Preparations were underway and this night had been planned since I was in Primary School I think! I already knew what color my dress would be (a lilac princess dress), how my hair would be styled (up, of course) – I had everything covered and it was going to be a magical night. I guess you could say that I watched too many high school movies – or maybe just enough. I love music and anything to do with it, so naturally I have to make it known that I’m a good dancer and have excellent taste in music. I had my fair share of disagreements with the rest of the committee on the song choice and made my opinions known about the choice of dance – the Waltz. Complaints aside, I was so excited and nervous at the same time – maybe a little bit terrified. Dance practice started long before I started to show, but I was going to be almost 7 months pregnant when it actually happened. I had to accept the fact that I would have to withdraw from the dance. I had to tell my dance partner – who didn’t have any time to plan around me, that I couldn’t accompany him to our Prom because I would be too pregnant. I did, however attend my Prom, in an over-sized dress and very emotional. I sat at the back and balled my eyes out to NSYNC’s : “This I Promise You”. It really hurt that I couldn’t be up there with my friends, it was kind of a big deal for me – I was still just a 17 year old girl.
Last year I wrote a post about being pregnant as a teenager. I shared my experience, thoughts and to some extent, a bit of advice as well. I wrote this post nearly 8 years after having my daughter and obviously my life changed a lot during that time, and since. I made the decision to take the post down and I feel the need to tell my story again, mostly because my previous post wasn’t that great. Let me explain…
It’s no secret that I was pregnant for my daughter when I was in Matric – well not anymore, that is. Obviously this type of thing stays with you, irrespective of age, people still feel the need to ask me how old I am when they see me with my daughter – I can only assume that it’s because they want to calculate how old I was when I had her? I was 17. No more calculations needed. Anyway, back to my explanation. My initial post came from a place of me wanting to tell people that it was okay – that I was okay. I went on to say that I didn’t have any regrets and that if I could do it all again, I would. I couldn’t separate my daughter from my pregnancy – which sounds weird, but I promise it will make sense in the end. I’m ashamed to say that I let my own agenda get the better of me and in the process, put out a really crappy post. I am very sorry. I removed the post because someone who means the world to me helped me to see what I was actually doing with my words. I was glorifying teenage pregnancy and using my story as an excuse instead of an example. I wanted to share MY story but I forgot who I was telling it to. So here I am, a whole year older, asking you to please read on in the hopes that I can share something real with you.
The only way to REALLY tell a story is to start from the beginning, but I guess that’s subjective. Also, I don’t think I’d be able to fit everything on one blog post lol. BUT, let me set the scene for you – I’m going to try and be as open as possible here, so please feel free to connect with me in the comments or via mail. Okay, so I was your typical over-achieving girl transitioning from Primary to High School in the year 2005. I was a Straight-A student from a middle class family, so life was pretty good. I mean, I didn’t wear designer clothes or anything but we had everything that we needed. I made some really good friends and worked extremely hard in my first year of High School. Somewhere, somehow I think I lost sight of who I was because everything started to fade really quickly.
I wish I could be more specific here, but I just changed. I started skipping school, speaking to boys way older than me and in the process, forgetting who I was. The timing was pretty impeccable because my parents started divorce proceedings around that time. I started dating someone nearly 6 years older than me and my life would never be the same again.
Ultimately, my grades started to slip – I went from Straight-A’s to failing a term, my relationship with my family was on the rocks because of all the lies and obvious change in character, I drifted away from my friends because they didn’t approve of what I was doing and who I was becoming. Contrary to what my reality was, I felt like the only person who was there for me was this guy and I hung onto him for dear life. Our relationship got real serious, real fast. Let’s just break down the relationship dynamics a little bit here…
Dating outside your age range
Yes, I was a minor. Barely coming to terms with understanding the changes that my body was going through – the hormones, emotions, urges. And my parents were getting a divorce. My life was collapsing in on itself and I probably felt like I needed some attention – not trying to make any excuses here. Honestly, at the time, I thought that I was so cool because this guy had a car (it wasn’t his), he could buy me stuff (because we tend to confuse substance with shiny things), and he was way older so I was definitely going to piss my parents off (how utterly childish and selfish was I!). On the surface, it made perfect sense to me because I was getting everything that I wanted, what could go wrong? A LOT. And it did. I guess I should have questioned why someone who seemed so cool, would want to date a child.
I’m sure that sex isn’t an age specific thing (it really should be), but an older guy has way more expectations and a child is naive. I wanted to be cool, so if that meant me being something that I wasn’t and doing things that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable doing… everything had a price right? These things don’t just happen though, it takes time and persistence. Constantly being reminded that if you really love him, you should show him just how much. Your virginity – which is so sacred, is made to seem almost uncool. You’re reassured that it won’t hurt, that you’re going to enjoy it because you love each other and this is what couples who are in love do. Promises are made and the bullshit continues until you give in – they always do, you’re not his first virgin.
