In 2002, I felt sick for weeks before it occurred to me that I could be pregnant; until I was literally throwing up one morning, it was an unfathomable concept. Yet there it was, a “plus” sign on the test signaling yes, my life would change forever. I was twenty-two years old, in my last year of college. I was in a fraught, on-again-off-again relationship. We tried to stay together, but I moved back into my parents’ Bay Area home before Lily’s first birthday.
A lot of people—my mother, her friends, other older relatives—had a lot of advice for me when I was pregnant and those first years of being a mom. It isn’t different from what they say now: You’ll be so tired, so sleep when the baby sleeps! It’s going to change your life! Natural birth! Breastfeed! Don’t worry if you can’t breastfeed! It’s going to be so fun! It’s going to be so hard! Cloth diapers, disposable diapers… the list of advice and predictions goes on and on. Most everyone was right about one idea or another.
I was the first of my friends to have a baby, and subsequently the first to be a single parent. One thing about this that nobody predicted was that I became someone that friends would come to when they found themselves pregnant. I was seen not only as a pioneer of strollers and breast pumps, but of motherhood itself. And even more unexpectedly, time and time again, I found myself sitting with my friends discussing their new pregnancy—not because they wanted to ask about food cravings, but because they wanted to know about how I made my choice to go through with my pregnancy in the first place. They saw me as someone who had weighed all the pros and cons of having a baby at an unexpected time in my life, had considered the changes upon which I was about to embark, sifted through my values and beliefs, and then made a conscious decision to become a mother.
I didn’t do that.
Deciding to follow through with my pregnancy and raise my daughter was an easy decision because I actually had no idea how hard it was going to be. My ability to think about long-term consequences of behavior and decisions was limited to whether or not my mom would be mad at me. Pro-choice and pro-life were hypothetical philosophies discussed in ethics class and the kind of heated political debates that I usually avoided. It is one thing to stand for something in theory, and quite another thing to be staring it in the face in a doctor’s office. I still remember heading back to my apartment after visiting the school health clinic, climbing a steep San Francisco street, and considering to myself that my mom’s disappointment wasn’t enough to justify an abortion. I loved babies. I imagined that being a mom would be fun. I think, deep down, I considered it a grounding force in an otherwise unknown future; before that moment in the bathroom, I hadn’t had a post-graduation plan, not really. And, so, my new life began.
When my friends want me to help sift through their confusion, I don’t try to convince them to make one kind of decision or another. If I have any strong beliefs, it’s that childbearing is an extremely personal decision. I’m honest about my own experience, and try to avoid sugar coating the struggles. Goals may or may not be postponed; how does that feel? I was fortunate enough to have an amazing support system; I check in with my friends about the kind of support they imagine needing, the resources they have access to, and how it feels to be honest about those realities. Having a baby is more beautiful than your heart can ever imagine, but it is more costly than any part of you can fathom. I didn’t have the kind of job that came with maternity leave (or health insurance for that matter), or skills that would put me on any kind of career path. But I was surrounded by people who were willing to help me financially and in all sorts of ways I didn’t know I’d need: holding the baby while I napped, babysitting while I worked, housing (both when I was with Lily’s dad and then when I wasn’t), a car when I didn’t have one, dinner for when I had the flu… I could go on and on and on. I have a partner now, a master’s degree that is leading to a career, and I haven’t been on welfare in years. But I still cry once in a while because it is all so hard—parenting doesn’t get easier the older she gets or the older I get. The challenges just change.
Above all, I assure them that their decision is theirs and theirs alone; I will not judge what they decide to do, and it is nobody else’s choice to make or right to judge. I assure them that every option is an option that will be the right one, because I believe this a realm in which shame and regret do not belong. I beg my friends not to compare my decision to their own, and I tell them this too: I have had a baby, but I have also had an abortion. Lily was still only months old, and things had been hard—too hard to imagine bringing another being into the equation. It was about being buried in the realities of parenting, costs that weren’t always financial (although that was real too) but also emotional and physical. It was about a relationship that was crumbling beneath overwhelming pressures that were drowning two young people who had no idea what they were doing. I found myself, once again, in a doctor’s office facing a decision. It was less than two years later, but my understanding of what it means to bring a child into the world felt a hundred years old.
I can say, without hesitation, that both decisions I made were the right decisions.
I was also right about all the fun and wonder of being a mom. Because of the support around me I was able to love on my daughter and bask in her magical development despite the challenges. She is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. It is possible to live with difficulty and beauty at the same time, in the same life; they are not mutually exclusive, and that is my story. I hope to offer some peace to those who are struggling with how their decisions might define their own story.
As the years have passed, fewer friends look to me for advice; their pregnancies aren’t as unexpected, careers have been established. Things about babies have changed a lot in the past twelve years; I’m sure the breast pump I used is now obsolete. If they want to weigh pros and cons, I’m there to listen and offer my experience if they ask for it. Otherwise, I tell my friends to sleep when the baby sleeps, and I tell them I’ll support them however they need it.