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
Beth you are simply amazing. I love you.
Ruth Wetherbee says
Your story is so beautiful, Beth. ♡
Helen Savage says
Beth, your story is inspirational! You are an amazing and strong mother, thank you so much for sharing this.
Beth, You spoke to my heart! Big virtual hugs from me to you.
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