Apparently I was in love and if I didn’t give this guy what he wanted, he would just leave. I couldn’t imagine a life without him (Imagine! I barely even knew what life was). I was being cheated on and lied to constantly, but I still felt the need to stick around because he loved me. Naturally, I lied (a lot) because I needed to see him without my parents finding out. Notice the use of need here. I made this a need.
Fast forward a year and some change…
I was having unprotected sex (consent was a blurred line back then) – well aware of the consequences. I ignored all of the facts and everything that made sense because I decided to “just go with it”. I don’t know if I could call this stupidity because the very meaning of the word implies a lack of intelligence – but I knew the dangers, I just made really shitty decisions. But stupid sounds about right.
My period was late. A part of me knew for sure that I was pregnant, and I was terrified. I tried to hide it for as long as I could – with oversized clothes and flattering angles, but by the second trimester, it was clear as day. I broke the news to my parents and it was devastating. I barely had any words to say to them, and when I did, all I saw was heartbreak in their eyes. The next day, I went to the gynecologist with my father, where we learnt that I was going to have a daughter.
The next few months were rough because even though my parents were still very broken, they were incredibly supportive of my condition. My friends and teachers were very accommodating as well, considering that I had cravings and morning sickness.
I was in Matric, preparing for my trial examinations – with my baby due around the same time. The last trimester was the most uncomfortable for me and I was also extremely nervous for the birth. I had opted for a natural birth because honestly, I couldn’t afford a C-Section. The hospital admission alone set my father back a lot, and I was really glad that I would be in a Semi-Private hospital. On that note…
Not only was I emotionally unprepared for this pregnancy, but physically as well. Since I had chosen to hide my pregnancy for the first 5 months, I didn’t receive any prenatal care which meant that neither me nor my baby was getting the proper nutrients or care that was needed to ensure optimal growth and development. Never mind my obvious small frame (I was a really skinny kid), childbirth alone could kill me – assuming that I made it that far. I never thought of that, the fact that I might not even make it out alive – or worse, if I did give birth, my baby might have huge health complications. Obviously a 17 year old shouldn’t have to think about these things, but considering the decisions that I was making…
Teenage pregnancies pose really high risks because of the numerous factors surrounding the situation.
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- High blood pressure and stress
- A higher rate of infant mortality (death)
- A possible greater risk of cephalopelvic disproportion (the baby’s head is wider than the pelvic opening)
These are just SOME of the things that could go wrong, the list is endless. I guess the point that I’m trying to make here is that I was not ready – not in the slightest. And that I shouldn’t have been engaging in ANY sexual activity because I was not mentally nor physically equipped to deal with the repercussions.
I was asleep when I felt sharp abdominal pains – like really bad menstrual cramps. I woke my mum up and described what I was feeling. She told me that I was going into labour – I was around 36 weeks. At this point, I started to really question whether I would make it out alive. I didn’t talk to anyone about my fears because I could barely articulate them in my head. But there was nothing that I could do now, except get to the hospital.
I spent close to 5 hours in labour – although it felt so much shorter (I’m guessing pain and fear does that to you). I exhausted myself before I was properly dilated and even though the nurses asked me not to scream, the pain was so excruciating that my screams felt like they were being forced out of me. So when it was time for me to push, I couldn’t. This led to some complications and my baby would have faced suffocation if we didn’t get her out soon. Enter the episiotomy, and a lot of force from the nurses (literally, they pushed down on my stomach). Overcome with emotion and almost about to pass out, this little baby (2.4kg) was put on my chest – screaming with everything that she’s got. For a moment, everything went silent for me and I realized just how beautiful she was, then I passed out.
I was discharged the next day and went home to my mother. My pregnancy was difficult but that barely scratched the surface. I forgot to mention that I went into labour on the 2nd/3rd day of my trial examinations. Obviously I couldn’t write them, but the July school holidays gave me some time to recover because I planned to go back in the new term. I had to if I was going to complete my Matric that year.
That’s right, I had just a month to recover. Can we just talk about how messed up THAT is? Read this post from one of my favourite bloggers at the moment, Maz Halliday, where she perfectly explains the importance of maternity leave for both mommy and baby.
A month to bond with my baby, recover both physically and mentally, and then having to go back to school to prepare for Matric finals. A month. This was not only detrimental to my health and mental well-being, but I was breastfeeding, which meant that stress and anything else that I was doing to myself would DIRECTLY affect my baby’s health. Once again, a 17 year old SHOULD NOT have to think about these things.
I was extremely lucky that I didn’t suffer from any postpartum depression or anxiety at that point but honestly, that part was yet to come. I was waking up for 2am feeds, after going to bed at 1am because I was studying for finals. Whilst my baby did sleep through most nights, there was the odd occasion that I felt completely and utterly overwhelmed.
I barely had any time for post natal reading because I was busy studying for Accounting and Maths so I really didn’t know what I was doing. I don’t even think that I was healing physically because I couldn’t afford to rest – so let’s not even talk about mentally. Within a few months my breast milk dried up – my body wasn’t equipped and my diet was pretty shit, also the amount of stress I was under literally crippled me.
