March 2008. I was 16 years old and just got handed my shiny, new, junior driver’s license. I was on top of the world. This was a big accomplishment for a junior in high school. This meant I was officially able to ditch the bus and acquire my own parking spot. While driving home, my Mom told me how proud she was of me. At the same time, she reminded me of the 3-second rule for stopping at stop signs and warned me how expensive tickets were should I choose to speed. This was a new season for the both of us. She was slowly letting go, while I clung to the wheel.
Once I pulled into our driveway, I quickly unbuckled, raced into the house and showed my dad and sisters my new form of ID. With excitement and accomplishment still flowing, I asked if I could take my first solo ride to my boyfriends for a quick visit to share the exciting news. Once I got the OK, I whipped out my pink Razor flip phone and shot him a text asking him if he was home. We had only been together for a few months, and honestly, didn’t see it lasting much longer. He was a year older, would later get voted “life of the party”, and was rather rebellious. When I received the text back confirming he was home, I told my parents I would be back shortly and scurried out the door.
During my 10 minute drive, it hit me – my period was a week late. Since my periods were somewhat irregular to begin with, I wasn’t too concerned. But, we were having unprotected sex; I should at least make him aware. Five minutes left until I would reach my destination. The more I dwelled on the thought, the more I could feel the excitement of becoming a new driver slowly being replaced with worry. “Not me”, I repeated to myself. I shook it off as I pulled up and saw Jessie standing in the driveway waiting for my arrival. He waved, and I smiled back before opening the door.
“Look at you!” He yelled, as I stepped out of my parents 2001 Oldsmobile minivan. He greeted me with congratulations as I showed him my new license picture. We made our way inside and upstairs to his room where he had left a video game paused. Once I made myself comfortable, he resumed playing. It wasn’t long before I decided to go for it, casually stating that my period was late. There was a moment of silence, almost as if he either wasn’t comprehending what I was saying or was just too invested in level 5. After what seemed like an eternity to me, he paused the game and turned to look at me. “How late?”, he asked. “A week,” I replied. He said he would pick up a test the following day. We already had plans to hang out that day, so I agreed that was a great idea. I was in complete denial I could be pregnant, so I was eager to use the test to dismiss my worries and rule out any possibility.
The next day came quickly. Before I knew it, I was making myself comfortable in the same spot as the previous day. Jessie rummaged through his backpack, pulled out a plastic Walgreens bag and handed me a box containing one “99% accurate” test. I looked at him and made a deal; I’ll use the bathroom, but you must look at the result first, I told him. “Deal”, he replied. I made my way down the hall, shut the door behind me, and took my best aim while trying to make zero eye contact with the result window. After I was finished, I slipped the stick back into the foil packaging and made my way back to his room. We followed the directions and waited the recommended amount of time before reading the results. Those were the longest 3 minutes of my life. “Ok, do it!” I said, while I covered my eyes with my sweaty palms. I clenched my teeth, waiting to hear him say anything at all. “Ugh… Tessa, you’re pregnant” he said, in a calm yet terrified voice. “What? No. Are you sure? This isn’t something to joke about, Jessie!” I exclaimed. In that moment, everything seemed to go black. I felt stuck – stuck with this guy I wasn’t even sure I liked, with news I didn’t know how to even begin to process. We agreed that we would start off by telling my parents, together. The thought of this terrified me. Not because I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my parents, but because I knew this would be heavy, devastating news to hear from their daughter, who was just shy of 17 years old. And, quite frankly, they didn’t favor this Jessie guy much either…
I composed myself before leaving, though I was ultimately in shock. On my way home, I remember praying to God. I asked Him to make me brave and help me know what to do. I grew up in a home where we regularly attended church and that was also grounded in faith and values, but it was hard for me to relate and I didn’t share much of a personal relationship with God myself. I found reasons to keep myself isolated and kept God in the back seat. He was only an emergency contact for me, and this was an emergency. So, I called on Him that night, stated what I needed – a little bravery – and hung up.
