I always thought I was going to be married by 27 and have my first baby at 30.
Ever since I was a little girl my mom always told me to go to school, get an education, get a good j-o-b, then find a husband to start a family--and in that order! Thanks to her, I had my life all planned out because she always said that “when you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Life goals were drilled into my way of thinking for as long as I could remember so I knew nothing else. At night I would have dreams about walking down the aisle in the most beautiful dress, driving a nice car to work, and living in a mansion with two kids. Let me tell you, my dreams were on fleek!
[Tweet "“When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”"]
My older sister was a lawyer that graduated from Princeton University and Howard Law School, so the pressure was on! I wanted things to go the way my mom expected so much that anytime someone advised me not to be like the “fast girls” they saw on TV--pregnant at 16--my answer was simple; I’m not getting married until I turn 27. What my mom failed to tell me about this ten-year plan was that sometimes plan A fails so you need to make sure you have plan B on deck.
In the fall semester of my freshman year of college I found myself pregnant. My first reaction was to hunt my ex-boyfriend down and hurt him for making me think he wasn't going to give me a baby. He was older than I was, so I let him convince me that the "pull out method" was the way to go because it felt better and he loved me *insert eye roll emoji here*. We had a few scares while I was in high school where he would rush to the store and buy a pregnancy test, but it would always be a false alarm. After the first two times of playing that game, he thought that I couldn't get pregnant - because how dare he be the problem right? So that's what I started to believe. I literally told my new dude, “You don’t have to use a condom because I can’t get pregnant."
I know, I know….what about STD’s?! I was young, naive and uneducated. Sue me. The only thing I knew about sex was that I was doing it. I didn't care about the casualties. So after three years of thinking I couldn't get pregnant, you can imagine the look on my face when aunt flo didn’t make her monthly rounds after having sex with my new boyfriend for the first time. Someone owed me an explanation. What's funny is that my ex now has two children, so I guess it just wasn't in our destiny.
[Tweet "The only thing I knew about sex was that I was doing it."]
My second reaction was to change my name, get a passport, and flee the country before my parents found out. All my life they preached about having children at a young age; it was like the plague. While I was in high school my step brother had four children, wasn’t financially stable, was struggling to take care of them (my parents words not mine), and I was his designated babysitter. So naturally I heard my step dad talk about him and his wife’s financial woes, and every single time he would look at me and say. “You better not bring any rugrats in this house while you living under my roof.” It was always the look that followed his words that scared me the most.
In my defense I was technically not under his roof anymore, so it shouldn’t have been an issue. But I knew it would be because he was helping to pay for my college education at an elite university. So if we were being really technical, I was still under his damn roof. So my mind was made up, there was no way in hell I was telling my parents that I was pregnant. I wasn’t married and I was only 18, they weren’t going to go for that. So instead I told my boyfriend.
And while I was steady planning my funeral, he was ready to conquer the world. But I just couldn’t do it. Having a child at 19 was not in my "married by 27, baby by 30" plan, and did I mention my step dad carried his gun case around like it was a wallet? I wasn’t trying to be on an episode of the First 48: Miami.
My parents would kill me so I had to find another solution. Immediately I started researching local abortion clinics and started making calls to find out just how much of my financial aid I was going to have to sacrifice. I was willing to pay whatever in order to keep my sanity, my education, and my parents in tact. After my boyfriend told his mother she said that if I was going to make that decision she would help me pay for it (she later tried to talk me out of it).
So the plan was in motion. The sacrifice: a jewelry set from my ex. I’d hit the jackpot!
When the weekend rolled around, we hopped on a Greyhound and took a 10-hour bus ride home to Miami. We stayed at his mother's house, but I didn’t tell my parents I was there because I'd yet to tell them I was pregnant. The plan was to go to Miami, get the procedure done, and they would never have to know. But when God is in control you can not hide the truth. I was told by the clinic that since I was in the fifth month of my pregnancy it would be what they called a high risk abortion, and it was going to cost almost $2,000. A high risk abortion meaning that I could die while they were doing the surgery. His mom wasn’t having that, and by the end of the weekend I was calling to tell my parents I was having a baby.
[Tweet "When God's in control you can't hide the truth."]
The hardest thing I ever had to do was tell my mom I was pregnant at the age of 18. To this day I still get chills thinking about it. After I listened to her have a mental breakdown over the phone, I realized just how much I disappointed her. Our conversation ended with her hanging up on me in the middle of trying to explain my new plan with this new life I was about to bring into the world. At that moment I was no longer upset with myself for getting pregnant, I was upset because I failed my mother.
