The first time I met my daughter’s fourth grade teacher I said, “Hi, I am Atlantis’s mom."
She said, “You are Atlantis's mom! I thought you were a high school student!”
I laughed unnecessarily loud and sat down. What was I going to do? Tell her no? I’d rather her think I gave birth at 8. Makes for an interesting parent teacher conference.
I have heard all sorts of things: “You are a mother!” “How old are you!” “You look like a teenager!” “What did you have her when you were 10?!” “I thought you two were sisters!” “I thought you were her babysitter.”
Yes, I am young mother. I am 30, and Atlantis is 11. Which means I gave birth at 19.
In my early twenties, I felt like I had to guide people through the shock of finding out I was such a young mother. I felt an obligation to explain when I gave birth, where her father was, how long I had been a parent, how long I was in labor, and how long I breastfed. I had to make sure they were OK with it. I had to prove myself as a mother.
I finally realized it wasn’t my responsibility to help people when they learned the world didn’t look quite as they imagined. I was at a company party and I was talking to a doc filmmaker. I said something like, “Oh, my daughter loves…” and a woman I wasn’t even talking to interjected, “You are a mother! How old are you?!”
I turned to her without even blinking, “I am 26 and I gave birth when I was 19.” Boom. And I went back to my hobnobbing. No holding her hand. No defending myself. I just said what was and there was nothing that needed mulling over.
There is a difference when someone is genuinely intrigued and when someone’s comment is slightly serrated. And, in a way, there is something inherently backhanded in telling someone they don’t look like their idea of what a mother should look like -- especially if they have to interrupt you to do so.
I discovered early on that if you don’t fit an idea of what a woman should be, people have no problem telling you that you don’t belong. And no one else will stand up for you. No one will interrupt them. The person with the barbed questions has the right of way and you, as the outsider, do not. From 19 to 23, I cannot tell you how many times people asked why I didn’t get an abortion.
Unfortunately, motherhood is a conversation that is all too often taken away from the people that the conversation belongs to -- the mothers themselves. My choice to become a mother is, just that, mine. I am pro whatever choice a woman needs to make for herself. And that’s what I did. I made a choice that was best for me, and I couldn’t be happier.
Now, after some maturity and time, I don’t really mind when people make comments about my age. I usually laugh. Even if it is a little jagged, nothing is personal, and I am very happy with my decision. And, to be quite honest, I actually find it a little charming. But, instead of taking 10 minutes to help them catch their breath, usually the conversation doesn’t go any further than, "Yes, I am a young mother. Shocker, I know." And I say, "Thank you."
Last month, Atlantis had her 11th birthday party at a rock climbing gym in Downtown LA. The kids were getting a little tired and started bouldering (free style climbing -- totally safe) so while the instructor was free, I snagged some gear and hopped on the wall. I climbed my butt up two stories, and down below I heard Atlantis yell, “Oh my God, Mom! Are you climbing?” The 21-year-old woman who was belaying me yelled, “You are a mother?”
Mind you, we had already been there for two hours, and she had just put together that I was the mother of the birthday girl.
When I got to the bottom the instructor and Atlantis had the cutest chat. The woman told Atlantis that her mom had her when she was young, too. Atlantis said that she likes that her mom is young because she gets to learn lessons with her. The instructor said that is exactly how she felt growing up. Uh, heart melt.
At the end when I handed all the gear in, the same instructor asked me privately if I ever thought about an abortion. I said yes. She said, “My mom said she never thought about an abortion -- but I don’t believe her.”
At first I was taken aback, but she was so genuine. She was coming from a place of curiosity and understanding. Yes, I thought about an abortion. I was fresh out of high school and scared. I don’t know a 19-year-old in that situation who wouldn’t be.
On occasion there are people who lean into Atlantis with a smirk and say, “You are lucky to have such a young mom.” I feel the same way. Maybe because I am sturdier in myself as a woman people no longer ask inappropriate questions. People don’t see a vulnerable girl who is seeking validation from the world. I hope they see a woman who won’t put up with prying questions when they come from a place of entitlement. And I hope that Atlantis sees that.
She hears everyone’s comments and she gets a portion of them when I am not even there. I hope she has a laugh, and says something like, “Well, at least my mom and I will have the same style for a while. It won’t be too long before I can start stealing her clothes.”