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My Teenage Pregnancy

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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.

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About A.L. Harper

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    Nice, powerful, “I never thought something like this could happen to me” story for any teenager about the burden of responsibility and mature decision making.

  • John Spivey

    I hardly know what to say. Deep, profound, bravely revealing. Lots of material there to tackle as a writer.

  • Scott Butki

    For some reason I thought you were a guy so this story came as a bit of a shock!

    Great writing. Very good piece.

  • Elvira Black

    Wow–very moving piece. I’m glad to hear that things turned out well for you, though I realize you will never emotionally “recover” totally, as you mention here. Bravo!

  • A.L. Harper

    Matthew –

    You would be surprised how quickly you grow up when something so traumatic happens to you.

  • A.L. Harper

    John –

    Thank you very much. I’m glad you found it effecting.

  • A.L. Harper

    Scott –

    Sorry you thought I was a guy A.L. are my initials – Andrea Leigh. It’s ok that I’m a girl right? We can still go to that desert island with those martians.

  • A.L. Harper

    Elvira –

    Thank you for the warm support. I really appreciate that. Things have turned out very well for me. I hope he is well and happy too. His birthday is Monday and I always worry about him most then.

  • Scott Butki

    Yes, we can still go to the island. We’ll sure have much more to talk about.
    My sister adopted two girls from Russia.
    Photos of them are here:
    You did a good, brave thing by writing about this and I’m sure the whole experience, while terifying, was also one in which you grew – and not just your belly – a great deal.

  • A.L. Harper

    Scott –

    The thing that was hardest for me growing up an adopted child – and therefore was and still is my biggest worry about the child I gave up – was that I had done something wrong. That my biological mother had not liked me because I wasn’t pretty enough or because I was a bad baby. I left a note for my boy, very short, just saying that I loved him very much but I couldn’t be a mother then. They promised to give it to him when he was older. I hope they have.

    If I could give any advice it would be to alleviate those fears in your sisters daughters. It’s hard to grow up wondering if you were bad enough to make your own mother hate you. It wasn’t until I was giving my own child up that I realised why she had done it.

    And never refer to them as “the adopted children of” that really gets on my nerves! I am just “the child of”. Does that make sense?

  • Scott Butki

    Yes that makes senses. Thanks

  • Scott Butki

    I appreciate the advice.
    If you want to see photos of the girls just here

  • Nancy

    This was a great article. Very moving & thought-provoking. I’m sorry you had to go thru all this & learn the hard way, tho, but most of us do, one way or another.

  • johanna

    thats such a sad glad your happy now and i do think you made the right choice..awesome story

  • Ashley

    I do have to say, you are way stronger than I could ever be. I am more the “I did the crime, now I need to do the time.” But I am also not mentally or emotionally strong enough to be able to do what you did. I admire you for that.

    Plus the fact that you were |–| close to being an olympic swimmer. I swam for 5 years, and had to quit because of scheduling problems. But as every other swimmer, the Olympics were my dream.

  • A.L. Harper

    Ashley –

    Thank you. You’d be surprised what you can do though. I turned out to be a lot stronger than I thought. You go through the rest of your life with the feeling that you survied that you can survie anything.

    But I do “the time” everyday, the pain never completely goes away. I always know he isn’t here with me. I’m just not making him do the time too.

  • trooper_D

    You really had some tough decisions to make. Glad to ‘read’ that you made the right choice, and that you were able to make good with your life thereafter. And I can sort of relate to the Mormon religion… because I was raised as one myself, but am now Protestant.

    Have you ever wondered if your mother felt as you did, when she gave you up for adoption? I’m just wondering if all mothers feel the same way whenever they give a child up for adoption.

  • A.L. Harper

    Trooper –

    Really! You were a Mormon! Wow! Not that many make it out alive, were the lucky ones. *smile*

    I do wonder about my mother all the time. I have some facts about her but not enought to go and find her. I assume it was the same for her. I’d like to think that she gave me up out of love.

  • trooper_D

    I guess I’m very fortunate that my mom kept me around, although I was a very troublesome kid growing up. But when I did finally mature, I began to realize that my parents did all they could to provide for us, and truly regret having to be such a pain to them.

    If I were adopted, I guess I’d be searching for answers myself. And I would like to know who my parents were, to trace the family roots (genealogy research… sounds familiar?). I guess I should count my blessings.

  • Kristine Tendvahl

    I want to commend you for your choice. I know it was difficult because I too made the choice to place my son for adoption in 1990. I’d like to ask for your help. I’m doing research on what factors cause a pregnant teen to choose parenting or adoption over abortion. I would appreciate it if you could fill out a survey for me. Just send a message attention Kristine Tendvahl through the URL listed. Thank you!

  • A.L. Harper

    Hello Kristine! I would gladly contact you but the URL isn’t working. You can contact me though. My email address is listed on the front of the music page, I am the Assistant Music Editor.

  • Donnie Marler

    A.L., deeply affecting story. It brought back a lot of memories of my own teen daughters very unexpected pregnancy.
    It was very difficult for her, but she grew up a lot, and I am just as proud of her now as I was before, and I love her just as much.
    I now have the most wonderful, gregarious, funny, scrappy litte thirty-pound bodyguard a man could have.

  • A.L. Harper

    I’m glad that things worked out so well for your daughter. It is a very difficult decision to make. A big step to go from being a teenager to a mother. One that I could not have made at that time.

    I am very gladden by your joy, it warms my heart.

  • april evans

    hey i think your story was really touching and i’m glad your happy, but i must ask did you ever think that it was a sin in god’s eyes to make a choice like that. i mean don’t get me wrong i see where you’re coming from because i’m pregrant at the age thirteen. but i just thought i’d tell you how i feel in case you didn’t know how god feels about your choice.i really think you should ask god for forgivness because rather you believe me or not it’s the truth. but i want you to know i adore you and i’m so not looking down on you at all and also god still loves you no matter what. and i hope you don’t think i’m tring to put you down ar anything like that cause i’m not i just wanted to let you know how i feel about the story. well it was really nice writting you and i hope you understnad where i’m coming form and all but i wish you the best of luck with you and your new life and may god bless you and keep you forever. and remember god loves you in spite of it all my god keep you and your child forever.

  • Megan

    This is amazing, I am doing a story for my school. I am a freshman. My health report was picked by me, about Teen Pregnancy, because most of my friends get around. You could say that I am very well known around my small school. I play sports, am in lots of groups, and have lots of friends. But this was something that I was strong about, because they all think that it won’t happen to them. This story was very touching for me.

    You are an amazing writer!