Belly Bump is a series where we compare the pregnancy experiences of two women: Delsie, a prevention advocate and UNC student who became a mom at age 17, and Mary, APPCNC’s Community Programs Manager who decided to have a baby with her husband Anthony. See previous Belly Bump entries.
It’s kind of crazy how when your entire world turns upside down, disclosure about this new phenomenon, especially to the people that are closet to you, seems to be the hardest thing ever. You start to question how they will respond to the news, whether or not they will still accept you, and more importantly, whether or not they will remain by your side. As you know from my previous blog, my best friend was the first person to receive the news but while she played the role of encourager that day, it was uncertain what role she would play in the days to come; when reality would finally sink in, the secret would come out, and she would become the best friend of a teen mom. Would she still be by my side, walking the halls of my high school with a protruding baby bump? And there laid the reoccurring uncertainty of my situation.
Unlike most things, repetition did not bring with it ease. Every time I had to relay the news to someone else was just another instant for me to face the reality that simply terrified me. But I was certain of this one thing, my boyfriend would make me feel better. I knew that he would be able to understand the gravity of the situation better than anyone else and he would know what to say to make everything okay—I was wrong. In short, the conversation that was supposed to make to feel better, the person that I always looked to comfort me in my times of need, just left me feeling lonelier than ever. Sure we both consented to having sex. We both were having a baby. But somehow, after talking to him, these facts didn’t quite seem like my reality. I was the one that was pregnant. I was the one that had to break the news to my parents. I was the one whose entire future was in question. I was the one who was scared and uncertain about everything. And so, two confessions later, I was no closer to feeling comforted, no closer to a sense of security or peace of mind. I was still very much alone and still the confessions continued.
If you recall from my previous blog, finding out about my pregnancy happened prior to track practice and even though it had felt like my world was over, life still went on and I still had to be at track practice. Following the conversation with my boyfriend, I walked down to the track, making all attempts to fight back tears. Apparently my attempts were shy of being successful because my coach called me aside to inquire what was wrong. I broke down in tears. I don’t quite know how I got the words out or better still how he understood anything I said behind all the sobbing. His initial reaction was one that I would grow use to receiving as i would go on to relay my news to others- “No, not you!?!” Shock and disbelief filled his face, followed by deep pain and compassion. He hugged me as a cried and offered those simple words of encouragement that I needed to so much. The rest of that day is a blur. I don’t know how I made it through practice or even how I pulled myself together enough so my parents didn’t question what was wrong. But what I do know is that after relaying the news to three people, my reality had already become more than I could bear and I simply wasn’t ready to share it with anyone else- so I didn’t.
While it was my intent to keep this pregnancy to myself as long as possible, things continued to not turn out quite the way I had planned. Racked with the uncertainty of my future in the marching band, my best friend decided to ask our band director whether or not someone how was pregnant could still participate in band. The answer was a resounding “no” and with that my heart sank. But of course my band director was too nosy to leave it at that, he had answered the question and now he wanted answers. Needless to say, the following day I found myself in my guidance counselor’s office (per the request of my band director). Another confession and with it another instant in which I was forced to face my reality. While she tried to offer words of encouragement, I began to feel like she just couldn’t understand. It was so simply for everyone to tell me that it would be okay as long as everything in their life was okay. Would they be so certain if they were in my shoes faced with the anxiety, fear, and worries that I had? I think not. So I left her office with the number of a nearby clinic that she suggested I go to for a professional opinion about my condition and also with the determination that no one else would find out. Again-plans flawed.
Not too long after my visit with the guidance counselor my cousin, who was also in the band with me approached me about rumors that he had heard about me being pregnant. I was determined not to let this get out, especially not to my family, so faced with his question, I lied. “Common now, do you really think I would be pregnant?” and with that question, I affirmed his beliefs about me, the same beliefs that everyone else had held, Delsie had was too smart and had too much going for her to do something so reckless. But while I was able to affirm everyone else’s beliefs and suppress their suspicions, I couldn’t do the same for myself. I knew the truth and it weighed on me every single day.