Once I arrived home, I engaged in minimal conversation with my family and tried to make my way to the shower as quickly as I could. My mom was a talker, so this was hard, but I succeeded. I got ready for bed, acting like I had a history test the next morning and I needed to rest up to ensure a smooth ride to my room. I said my goodnights and hoped for a good night’s sleep for myself. Man, was that wishful thinking… The whole night was spent tossing and turning. I allowed myself to be so consumed with worry that it made me physically sick. I remember vomiting in the morning after my alarm went off. My mom typically came into my room each morning to make sure I was awake for school. On this particular morning, she found me hunched over my trash can. “Oh dear, are you okay?” She asked. “Yeah mom” I replied, “I just do not feel good…” She told me to hop back in bed and asked if I needed anything. “Maybe some water.” I said, as I rolled over to face the wall. Witnessing her being so caring and tender, in the midst of the internal agony I was experiencing over my concealed secret, broke my heart because I didn’t want to break hers.
My mom worked from home, so while I was home “sick” that day, she would periodically check on me. While I didn’t get sick after my initial meeting with my trashcan that morning, it was believable that I was feeling under the weather as a result of all the strong emotions I was still experiencing. I didn’t want to feel like this, it was awful, and I knew it wouldn’t just go away on its own. I couldn’t hold this news in much longer. At one point in the afternoon, I made my way to the kitchen for a snack. I met my mom there, and when my eyes met hers, tears instantly began to stream down my face. She came closer and asked, “Tessa, what’s wrong?” Wanting so badly to tell her but also wanting to stick to the plan Jessie and I agreed too, I responded with tears still flowing “I can’t tell you right now.” She quickly responded. “You’re pregnant, aren’t you?” I shook my head ‘yes’ with shame. She pulled me into her arms, wrapped me fiercely, and repeated “oh my gosh” while still managing to assure me everything would be okay. I was still in shock – now I knew she was too – but it felt good to be honest. There was still one other person I needed to share the news with, and that was my dad. I composed myself the best I could and made my way back down to my bedroom, waiting for him to return home from work. It wasn’t long until I heard a light knock at my door, which opened before I could say ‘come in’. In walked my dad, a gentle yet hardworking man of few words. He walked over to the end of my bed and took a seat as I sat up. He looked at me and it was clear that he already knew. I looked back at him and watched as two tears ran down his cheek. He said, “Tess, this is why I always remind you to stop and think.” Like mom, he embraced me and assured me that everything would be okay. Even though I knew I had just let my parents down, I also gained a whole new appreciation for who I called mom and dad. In that moment, I knew they were my two biggest cheerleaders and support system for whatever I decided.
The following week my mom accompanied me to a scheduled appointment I had at a local pregnancy center where she volunteered. There, they confirmed my pregnancy with a pregnancy test and ultrasound to ensure it was viable, and to see how far along I was. Even though I was only 5 weeks pregnant, being able to see the little circle where the embryo was on screen made the whole situation a little bit more real. Any remaining denial about being pregnant slowly eroded on the exam table. For the first time, even though I was still overwhelmed with a whirlwind of different emotions, I felt excitement as I looked at the printout they made for me to take home. I anticipated his or her growth, looked forward to the next ultrasound to where I would hear the heartbeat, and wondered who in the world this little person would be.
