Trigger Warning: Mentions of drugs and physical and sexual assault.
Disclaimer: The storyteller would like to stay anonymous.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I was born in South Texas and moved with my family to a big city when I was young. Later, when I started high school, my family moved again to a smaller town that made me feel like I was living in the 1950s. In this smaller town, I was bullied because I was seen as weird, so I started having a hard time at school.
My parents grew up in South Texas of modest upbringings and can be considered what you would call “working class.” Neither of them has an education beyond a high school diploma. I was raised as a “latchkey kid.” My parents were often too busy or too tired to deal with any problems I was having in school or socially. I would complain of the bullying but was often told to “suck it up” or “get over it.” This fostered a lack of self-worth. I started to skip school, but my parents looked the other way. Eventually, I felt they had just given up on me.
When I was 16, I experienced physical abuse and a sexual assault. I came home with signs of abuse and attempted to discuss it with my parents, but they shifted the blame onto me, as I was now seen as a “trouble-maker.” A friend of mine encouraged me to tell a police officer. After gaining the courage, I called, and an officer was dispatched to my home. I explained what had happened to the male officer. He made a few notes to his small notepad and cavalierly stated “I can’t do anything about this, you should go to the county,” and left. Shortly following this encounter, I dropped out of school and moved out of my parent’s house because I felt like nobody cared about me.
What was your experience with teen pregnancy?
When I decided to leave my home as a teen, I was working at a coffee shop. I moved in with older friends, sleeping on their couch. This guy would come to hang out with my roommates and sell them drugs. We started getting to know each other, and suddenly I was a teenager in love. I decided to move in with him and his family. He and I dated for a while, and I became pregnant. Around this time, he was sent to prison for dealing drugs. I gave birth at 17 years old.
My child’s father did two and a half years in prison before being released. We kept in touch for a few months, but eventually I moved on and was too busy trying to raise my son as a single parent. By the time we saw each other again, he had married and cleaned up his life. We had very little contact. He paid child support for a while, but eventually I petitioned for full custody of my child, and he willingly signed him over to me.
How has your experience as a former teen parent without a home impacted your relationship with your child?
When my child turned 14, I had to go to therapy. I started remembering things that were happening to me when I was his age, and it all started to become too much. I did a lot of “helicopter” parenting around this time. I also started having to explain the “why’s” to a curious child that grew up without a father. Until recently, I was always careful not to mention the drug dealing. We are extremely close, but sometimes I think our relationship is more friend than a parent, as we basically grew up together.
What would you want teens who have not lived this experience to know?
Be kind to each other. Support each other. Ask your friends if they’re okay and actively listen to their answer.
What would you want to tell your younger self (before you became pregnant or around sex/relationships?)
I would tell myself to be me and to find a community. I would want my younger self to know that she is beautiful and smart and of value. I would also tell myself that I could go to art school and pursue art. Until my late 20s, I was not aware that college was even an option for me.
What could have been offered to you as a teen to make you feel more supported in making decisions about sex and relationships?
Education surrounding sex, sexuality, and gender inside and outside of school is very important. Sex was a taboo subject and not discussed in my household growing up. I had experienced sexual education courses in the larger city I had lived in, but nothing once I moved to the smaller, more rural town. This was when it mattered most, as I was a teenager at that time and experiencing a lot of social pressures to help me fit in.
Teaching me self-worth and offering me a safe place to talk and feel heard would have also been helpful in my situation.
Can you share a memory about a person or service who was most helpful to you when you were pregnant/a teen working through these decisions?
I went to a Planned Parenthood to get help, but at that time I did not know that was what it was called because the clinic was unmarked. I did not have any insurance; the clinic was recommended by a friend who also was a teen parent. The clinic showed me how to apply for Medicaid. I applied for childcare assistance from the state per their recommendation as well in 2002, and I have yet to hear from them. My child is now 20 years old.
What support do you think was missing that would have been most helpful to you?
I think that mental health services were missing. I was informed about the basics, but not the scary things that were going to happen to my body while pregnant. I could have used some sort of mental health support for dealing with everything I was experiencing around that time, both pregnancy-related and personally.
I really needed classes on parenting skills, how to apply for a job, or how to obtain loans for college. I think teen parents should be told their options, especially those who are homeless.
How do you wish to help others in your community?
Maybe I can’t be the front person, persuading the masses to do what’s best for humanity from a soapbox. But I can use my skills in accounting and IT to help you get to that soapbox.
I have also become involved with my all-inclusive church. They have encouraged and supported me when I’ve most needed it. They have acted as a springboard to find how I can better be of service to my community. They have taught me a lot about the history of systemic racism, and how I can help support social justice through work in the not-for-profit community.