Teen MUTHAs Rise Up

Published on December 11th, 2017 | by Heather Jackson


Maybe One Day People Will Stop Being Shocked I Have a Kid

I am in my 30s and have a 16 year old. Even after years of being a mom, I still feel like I don’t fit in with my friends or other parents. My kid’s boyfriend’s parents are my parents’ age. I won’t even be 40 when my daughter graduates high school and is on her own, going to college, doing whatever she wants to do. I know people my age who are just having children or don’t have children at all.

I had this odd assumption that I would fit in or the weirdness about my mother identity would wear off. I just figured it would somehow become more acceptable to others that I have a child. But it hasn’t.

I will never forget that moment in my life when I finally forced myself to take that pregnancy test and it was positive. I knew it would be fucking positive. I knew it. I thought about having an abortion, even though I had no fucking clue where to get one. I thought about adoption and even contacted an adoption agency, looking through photo albums of “better parents” trying to figure out whom to choose. I couldn’t even comprehend half of what was going on. My midwife, nurses, and the hospital chaplain told me I should put her into foster care a day after I gave birth.

All of this was because I was a teenager, poor, in high school…no one thought that maybe I could be a good mom. No one tried to give me different options. They just wanted me to get rid of her, for her sake. Not even mine. It was all because they didn’t think I could provide for her.

Her dad and I weren’t together when I gave birth. The summer I was pregnant, he was with someone else, doing all sorts of drugs, and selling them. He got arrested and charged with selling drugs the weekend before I gave birth. I sat at the County Jail, about to burst, with his new girlfriend, trying to figure out how to bail this dude out. Of course, none of that helped people’s assumptions about my mothering skills.

Fast-forward to now, back to this “maybe one day people will stop being shocked I have a kid” idea… wait. Nope. The constant reactions: Wait? What? You’re her mom? Are you purchasing this food together or is this separate? You look so young! I thought you were like, 22! I cannot believe you have a teenage daughter! Recently a co-worker found out I had a 16-year-old. She was shocked, although she did add that she thought that I defied the odds and that it was super cool I was a mom. That was a rare response.

I was waiting to speak to my daughter’s guidance counselor the end of last school year and a staff member asked me: “Honey, are you waiting for your parents?” I responded, “No, I am waiting to speak to my daughter’s guidance counselor.” She replied, “Oh my god! You look so young! I thought you were a student!” I called to speak to my daughter’s guidance counselor over the summer and the staff member asked me what grade I was in. Apparently my voice sounds young, too. I just went to parent teacher conferences and was mistaken as her sister or a student.  It’s weird how unserious I am taken sometimes.

Whenever someone asks, in an almost cautious way, “How old is your daughter?!” I find myself saying, “She’s 16…” and automatically adding with a nervous laugh, “… I had her when I was young.” Of course, not everyone responds this way. But it’s hard not to focus on the super negative responses.

It’s been tough. I mean, of course it has. The world doesn’t make it easy to be a teen mom, a single mom, none of that. We have to wait for hours in lines at the state assistance offices, maybe getting some sort of state financial support. At the same time, we are told to get an education, but some states won’t give daycare assistance if you go to a 4-year university (like the state where I grew up and went to college and grad school, North Dakota). Even now, I have two master’s degrees and make okay money, but it’s difficult because I have so much debt. I am not eligible for food stamps (barely), but luckily my daughter can still get Medicaid. We went from poor to barely making enough.

I have to remember the positives of my situation, though. I have had jobs working with teen mothers as a case manager. Now I work as a counselor and have a new client who is a teen mom. I love working with teen and single moms and I want to be realistic, but also hopeful.

Sometimes I think about what life would be like if I didn’t have my daughter. I don’t think I would have had any drive to figure out my life. I had no plan when I was in high school. I had no idea if I was going to college or not. I knew I wanted to move away from North Dakota and that was the only thing I knew. When I had my daughter, it forced me to become focused and figure shit out. Even though I had to work through tons of shitty things with her, I did it. And she was a driving force for me to make sure she had the shit she needed to succeed. She’s had a lot of mental health struggles as a teenager, but I think since I worked on my shit, it made it easier for me to support her. It also made it easier for her to reach out for help and work on her own stuff.