The next time I saw Jessie, we discussed our options. Abortion was out of the question instantly. I was a minor and I knew my parents would never consent to that, nor would I want them too. I also found myself already very protective over this little life since seeing the ultrasound. Next, I suggested the idea of adoption. Jessie looked at me and said “No, I want to raise this baby together. I will never leave the two of you.” Those 16 words brought an extreme amount of comfort to a seemingly lonely situation. Not necessarily because he was someone I envisioned myself marrying and having a family with, but because those words didn’t make me feel so alone when considering parenting. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and we agreed parenting would be the choice we would roll with. Even if we didn’t know a thing about it…
Time passed and my stomach grew. Walking the halls of high school brought stares, judgement, and questions of why I didn’t abort from some, contrasted by giddy excitement from others. I tried my hardest to block out both. Either way, I wasn’t alone. I’d come to find out that there were a handful of other expecting girls in my school, some younger and some older than I. This brought comfort to my situation and I began to realize that I wasn’t alone, even though the sting of standing out was still prevalent. The school offered an educational class for young parents. It was an outside resource that would come in once a week and meet with the expectant moms individually. I jumped at this opportunity once I knew it would get me out of class for a half hour, but also appealed to me as a place where I was welcomed. Shortly after I began to attend, I found this resource significantly beneficial and developed a strong relationship with the woman I met with. Her name was Jenise, and Jenise would unknowingly play a big role in the months leading up to my daughter’s birth. I considered her a God-send during this tender time in my life.
I continued to grow while Jessie and I slowly grew apart. It wasn’t long until I knew his initial words of commitment to the baby and I would turn up empty. That was okay though; I was stronger now, had developed a support system, and was trying my hardest to keep up my end of the deal in raising this little life – even if that meant I did it alone. My parents stepped in, helping to prepare for my soon-to-be daughter’s arrival. My dad pulled the crib I once used as a baby out of storage, setting it up on the opposite side of my room. My mom helped cover my currently bright purple walls with a soft cream, and we both added touches of baby-friendly decoration. She also threw me a baby shower that my closest girlfriends attended. But most importantly, mom and dad never stopped praying for me. This was powerful for me.
It was 5am on Thanksgiving morning. I woke up to contractions and raced upstairs to wake my mom up. Jenise also met us at the hospital and played a big role in my delivery. She helped to coach me through labor
– 8 hours of labor and 10 minutes later, my eyes met with hers – a beautiful little 7lb 4oz girl. My life changed once again on that brisk Thanksgiving afternoon. There’s something magical about watching your baby take their first breath of fresh air. I knew I had just assisted God in a miracle and that all my “emergency calls” to Him during the last nine months were heard. In that moment, all the worry of the unknown that still lay ahead wasn’t as it had been in the beginning. Seventeen or not, I was a mom, and a very proud one. Jesse was out of the picture completely before you could say “it’s a girl!” Quite honestly, I was thankful. He wasn’t a healthy part of the equation and did more damage than good.
Hannah was six months old when I walked the stage and received my next big accomplishment as a high school student – my diploma. I felt on top of the world again as I peered into the crowd and saw her bouncing on my mom’s leg as my family cheered me on with new smiles. It was a confirmation that anything is possible. It fueled the drive to keep going, keep fighting for this little girl who called me mom. I would be lying if I said the years that followed graduation were easy. Being a mother while having a lot of growing up to do myself clashed more than not. It hurt to watch friends go off to college and lead a “normal” life. I found myself resenting Jessie and his unkept promise. And at times, I felt inadequate to parent, which in turn caused me to be selfish. One thing remained though, and that was my family, my daughter, and my emergency contact, who was slowly but surely making His way to the driver’s seat. I witnessed God make a way before and now trusted he would continue.
It’s been a decade since I became a mom. Hannah is a curly-Q’d, bright blue-eyed little girl with an extremely big heart. Our life over the past ten years has been anything but normal but uniquely special in its own way. It has molded her into the beautiful person she is. At 10 years old, she understands the struggles that a teen mom, or single mom at that, can face, having witnessed some of them firsthand. She doesn’t know what an abortion is quite yet, or fully understands the benefit of adoption from her viewpoint as a child. She can’t yet comprehend why someone would consider these options when faced with an unexpected pregnancy. There are moments though, where she will snuggle up beside me, grab my hand and look me in the eye, and say “Mom, thank you so much for choosing to keep me.” It’s moments like these where I fall in love with her all over again, just like I did that brisk Thanksgiving afternoon. Without a doubt, I know that choosing life and deciding to parent Hannah has been my biggest accomplishment in LIFE. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that God doesn’t call us to be perfect, He just calls us to take a leap of faith so we can watch Him move mountains.