It couldn't happen to me. I was safe. I used birth control. I never had sex with strangers. I religiously attended my appointments at the local sexual health clinic to be checked for STIs. There was no way, that I, the girl who practiced sex safely, could be pregnant.
Except, somehow, at 17 years old, I was.
A friend whose list of sexual conquests dwarfed mine drastically, shared the plethora of STIs she was currently dealing with. Herpes. Chlamydia. Gonorrhoea. She laughed about the treatments she had to go through, the pain, and the outbreaks. Then, while looking at my protruding belly, she said, “At least I'm not pregnant.”
Yes, I learned really quickly that being pregnant as a teenager was far worse than herpes.
My parents handled the news as only exceptionally Mormon parents could. Horrified gasps, tears, and of course, the generic slut shaming insults that are par the course for a woman who finds herself pregnant and unwed (no matter the age, really). I was a slut. A whore. The girl who couldn't keep her legs shut.
For the duration of my pregnancy, my mother rarely, if ever, used my actual name to refer to me. Instead, she accessed an arsenal of insults that mirrored the ones she'd thrown in my direction the evening I told them I was expecting a child.
Admittedly, I was used to that sort of abuse from my parents. I was the “black sheep” in the family, daring to resist their religion, and map out my own path. By their standards I was a rebellious, ungrateful girl who had lost Jesus. Becoming pregnant at 17 definitely didn't help.
Without asking me what I wanted, they marched me into the local Mormon church, sat in front of our Bishop, and told, without a doubt, that I would be relinquishing my parental rights. Adoption was the only answer. It wasn't my age necessarily that made me unfit to parent. No, it was the fact that this child could simply not be without a father, even though he had one. He deserved a better home. Away from me, his biological mother. I was not good enough because I had made the ungodly mistake of becoming pregnant. They spoke as if I somehow would be frozen at the age of 17, forever.
After the initial fallout, I scheduled a consultation for an abortion. I spoke of this to no one, because, while the barrage of insults was already overwhelming, having an abortion would have surely incurred further rage and a new string of insults from my family and even friends. When the date came, I didn't go. There was no real philosophical and life-changing reason for this decision. I just decided I didn't want to go through with an abortion.
I had, however, decided that I would parent my baby.
I wasn't stupid enough to believe it would be easy. In my journal, I wrote question upon question of how I would do it. Where were the resources? Where would I live? What support system existed to help a mother like myself? In a time before the Internet, I had no way to access this information on my own.
When I walked into the first appointment with LDSFS, the Mormon's adoption agency, I expected that I would be met with answers to my questions. I expected that I would be able to get these professional adults, ones I trusted, to help me navigate the rocky waters of being a young single mother.
Instead, I was met with underhanded insults; I would obviously bring in a string of men throughout my child's life, have many children with different fathers. My child would suffer from a number of different behavioral disorders because of this. The message was loud, and it was blatantly clear: If I kept my child, I would always be a whore. Life would never get better, I would never be successful, except of course, at having many baby daddies.
I'd like to say I fought harder for what I wanted. The truth is, and it's something I regret to this very day, I just didn't. When my parents told me they would rather leave me on the street with my child than help me be a single mother, I believed them. Eventually, I bought into the idea that anyone but me was better suited to raise my child. Adoption was not given to me as an option -- it was more like a punishment. It was the only way for me, the whore sinner that I was, to properly repent of my sinful ways.
When my son was born, I spent three days with him in a tiny hospital room. I fell madly in love with him. I took hundreds of pictures. I cried a lot. I didn't sleep. I still didn't want to go through with the adoption, although I felt obligated to. The day I signed my parental rights away, I begged his tiny newborn face to not hate me.
He'd never know how desperately I didn't want to go through with this adoption. The story he'd hear would be one that spoke of my so-called selflessness, the joy of his adoptive parents and their families. He wouldn't be told that his biological mother was coerced into adoption, and that she hadn't really wanted to go through with it in the first place. He wouldn't be told that his mother ultimately had no choice.
Women deserve better than my experience. Women deserve to have access to all of the information they need should they find themselves with an unexpected pregnancy. Taking away reproductive options is not the answer. It never will be. It's not a choice if you don't have a voice in the process. It's not a choice if you're only handed one option.