A single mom
A little bit after my daughter’s first birthday, I made the choice to go at it alone. This choice came after numerous domestic disputes, protection orders and an almost mental breakdown. I was 18.
I moved between my Mom and Dad for a bit, but settled with my Dad eventually. Financially, it was near impossible because he was still recovering from his divorce and having to find his feet again, so an extra 2 mouths didn’t help. I did get a job, but how much can an 18 year old with no promise of a higher education offer? Not much, especially when she is crippled with debt and just wants to be an 18 year old.
I was stuck between “being old enough to do whatever I want” and “young enough to enjoy life”, which is an extremely dangerous place to be – especially when you’re responsible for a whole other life. I was a mom when it suited me, which was incredibly irresponsible and downright detrimental to an infant. A child needs guidance, love, time and understanding, something that ANOTHER CHILD can’t truly provide by herself. Whilst I was able to provide for my baby, I could’ve done better, I SHOULD HAVE done better.
Cue the depression
I’ve never actually been professionally evaluated or diagnosed, but how else do you explain losing your will to live? Those dark thoughts that seem to sneak in after you’ve had your heart broken for the umpteenth time. Those disgusting thoughts that cripple you with fear and just lead you to make more horrible decisions to combat the already shitty situation you’re in. I’m talking about debt, alcohol, sex, partying and any other coping mechanism you think will help – ANYTHING EXCEPT ACTUALLY GETTING HELP.
But then again, how could I possibly ask for help when I didn’t even know that I needed it. As far as I was concerned, I was doing the best that I could – considering my situation. I kept hiding behind the fact that I had a teenage pregnancy and that was that. I could not separate my daughter (who is the best thing that ever happened to me) from the actual situation. Because I felt like if I had any regrets about the timing and lack of planning of my pregnancy, then I would ultimately regret my baby. I didn’t want to do that because what kind of a mother would I be? A human one.
I believe in a higher power, and because of that, I know that my baby was meant to be MY BABY. Irrespective of when or with who, it was fate. So me telling you that I would do it all again, knowing how wrong it was and how out of my depth I was – would be batshit crazy. The truth is that if I could go back to my younger self, I would tell her to wait. Wait until you have grown up – both physically and mentally. Find out who you are as a person, make sure that you are whole and complete before you try to fill someone else’s cup (you can’t pour from an empty cup). Learn to love yourself and understand what that means – flaws and all. Fix what is broken – but more importantly, KNOW when you are broken. Seek counsel because sometimes you really need someone to talk to AND someone to talk to you – just be careful because not everybody’s intentions are pure. You will love so many people – differently. But you should wait until you meet the person who doesn’t only set your body on fire, but your mind and soul as well. Wait until you share your mind with someone, before you give your body and heart to them. Because you can never take those back. Realise that a lifetime with someone who respects you, understands you and truly loves you, is worth way more than a few moments of misplaced passion and misunderstood lust. When you do meet that person, you will have your differences and obstacles, trust me. But it will be your ability to work through them that will define you – both as individuals but ultimately as a unit.
And after you’ve given your entire self to this person, start planning your family. Learn all there is to know about motherhood and then be prepared to be totally gobsmacked when you meet your new little human. You’re never going to have it all figured out, but at least make sure that you’ve covered your bases when it comes to a solid foundation. You owe it to yourself, but more importantly to the little life that you are choosing to bring into this world.
At face value, you wouldn’t think that me not being able to take part in my Prom would be one of the biggest issues I’ve had to deal with. And it wasn’t, it was actually what it represented. It was almost a right of passage I think, an important event to conclude your High School phase and it really hurt that I had to watch from the sidelines. It still hurts to know that the only pictures that I have of that night show my swollen feet and not so hidden 7 month belly. It hurts that my parents didn’t get to attend my Matric Prom to see their little girl dance the night away. It hurts that I can never get those moments back.
I’ve said a whole lot, but trust me when I say that there is so much more. Remember that everyone is different, our circumstances are different, the situations that we find ourselves in and the way that our decisions play out are different. But our differences are what make us the same because we all have them. If you find yourself in a compromising situation and you don’t really know what to do, please, for your own sake, seek professional help. There are people out there who are actually equipped to give you the right advice and provide help. We all need help sometimes, even if we don’t know it ourselves. Sex, pregnancy, marriage, motherhood, mental health are all extremely serious in their own right – not one outweighing the other, but yet there are so many inter-dependencies that we can never really see at face value.
I’ve struggled with intimacy and what it actually meant, for the longest time – these issues are so deep rooted and affect so many areas of your life. What’s sad is that I didn’t even know that it was an issue, and it’s taken me over 10 years to actually speak about it.
I don’t have it all figured out but I’ve recognised and accepted my flaws, my mistakes, my areas of improvements (there are so many) and I am on the road to forgiveness and recovery. I don’t know if I will ever be fixed, but I am happy and that is something that I can live with.
Until next time