As time went on, I knew that this pregnancy wasn’t something that I would be able to hide forever. I would eventually start showing and I would have to open with everyone. While I feared what my peers would think and how they would react, I feared more my parent’s response. Sex before marriage was unheard of in my household much less a baby before marriage. Not to mention the fact that my mom had stated once before that if I ever got pregnant that I shouldn’t bother coming home. So, faced with this daunting prospect, I hid my pregnancy. I cried myself to sleep every night for three months straight until the stress and anxiety had become too much for me to bear. One day following a night full of tears and prayers I decided to tell my mother.
I’ll never forget that day as long as I live. Disbelief and denial filled my house that day as she tried to cope with what I was telling her. But more than that, there was utter disappointment. I had let her down. She didn’t want me to come near her and she cried uncontrollably. Needless to say, my dad got a phone call from her and he made his way home from work. Yet again, another confession but it was still no easier than the first. Nothing could have ever prepared me for my dad’s response. He told me that despite the fact that they didn’t agree with my actions they still loved me and that they were going to love this child as well. Three months of anxiety had led to one response-unconditional love.
I would eventually go on to telling my church congregation about my pregnancy and the response that I received mimicked that of my parents-love. Everyone went out of their way to show me that they still loved me and that they would be there to support me. From there on my reality, while still not so easy to accept, became a little easier to handle. Even though my world was turned upside down and my future remained uncertain, I was loved.
Like I mentioned in my last blog, telling people made me feel relieved, supported, and loved. My best friends were thrilled, our parents were even more thrilled, and our friends were totally supportive. But initially telling ANYBODY at first felt like a big cliff to jump off of. I realized that as soon as people found out, other people’s perceptions of my identity would change. I wouldn’t just be Mary anymore. The Mary that likes to try to new restaurants, take spontaneous trips, travel whenever possible, and stay out late with her friends wouldn’t be the same, because once you have a baby, some of those things just become more challenging.
So, I knew that in a way, my identity WOULD change once I have a baby. Sure I can still be the Mary that likes all those things, but then, I will also be Mary the Mom. Mary who likes to be adventurous, but also has a small human to think of who depends on her for sustenance and safety. Mary who might not make happy hour because she has to pick her boy up from daycare, who can’t afford that fun looking trip because she has to pay for daycare, and who can’t make it to the new restaurant because the babysitter bailed. How much of pre-baby Mary could stay, and how much had to go. Would I like this new me? Would I be any good at being this new me? What does being a Mom even mean to me?
The media and society send us all kinds of messages about what a mother is or isn’t, should or shouldn’t be. That I shouldstay at home , quit my job, devote my whole life to my children, move to the suburbs, wear Mom jeans (yes, I worry about this), give away all of our breakable possessions to baby proof the house. I’ve even had people say to me that we should give away our dog (a 150lb Great Dane) because he’s “dangerous”. This is another votex a pregnant lady can get stuck in, worrying about who she will be. Turns out telling people wasn’t really my worry, it’s what came after that I worried about. It was about their perceptions of me, and the waterfall of parenting questions and advice that would surely drown me.
I’ve come to the conclusion after lots of talks with the Moms in my life that I look up to, that we don’t need to be any kind of Mom, we all just need to be. Be the kind of Mom you want to be, whatever that is. You probably won’t be a good Mom if you’re busy trying to be someone else. Once I figured this out, I felt a lot better about telling people I was pregnant, because I honestly stopped caring about whatever they might think, or whatever unwarranted advice they would throw my way. They could throw any question my way (Will you breastfeed? Will you use a day care? Will you give your dog away?) and I could confidently answer them. (Yes. Yes. And no way.)
Now, this gets more challenging once you get bigger, and you don’t tell people you’re pregnant, they just start to notice. For example the lady a Starbucks who gives me dirty looks for my occasional half-caf latte, the folks at the gym who stare at me on the elliptical with a look on their faces that says “I’m worried your hurting your baby, maybe you should stop”, or the strangers who judge me about putting my child in daycare. It seems to me that if parents spent more time supporting each other’s choices instead of judging each other, we’d all be a lot better off.
Lucky for me, because I told people I was pregnant, I have a network of family and friends who support me. Most importantly though, I have a loving partner who supports me unconditionally. He supports our parenting choices always, and especially in the face of judgment. He supports me keeping a job that love. He supports me going on fun trips and trying new restaurants. Now, I don’t worry about who I will or won’t be. I’ll just be. I’ll just be whatever kind of Mom I want to be. And I know I can be, with my partner, family, friends, , and 150lb dog along for the ride.