Trigger Warning: Mentions of drugs and sexual assault.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I am from East Texas, specifically from Jacksonville, Texas. I grew up in a really small town. In my community, everyone knows each other. I was an all-American girl and was part of varsity cheerleading, track, and soccer. I had it all. I was doing what everyone was doing, I just got caught.
What was your experience with teen pregnancy?
My story is a bit different because I got pregnant at age 15, just a few months before my 16th birthday, by a man, not a teenager. This man was a heroin addict, who lied to me and told me he was 18. Because I was just 15 years old, I did not think to ask him to show me his ID. I was a child!
I dated him for about a month, and got pregnant. I did marry him because back then, that is what you did. I lived in the bible belt, so if you got pregnant, you got married. We waited until I turned 16 and on my 16th birthday we went to the courthouse to file for a marriage license. My mother was there to sign for me. When we arrived, he and I had to show our proof of identification. We both put our driver’s license on the counter. The clerk looked at me and my mom stating, “you are 16” and looked at him and said, “and you sir are 23.” I thought to myself, “what?!” I confronted him and told him he had told me he was 18. He then told me, “I was just so madly in love with you and I thought you would not want to be with me” and started crying. My mom at that time looked at me and asked me “what are we going to do?” and I told her “I have to marry him because I did not want my dad to go to prison.” If my dad found out that his daughter had been statutory raped by a 23-year-old man, he would not have been able to contain himself. My mother and I agreed, so I married him.
I did not know he was a heroin addict until after we got married. Once married, we then moved into my parent’s home and all of these negative “things” started happening. After I had my baby, he told me he got me pregnant on purpose. It makes me hurt for that 16-year-old me.
All those experiences have given me this power and drive to always do better and take care of others. I knew that I would not be able to take care of my daughter the way I wanted to if I did not push myself. So I started to research as a 16-year-old, soon to be, teen parent. I would search up things like “how to be a good parent” and “how to breastfeed.” I wanted to make sure that I knew what to do so she would be safe, healthy and successful in life. My parents have given me everything, and I was determined to do the same for her.
I graduated early from High School and went through two and a half years of schooling in six months. I started college at 17 where people at my school looked at me crazy, thinking, “she must be a genius or something” and would not even talk to me because I looked so much younger than them. In my head, all I could think to myself were negative thoughts about myself. Prior to college, I had a coach/ teacher who was not supportive, and the percentage of teen parents finishing school was so low. I knew one thing for sure. I didn’t want to be a part of the negative statistics anymore.
It took me 9 years to receive my bachelor’s degree because sometimes it was more important to put food on the table for my daughter than to go and sit in a class.
What would you want teens who are current teen parents to know?
I would want current teen parents to know that their life is not over, it is just beginning. You did not make a mistake, because that child or decision you made is not a mistake. They are a person who is meant to be here, and you have given them the possibility to do so.
What would you want teens who have not lived this experience to know?
If you are not willing to talk to your parents about sex, find an adult that you are comfortable with. Ask them to teach you the scientific things about sex ed. Tell them, “teach me how my body works,” because knowledge is power. You as a person have to advocate for yourself! Ask questions, don’t follow what everyone else is doing, and be the leader that will be! Do what is best for you!
What would you want to tell your younger self (before you became pregnant or around sex/relationships?)
I would tell myself that when one door closes or one person says no, find another way. The world out there is beautifully tragic. Such beautiful things came from my tragedy. I would also tell myself that when my teacher said “you just ruined your life” she is speaking from her own internal pain. I would tell myself, “your life is not over, and it’s just beginning; you have control over your future, you can become anything you want.” And one last thing I would say to my younger self is “focus on yourself, have fun and live your teenage years and 20s experiencing life, learning to love yourself and figure out who you are and want to be.” My daughter was not a mistake, she saved me, but that doesn’t mean it was the right choice. We can choose to be smarter. Work smarter, not harder.
Can you share a memory about a person or service who was most helpful to you when you were a pregnant teen working through these decisions?
My parents were supportive. When my dad found out, he cried. It was the first time I had seen him cry in my entire life. It would have been easier if he would have just been mad at me. Yelling and cursing at me would have been better in my book. But to see my father cry placed things in reality. My mother told me of her own personal experiences and the decisions she and my father made together. They stayed by my side and allowed me to make decisions on my own while giving their full support and attention to the situation.
I also had a teacher that helped me. We had a school that was called the “compass center.” It was known as the alternative school for “bad kids.” I wasn’t a bad kid. No kid is a bad kid, just kids who make bad choices. I wasn’t forced to go there, but chose to, so I could get my life started.
The teacher there pulled me aside and told me, “you are so smart, kind, and beautiful and this situation does not define you.” She looked at me and told me, “you can continue to go do what you want to do. It will be harder, but you are strong and smart enough, and I believe in you.” And her words gave me the drive to realize that my life wasn’t not over. My one life-changing incident is not a life-ending incident.
How do you wish to help others in your community?
I have no problem advocating for people. I am not a secretive person. I humanize myself so that my students can relate to me and my story. Students come to me with questions that they would not go to anyone else. I give factual, scientifically-based information when my students ask me for advice.
The educational system is a current battlefield. The state of Texas has made it so hard for students to receive pertinent information on sex education. The only sex education students might get has been taken away unless parents opt in! Parents have always had the option to opt-out their kids from receiving sex education, so why would we have to make it so that parents need to opt-in? Texas took away one of the only chances most teens will get to learn about sex ed in a controlled setting. I think sex education should be taught starting in elementary school, and students need to learn the correct anatomical name for body parts. I believe you can teach sex education without teaching how to have sex.
A quote I wrote on Facebook says, “Life experiences are teachable moments that mold us into who we are. No growth will occur in the human soul, leaving us feeling victimized, if responsibility for our actions is not taken. Well-rounded people take responsibility for their own actions, then enforce the necessary changes to help themselves and then others. It’s time to be well-rounded individuals and then teach others to be the same.”