"You don't look old enough to have a baby"- is one of my favourites.
It’s one of the more harmless comments but makes no sense. Surely, if you have any concept of puberty you will know that it is, in fact, possible to become a mother much earlier than is acceptable. Not ideal, but possible. I don't say this of course. I tell them that I look too young because I am too young. I'm twenty-two and my daughter is three. As I watch the look on their faces, I can't understand how they managed to go through a lifetime without meeting one of us teen-moms.
There are thousands of us. Babies with babies, tired-eyed and too busy chasing toddlers to notice the stares. We remember our school days like it was yesterday because it was yesterday, or last week or last year. We don't remember life without our little ones probably because that time was so short.
I got pregnant the night of my school debs. It's a time of plans, a limbo stage between childhood and adulthood. Everyone has some intention for the future. Travel, college, career. Like so many women, I stopped making plans when I saw the lines appear on the pregnancy test. I was a few weeks into my first term in college.
Four years on, I still don’t make plans. Not because I don't think of the future, but I always consider several possible scenarios. Everything is if and but and maybe. When life moves as fast as it does during a teenage pregnancy, plans become futile. Sometimes, people ask me if my pregnancy was planned and I can't keep a straight face. How far do you have to be from the world of crisis pregnancy to ask a question like that?
Every situation is unique. I have heard of people going through depression and mental health trauma when they discover they are pregnant. For me, those months brought pain, dread, anxiety and drowning waves of guilt. It was a nightmare, but I was lucky enough to come from a supportive household. I was lucky enough to have a boyfriend who didn’t do a runner the minute things got rough. I didn’t know I was the exception. Most of us are not that lucky.
The discussion about my 'options' began. Keep in mind, I was fresh out of your typical catholic all-girls, public school. A brief discussion about not getting pregnant, but no handbook on what to do if the thing happens.
After some extra digging, I discovered that there were three options, one being totally out of the question. I knew that I could never carry a baby to term and give it up. I realised that a termination was not on the cards either. When I say not on the cards, I mean I already loved whatever was growing inside me. Not that it wasn’t an option, because it sure as hell was. The privilege of my situation allowed me to imagine a life with my baby that was not the end of the world. The image seemed farfetched and distant, but possible.
Once it was etched in my naive mind, my baby was coming and that was that. It was only after my daughter was born when I realised how much my supportive background meant. How different things were for other young girls growing up on an island that promises them the world and more, but only if they stick to the rules.
Still, here, a swollen belly in a school uniform invites nothing but glares and gasps from elders. From peers, its snap judgements and frantic prayers to a god you only believe in when your period is late. It won't happen to me. It can’t happen to me.
The rules are surprisingly simple: Don’t get pregnant. If you do, get over it. Exist day to day. Struggle. Deal. Do what you can to make a life for you and your baby. No support? Well, you made your bed, didn't you?
From a distance, it looks like we have come a long way. But the state of loneliness isn’t that far from laundries and forced adoptions. I can only hope that my country will be a more forgiving place, by the time my daughter has her debs