My mom jokes that I was always a little mother. I constantly had an eye on my little sister and from ten years old and on I babysat and offered summer day-camp programs for local children. I figured that someday I would end up with kids, but it wasn’t something I really thought about during my childhood or early teen years because I was too busy making other plans for my life. Between wanting to travel, write, create art, go to college, have a career and build a life of adventure for myself, I just figured that children would factor in once I was ready to settle down.
My oldest child is sixteen years old. I watch her dance her dance of rebellion and tenderness and not wanting me and still needing me. I ache as she grows and I remember my own dance at that age.
I was sixteen. When the bell rang for third period and the halls cleared, I ducked into the bathroom near the end of the building. I entered a stall and locked the door while my boyfriend paced outside in the hall. My hands shook as I fumbled with the box. I read the directions twice and then checked them once more to be sure before I took the test. Staring at the lines as they quickly formed on the stick, I was terrified and hoped one would fade away if I waited the full three minutes recommended on the box.
Although things moved quickly after that, time stood still. I was raised in a small community where nothing is private, sent to a Christian school through eighth grade and held to the belief that life started at conception. Not knowing what to do, I was paralyzed with fear and shame. My boyfriend wanted me to make it go away and I felt like it would be remiss not to consider all my options, so I called an abortion clinic and asked a lot of questions. They tried to have me schedule an appointment right then, but knowing I could not live with that decision; I promised to call back and then threw away the number. I also feared my family finding out and perhaps trying to force the issue, so my boyfriend and I hid the pregnancy from everyone and continued to weigh options, finally stumbling on open adoption. I started meeting with an adoption counselor and found prenatal care that I could hide from my family. With no car and no license yet, I made up stories and walked to a lot of places when I couldn’t bum a ride. I poured over the profiles of adoptive parents and literally read every single profile the agency had. I cried and prayed a lot.
Days passed, and then months. I wrote poetry and letters to my child. I hid my belly, but finally confided in a couple of people when the secret became too heavy. At roughly 34 weeks, I broke down and told my mother that I was expecting. I had written her a letter and gave it to her along with a thick manila envelope stuffed with brochures for parents handling their teen’s pregnancy, support groups, my proof of prenatal care and information about the adoption agency I was working with. After handing her the envelope, I poured myself a bowl of cheerios and sat across the living room, sobbing as she read the letter that betrayed everything she had thought and hoped and dreamed for me. I couldn’t swallow a bite and the cereal turned soggy as I waited for her reaction. She was disappointed, devastated even, but promised to be there for me.
I wanted to keep silent, but people talk and rumors spread in a small town. Soon strangers were contacting me and asking for my baby. I was angry, desperate and lost in my grief as I prepared to lose the child I was growing inside me. My family had made it clear that I was not allowed to consider alternatives. Adoption was the only choice. My boyfriend and I selected a prospective adoptive couple and met with them several times. They met my family and it seemed like the right thing to do. I got my license and a car, signed up for Lamaze classes and went through all the motions of finishing my school year. Everyone told me I was on track for a bright future and that I was such a good person for giving the baby to a family who could offer more than I could.
Just days before my due date, we met with the couple again and signed all the preliminary paperwork. They chatted about their preparations for the little one and I sat silent as they excitedly discussed their plans for what they would do with my heart when it was ripped from my chest. A casual remark startled me out of the practiced distance I had created; one little question that had never been asked. The adoption counselor asked the woman if she had ever been pregnant before and she answered without a thought to her words, saying yes, but the situation hadn’t been what she wanted and she decided it wasn’t the right time for a baby. I made hasty excuses for needing to leave and rushed out the door, angry tears clouding my vision as I weaved my way through traffic, trying to find my way home.
The tears didn’t stop. For the next two days I hid in my room and wrote and cried and refused to talk to the people around me. I had made a plan. I would give birth, sign the papers, go home and kill myself. I knew the how and where and why. But on the morning of my due date, I woke up from the cloud of grief and pain and saw another choice. I told my mother I was keeping my baby. I called my boyfriend and told him that he didn’t have to stay, but that I couldn’t give it up.
I spoke to the adoption counselor and apologized. I wrote a letter to the adoptive family and begged their forgiveness. To this day I pray that their child found his or her way into their arms, because my baby was not the right one for them.
All of a sudden I realized that I was going to be a mother. I had to find a place to live, a way to care for my baby. I needed to buy clothes and diapers and a car seat and find daycare so I could go back to school for my senior year. And my baby was going to be here ANY DAY!
Never before has a woman been more grateful for a 42 week pregnancy. God gave me the time I needed to prepare as best I could; time for my family to understand and accept my decision. I was seventeen years old when they placed my baby girl in my arms, but I had become a mother the moment I stood in the stall in my high school bathroom, listening to the tardy bell ring and staring at two pink lines.
In a way, it all worked out as I expected when I was a child, but not at all how I thought it would. I graduated high school with honors and an 11 month old on my hip; I earned two undergraduate degrees and completed a study abroad in Spain while juggling playdates, potty training, preschool, marriage, another baby and then divorce. I finished my master’s degree as a single parent with two little ones, then packed the minivan and headed to Mexico for an experience of a lifetime. Now I travel to various places around the world and continue to pursue my passions. I married again and had two more little ones. I write and create art through various mediums, but most often through my photography. I live a life of adventure; I just happen to be sharing this adventure with my children.
Beth lives with her husband Thomas and her four children, ages 16, 12, 5 and 4. She loves being a mom, although parenting is a tough job. You can capture glimpses of life through her lens at www.photosbyejrussell.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ejrussellphotos