It was also in that moment that I realized I could no longer worry about her opinion. My entire life was centered around pleasing her and I hated the dynamics of our relationship, or lack thereof, because I could never tell her what was going on with me. I was constantly afraid of her reaction and I used to envy my friends who had that type of relationship with their mothers because I wanted that for us. I would call myself mimicking them by trying to talk to her and tell her what was happening in my life, but the conversations never worked out the way I pictured in my head. She always talked about how I doing and how I needed to do what she was doing that I felt like I didn't matter. I still don't really know why it was that way, I figured it was due to the age gap, but now that I was having my own child I had to let that go. I didn’t hear from her for a while, validating that she would not support me or the decision I made to keep my child.
[Tweet "I was no longer upset with myself for getting pregnant, I was upset because I failed my mother."]
I left Miami feeling defeated as my boyfriend and I boarded a Greyhound back to Tallahassee. It was during the trip back that I had what Auntie Oprah likes to call an “aha moment.” While we were making a stop in Ft. Lauderdale to pick up more passengers, the bus passed a courthouse surrounded by protestors. In their hands were signs that read:
“A fetus heart starts beating after five weeks. Don’t become a murderer, no more abortions!”
As harsh as it sounded, it was real and I knew it was a sign from God. I tried everything in my power to get an abortion TWICE. The first time I was only 10 seconds into the procedure before the pain became too much and I couldn’t go through with it. The second time was our trip to Miami. I was willing to put both my health and my child’s health at risk because of fear. As I stared out the window at the protesters, I came to the conclusion that an abortion just wasn’t in God’s plan for me. You can have as many plans as you want, but HIS plan will always be plan A; whether you know it or not.
Telling my parents was just the first hurdle. When we got back to Tallahassee I realized I hadn’t been to a single doctor yet because I was too busy trying to hide it and make it “go away.” I didn’t have my mom or anyone to advise me, so I really didn’t know what to do. It was then that the internet became my best friend.
I know I’m not alone in my experience and every time I look at my daughter I think about how there’s a girl who was just like me sitting in her dorm room feeling like their life just ended. So here’s a few tips for anyone who is going through the same thing and doesn’t know where to start; you aren’t alone.
1. Talk to somebody!
After I told my parents and we got back to school, I fell into a depression. At the time I didn’t know it but looking back I definitely was depressed. I refused to go to class because I couldn’t sleep at night; I was always tired and I was stressed out. I didn’t start showing until I was about to pop so for the remainder of my spring semester I hid in my
dorm room away from the few friends I did have. I was at a school 600 miles away, my boyfriend was there, and so was my best friend, but I still felt alone.
Every campus has a counselor, use them! They are usually located in or near your health service building and the cost to speak to them is free so you don’t have to worry about any fees. If the idea of telling all your business to a stranger isn’t your cup of tea then find a teacher that you can talk with. It’s best to seek advice from someone who is older and may have the experience, but even talking to your friends and the father of your child will relieve some of the weight you are carrying on your shoulders (not the weight in your stomach, you’re just going to have to get used to that honey).
Whatever you do, don’t shut people out because it will only do damage emotionally to you that can potentially harm the child.
2. Tell your parents.
As much as it might pain you, tell your parents! I wish I hadn’t waited so long because part of the reason my mother was so devastated was because I didn’t come to her first. I didn’t understand it then but seven years into motherhood, I do now. I would be devastated if my daughter didn’t tell me something as simple as she held a boy’s hand. I want to be there for her in those moments, no matter what it is and no matter how I may react. It may be hard to do, but try role reversal and see how you would feel if you were them and didn’t know what was going on in your child’s life.
It’s important to know that although you tell them they might not agree with your decision. Be prepared to not receive the support you want because it does happen. And that’s okay. Some things take time to adjust to. It wasn’t until my baby shower that my parents decided to come around. I was hurt, and that’s natural, but I choose to forgive and move on. If you dwell on things, it only makes the situation worse.
3. Don’t be afraid of government assistance.
I wasn’t raised on welfare and didn’t know a thing about food stamps before I got pregnant. All I knew was that if it was anything like what I saw on Everybody Hates Chris, I wasn’t about that life. My boyfriend, on the other hand, spent the majority of his childhood living that lifestyle. Before we left Miami his aunt and cousin educated us on WIC and SNAP; they were spilling all the tea! I won’t lie, I was very hesitant. The first time I walked into a WIC office I was expecting single mothers with four or five children running around not listening, and a line wrapped around the building. But it was the exact opposite. Most of them were two-parent families and the wait time wasn’t long (it’s like getting your hair done, go early to avoid the crowd). The ignorant jokes people always made about welfare were the source of my assumptions and here I was being proved wrong.