I have spent my entire legal adult life with her. She wants to go to college in a couple years. I sometimes can’t bear to even think about not being around her the same way I am now. I feel the teenage years have prepared me for that, as kids start to break from their parents and seek more from their friends. Classic teenage stuff. When she was 13, it was rough. She hated me. She told me she felt I hated her, but I told her I didn’t hate you at all! I told her how hard it is to have my baby grow, who is so close to me, then 13 happens, and they just hate you because you exist. I remember wondering what the FUCK did I do? It wasn’t about me. It was her development breaking from me. It was what most 13-year-olds did. I wasn’t prepared at all. She still has her struggles, but has matured emotionally since then. She is more open with me about what’s going on.

I find myself looking at my kid, age 16, and thinking about how I was a teen mom and how I cannot imagine her as one. I mean, I think she could do it, and I would be there to help her. It’s mostly me internally freaking out because she’s so close to the age I was when I got pregnant with her. Plus it would be weird to me to be a grandma before most of my friends even start having children.

At Girls Rock! camp, holding a sign up for my daughter.

Being raised by a teen mom has given my kid a unique experience, too. I think it has made her super thoughtful and smart. She’s had to deal with some heavy shit and knows that we have been in poverty. She was one of the only kids in elementary school who had a single, former teen mom and whose dad wasn’t around. She grew up in a world where a lot of people surrounding her had “better families.” But it made her more open to other people’s experiences. Some of her friends and people she have dated have been financially better off, and she gets frustrated when they don’t get her struggles. She is always like, it’s so frustrating when so and so’s family can just buy tickets to go on these trips! It’s not like she is jealous, she’s just really self-aware about people’s abilities and inabilities. I get that, too.

One cool thing about being a teen mom is that my kid and I are close in a way that I feel would be different if I was older. We also trust each other. This is partially because I have always seen her as a person deserving of respect and autonomy, but with guidance. My experiences growing up were difficult and I had access to more parents than she did! But that was a force in making sure I tried my best. Being young has also given me access to knowing about “cool” things (what I think is cool, anyway). I read about Girls Rock camp in Olympia when she was a toddler and I was super excited to save up money to bring her there, but I found out there was a camp in Minnesota, so I applied for a full scholarship and she was accepted. After moving to Rhode Island, she has participated in the Girls Rock camp here each year.

Obviously, being a mom is difficult in a world such as ours. We all need support and connection; we need to lift each other up. I’ve seen teen moms make huge strides and I want to thank other teen moms for helping me see I could do it. I could raise my kid and do things in the world; I could still make a life I wanted. And I think I kinda have! Considering all the “odds against us,” we made it pretty well.

This essay is part of the Teen MUTHAs Rise UP! series, an ongoing collaborative column featuring the voices of current and former teen parents. Jen Bryant

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About the Author

Heather, a former teen mom, is now a 30-something single mom of a teen. She is often mistaken as her daughter’s friend or sister! She is a former site producer of girl-mom.com. Currently, she works as a birth doula and an early childhood counselor in New England. She recently published a chapter in The Bakken Goes Boom regarding the change of maternal health related to the oil boom in North Dakota (where she grew up!) and finished co-editing, Feminist Parenting, an anthology through Demeter Press (http://demeterpress.org/). She is now co-editing Motherhood and Abortion and Motherhood and Social Exclusion, both also through Demeter Press. Her writing has also been published on thepushback.org, hipmama.com, girl-mom.com, books, and zines. She loves bike riding, going to the beach, doing crafts, reading, going to shows, making zines (find her zines here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ramonegirl?ref=hdr_shop_menu), guacamole, and writing.  She recently took up guitar and started an all-female queer punk band. She could talk all day about abortion access, anarchism, and cute animals. Perhaps someday she will have an anarchist-y farm with a lot of animals and a huge garden! Find her on twitter: @heatherjoyj or email her: heatherjoyj@gmail.com!

One Response to Maybe One Day People Will Stop Being Shocked I Have a Kid

  1. Laura says:

    Great article, thanks for writing! My oldest and closest friend had her son at 19. He’s now 18 and I model nearly all my parenting of my 2-yr-old on her. She’s done the BEST job, as I’m sure you have too.

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