Teen Pregnancy: The loss of innocence
When my daughter told me she was pregnant, she was only 18 - the same age I was when I had her...
She was bedridden, depressed and bad tempered. I couldn't feel a temperature or see any other symptoms, but she was adamant that it was flu and she just didn't feel well.
Her blinds were permanently drawn and the only time she ventured out of her room was on the rare occasion she left to use the bathroom.
After the first week, I made her go to the doctor. She came back shortly afterwards with a diagnosis -- it was a virus that would eventually go away.
I laugh wryly now at how naive I was. It was only after she had lain in her darkened room for nearly three weeks, with no visible symptoms, that I began to wonder. I burst into her room demanding to know what was going on. We ended up arguing about mundane, irrelevant issues until she broke down in tears. I started to feel fearful. I asked quietly what this was all about. She wept.
I asked if it was to do with a boy. She nodded. I swallowed. "Did you sleep with him?" She nodded again, crying even harder. I felt sick because I really didn't want to ask the next question.
"Are you pregnant?"
She looked up, face wet.
"What do you think?"
If I wasn't sure whether this was just rhetoric, her subsequent collapse on her bed, choking on tears, confirmed it.
I went cold. Here I was in my mid-30s, married six months, and my teenage daughter was telling me I was about to be a grandmother. She was 18 -- the same age I was when I had her.
I left the room in a daze. I could hear her wails but could not bring myself to comfort her. I just couldn't. The only emotion that could compare to how I felt was the initial shock of a bereavement.
I had begun the process of grieving for my daughter's innocence. I had no idea that she had a boyfriend, much less that she was sexually active. Was that naive?
It was difficult to find the correlation between the girl who had to be reminded to tidy her room, who panicked when she got on the wrong bus, who couldn't cook, who slept with the light on, with the girl who was going to be a mother.
A few minutes -- which felt like an eternity -- of sitting on my bed like a zombie was interrupted by a knock on the door. My daughter entered before I had the chance to say whether she could come in.
She sat next to me. I edged away ever so slightly. I felt sick. I couldn't bear to be near her. I couldn't meet her eyes.
"I'm so sorry, Mum, I'm sorry, please. Please hug me. I'm so sorry."
She broke down again and I just froze. One would have thought I could relate to how frightened and vulnerable she was feeling given I had been pregnant at the same age, but I couldn't.
At 18 I was ballsy, bold and grown up and so -- in prideful foolishness -- had planned the baby with my then-boyfriend. I hid my pregnancy from my family and then left home, so I never really experienced the fear of what was to come.
(Needless to say, the years that followed were the eye-opener that had eluded me before giving birth. We had a few rocky years before the relationship fell apart.)
I looked at my thin daughter as her body shook, crying out to be consoled. She seemed at least four years younger than her age. She had always been slight, but now looked scarily underweight.
She had refused most of her meals in the three weeks leading up to this day. I placed my palm on her forearm and patted her lightly. It was all I could muster without throwing up.
I was ashamed of my inability to feel a connection with her. I was ashamed of my inability -- and lack of desire -- to comfort her. I was ashamed that my daughter was pregnant.
Continued on p34Continued from p33
My young, unmarried, "from a Christian home" daughter was pregnant. I was ashamed that it was my fault. I was ashamed of how ashamed I felt.
I looked at the time. It was nearly 4pm. This gave me a glimmer of hope. Our doctors ran an open surgery at that time every day. I asked her to get ready so we could get a proper pregnancy test done. She obliged -- possibly sharing my hidden hope that there had been a mistake.
It wasn't to be. The doctor checked the tester stick and said to my daughter: "You are definitely pregnant. There is no doubt."
She was nine weeks pregnant. The doctor began to explain the science behind a pregnancy test, what the colours/lines meant etc, but I had long stopped listening. I just stared. As she wrote a prescription for folic acid, she addressed my daughter: "Remember, pregnancy is not an illness so you can still do all the things you normally do."
I wanted to scream: "Like hell she can! Is that all you have to say?! Can't you see what this will do to my family?! HELP US! PLEASE!"
But I didn't. My pathetic thank you was barely above a whisper and we left. As a Christian, I had to stand by my conviction that abortion is wrong. My daughter felt the same way so that was that. "We" were having a baby.
In the next two weeks, I was a maelstrom of emotions. I cast my mind back to all the things I saw as evidence of my failure as a mother. I looked back over the years and questioned everything.
Perhaps I didn't spend enough time with her -- when was the last time we had a "mother-daughter" date? Should I have tried harder?
Perhaps I shouldn't have assumed that spending her spare time with friends on social media sites -- which made her totally anti-social at home -- was a normal part of teenage life. Didn't they all do that? Perhaps I didn't discipline her enough.
Perhaps I didn't do enough to instil a moral code.
Somewhere in the midst of all that was my anger. My daughter had deceived me. She told me she had to go on the pill to ease intense menstrual cramps.
I was also angry that her stupidity now meant her future was on hold. She had such big dreams, so much ambition, so much ahead of her. She didn't come from a "bad home" as one expects in these situations. She knew better. Yes, I had been a teenage mother, but I never expected that this would be the fate of my daughter as she saw the penalty I paid.
A year after giving birth, I went back to finish my A-levels, went to university and made something of my life. And it was a hard slog that I wouldn't wish on anyone. I had to make serious sacrifices. She saw that. She was also surrounded by high achievers and positive role models in our family and social circle.
There was a hollow in my stomach that nothing could fill. I would constantly wake in the middle of the night, the stress squeezing away at my chest. Finally I would get back to sleep. I'd wake in the morning and for a split-second forget. And then like a cloak of heaviness, it would engulf me.
The overwhelming lump in my stomach was nauseating. I cried at the most inopportune times -- at the supermarket in the condiments section, in front of my computer trying to write about the latest "fabulous" collection from a fashion designer, speaking to the gas company about our broken boiler, signing for a delivered package, changing the duvet . . . Daily mundane activities I took for granted were now blighted by my emotions. Everything was all over the place. The only thing that was consistent was my sense of shame.
And the boy? Ah yes, the boy. Despite the fact they had split up weeks before she discovered she was pregnant, she was assured by him that he still loved her, they would get back together and make it work. We invited him to our home for a chat. (Not before I had calmed my husband down to the point where I was satisfied the boy would not end up lying in a pool of his own blood.)
We were strangely nervous. We had no idea what we were going to say to him. When he arrived, I was surprised to see a lanky, soft-spoken, nervous boy the same age as my daughter. My heart sank. This boy was simply that. A boy. We sat down and talked about the situation. He said he was going to stand by our daughter and would tell his parents and his family.
That was three months ago. They have split up. She wants nothing to do with him. We have not heard from him and he now screens our calls. As far as we know, the boy (we cannot bear to speak his name in our house) still hasn't told his parents, so we now have the challenge of trying to find out where he lives so we can tell them ourselves.
She has only been to his home a few times, is not familiar with the area and can't remember the address -- or so she says. When we first told my father, he suggested we encourage marriage "to bring less shame on the family".
"Dad," I replied, "this is not the 1950s." Secretly, though, there was a large part of me that, strangely, agreed with him. Right now, however, that option looks highly unlikely.
The writer's name has been changed