If you don’t know where to start looking, check your state’s welfare service website and see what they have to offer. WIC provides vouchers for foods that they have deemed essential for the necessary nutrients your body needs i.e. milk, cheese, peanut butter, beans, cereal, juice, etc. A few years ago they added vouchers with dollar amounts to be used only for fruits and vegetables. They also provide vouchers so you can redeem baby formula, that way you’re not coming out of pocket $6 to $12 a can--depending on what your child eats a can goes up to $20. Some states have gotten really fancy and have put the vouchers on debit like cards, similar to what SNAP has done. The WIC office also does checkups regularly, and shots for children who haven't gotten their immunizations. It’s a very useful program that can save you a few hundred dollars a month and it’s not only for pregnant women. You can receive WIC after your child is born until they turn five.
4. Consider your living arrangements.
Being pregnant and living on campus can be difficult. If you have a roommate, don’t go overboard with the special treatment. Respect her space because the room is just as much hers as it is yours. If you’re still with the father make sure you come up with an agreement on when he can be there because it’s important that he be apart of the process too. Be sure to set your boundaries as well. Now that you’re pregnant it’s not only about you, you have to think about the baby and the last thing you want is for her to eat your food or take your vitamins. Just saying.
Once you handle the present, start planning your living arrangements for the future. If you’ve decided to keep the baby, will you be staying on campus or off? Our schools didn’t allow mothers or co-eds to live in the dorms so we had to look elsewhere. Fortunately, I was due during the summer, so after the spring semester we lived with his mother until it was time to go back to school. By the time fall semester came around, the baby was born and we were moving back to Tallahassee and into an off campus apartment that was close enough for him to take the bus to class because we didn’t have a car yet.
If you're not sure if your school will allow you to stay on campus or not, ask your dorm room Resident Assistant (RA) or manager. If you don't have one you can always make an appointment with your school’s housing director, or simply stop by their offices to find out how they handle pregnancies so that you know what choices you have in order to be more prepared. There are so many people who will be willing to help you and not judge your situation, you would be surprised.
5. You can always go back to school when you’re ready.
After I had my daughter I decided school wasn’t for me and I chose not to start classes in the fall. While my boyfriend went back to finish undergrad, I stayed at home and was a mom for the first two years of our child’s life. When I decided I was ready to go back, I re-enrolled as a full time student and it was like starting all over again. Before I left, my Spring semester grades were horrible so the dean put me on academic probation for the first semester so that I could replace the previous grades. I studied my ass off because I refused to make a fool out of myself. The dean was taking chance on me and I wasn't going to let someone else down.
I took 12-15 hours each semester, summers included. As an art major that was tough because I would have three hour-long courses where I was standing on my feet building or painting. Some semesters I had two classes in one day, so I was doing both. Juggling classes and being a mother wasn’t easy, but together we were able to make our schedules work so that while one was in school the other was home taking care of our daughter. Daycare was not an option for us. Financially or morally.
The hard work eventually paid off because two years later, I graduated with my BA from Florida State University in Studio Art. Walking across the stage was an amazing feeling. The entire time I felt like I had something to prove to the people who were constantly judging my decision to stay at home for the first two years. I hated being asked, “when are you going back to school?” or “when are you two getting married?” The pressure was real but I wanted to do things on my own terms. We knew what we were and weren’t ready for. We already made one wrong life changing decision, so I couldn’t understand why they were forcing us to make another.
If you truly think being pregnant is the end all be all, there is nothing wrong with leaving school and deciding to walk away. Don’t feel as if it’s a “bad decision” because it’s not. There’s no age limit on school so you can always go back at a later time. Don’t feel pressured to go back to school either due to judgement or other’s opinion, even from your family because they’ll be the first to say it. If you don’t think you’re ready don’t waste your time or money. I know so many people with college degrees, bachelors and masters, that aren’t using them or can’t find employment. We’re in 2015, an education of higher learning is not the only way you can get a job. School isn’t for everyone so always remember that there are other options.
And just as I did, if you decide you want to return to the same school, you don’t always have to go through the application process. At most schools you can make an appointment to see the dean of either undergrad or graduate studies (whichever program you’re in) and they’ll be able to help you.
Getting pregnant in college doesn’t have to be the end all be all. Whether you decide to keep it or not, remember it’s your body and you have to live with your decision for the rest of your life.
Check the next page for a video of Taraji P. Henson acceptance speech at the Big in 2015 Awards about how she handled being pregnant in college.
Have you ever been pregnant while in school? Share your experience in the comments.