mama, your life is just beginning. This is your opportunity. Early motherhood does not end your life. It challenges it. It changes it. But it can still be everything you thought it would be. Jump at opportunities. Say yes to help (I mean it.) Be prepared to work harder and have more perseverance than you ever thought you were capable of. Hold your head high and shake off that fear. One day at a time. I’m cheering for you.