When at 17 I found myself pregnant, my life changed forever. During the struggle to put myself and my life back together, I learned a lot about who I was and who I wanted to be. In living through what was easily the hardest time of my life, I learned how strong I was, how determined I could be, and that I could accomplish anything I wanted. It was the most rewarding experience of my life and it has helped to shape me into the person I am today.
My adolescence was rough. I rebelled against everything in my life. I was very angry, for reasons that I won’t go into. I was wild, did drugs, and had indiscriminate sex with many partners — all while I was training for the Olympic swimming team. Swimming was the only focus I had in my life. It was the only thing I was good at. Then in 1988 as I was preparing to go out for the US Olympic swimming team, I went in for a routine physical and drugs test. They found two things, I was on drugs – a big no-no in terms of an Olympic team – and I was pregnant – an even bigger no-no.
The first one I knew. But the second came as a complete shock. Seventeen, on drugs and pregnant — my life stopped that day. I knew my Olympic hopes were gone, that my recklessness had crushed my only dream.
The drugs were not the big issue for me — I knew I could get over those — but a baby? You don’t just get over a baby. They are rather more permanent.
It took a couple of days to digest what I had learned. I told my parents about the drugs but not about the baby. They sent me to a family friend on the Navaho Indian Reservation in Window Rock, Arizona. Kicking drugs wasn’t too difficult. I wasn’t a full-on addict, more of a casual user. Knowing I was pregnant made it easier for me to kick the drugs because it was no longer just my body.
I could already feel my body changing. My breasts hurt, I was tired all the time and cried at the drop of a hat. I was terrified. I knew I was going to have to tell someone about the baby and that I would need to see a doctor soon. For the first time I started to think about what was happening and what was going to happen. As I saw it there were only three options open to me.
First option – have an abortion. I was then and I am now staunchly pro-choice and this was an option I spent a lot of time considering. I read pamphlets from the local clinic, talked to the local doctor, and spent a lot of time thinking about everything they had to say about abortion.
Second option – have the baby and give it up for adoption. I’m adopted, so this was an easy option for me to consider. I was worried that after carrying a baby to term, I may not be willing to give it up. Not to mention all the scary pregnancy/having a baby stuff.
Third option – have the baby and raise it myself. For me this was never an option. I was stupid enough to get pregnant but I wasn’t so stupid that I thought that I could raise a child alone. This was only an option if I wanted to serve fries at McDonald’s all my life. And I didn’t.
After a few weeks on the reservation, and a lot of deep thinking and soul searching, I knew what I was going to do. I was afraid of my parents, who are conservative Mormons, and what they would think. So to avoid any attempt by them to change my mind, I went to a doctor the moment I got back to Salt Lake City. He told me I should to talk to my mom.
Telling my mother I was pregnant and that I was going to give my child up for adoption was the hardest thing I had ever done, until I had to tell my dad. My parents are divorced. That meant telling them separately so I had to go through all the yelling, screaming, and crying twice.
In the end my parents surprised me. My mother was very supportive. She helped me to see a way through it. My dad suggested it would be easier to have an abortion. He loved me and didn’t want me to feel the pain that he knew giving up my child would bring. But when we discussed my decision to have the baby and give it up for adoption, I think he could tell that I had fully thought it through. In the end, both my parents supported my decision and they were there for me even in the delivery room.
When someone adopts a child they have the same emotional attachment as any natural parent. My mother didn’t carry me in her womb and I am not my father’s genetic offspring but we have the same bond as any biological family. I knew that then and I know that now. It’s a fallacy that the parent-child bond happens in the womb or because of a genetic sympathy. It happens instantly when they put that tiny mewling baby in your arms. The rest happens over the next few weeks and months as you change them, bathe them, and love them. It simply doesn’t matter if you’re genetically related.
My pregnancy was uneventful, punctuated only with trips to a psychologist to help me work through my anger.
On February 13th, 1989, I had a baby boy. He was 10 pounds 11 ounces. He was 24½ inches long. And he was beautiful. That’s all I know about him. We spent only 10 minutes together. I couldn’t face any more time with him, it was just too painful.
I never met his new parents — I couldn’t bare it. We exchanged letters through an attorney. They were good people. They had already adopted two other children. I knew what I was doing was right for both of us.
I think about him every day. I worry that he isn’t warm, fed, loved, or happy. And I will never know. The loss I feel is complete.
Life does move on. I went to a university and got my MBA. I got married and had a child who I love and adore everyday. I have friends and interests – I have a life. But I know every day that he isn’t part of that. That he never will be.
It has made me a stronger person. I’m definitely a better mother; I know what I have and I know what I could lose.