“My parents immigrated to the US from the former USSR for religious freedom. I often heard my parents speak of the persecution they experienced, one of which being the inability to attend higher education. Growing up, my parents drilled the importance of obtaining a higher education. ‘We didn’t abandon everything to restart in a new country so you kids wouldn’t make most of the opportunities here,’ they often said. Once my older brother started high school, we were in need of a computer with internet access in the home for homework.
That’s when it all began. The secrets. The lies. The horror. That’s when my innocence was ripped away from me, at just the age of 13. My childhood, my family, my life, nothing was the same ever again.
I remember that day vividly. I walked into the office room. I opened one of the filing cabinet drawers and flipped to the very back. There, I uncovered what would be the start of over a decade of trauma. A stack of pornographic magazine, videos, and male enhancement pills, hidden in a large yellow folder. That was the first time I had seen something so graphic. My father was addicted to pornography.
As I handed over the folder to my mother, I knew nothing would be the same again. The late nights locked in the office room became more frequent for my father. They eventually turned into nights away from home. No word where he would be, all along denying any incriminating behaviors.
My mother, having English as a second language, would often wake me up around 3:00 am on school nights after sneaking out of her bedroom with my father’s phone. She would ask me to translate the endless text messages and emails he would write to various women. All of which confirmed that he was unfaithful. I felt like I was the one causing her pain, not him, as I explained the details of his affairs. She tried so hard to stay strong for me, but would often collapse at my knees and sob. Seeing my mother so broken stirred so much anger in my heart towards my father. How could he do this to her, to us!? What did we do to deserve this?
As if the adultery wasn’t enough, my father became increasingly filled with hatred toward the family. Physical and verbal abuse became a near daily endurance. My mother was terrified to get authorities involved in fear of further escalation from my father. His secret life quickly became an open book. I can’t begin to explain the emotions of seeing my father dress up to go on a date as my mother would cry. At times, she would beg him to stay. She would promise to forgive him everything if only he would stay. With a swift shove to the floor, he would leave, without looking back. He would be gone for days, then weeks at a time. He began spending money on trips, collecting debt, and refusing to financially support us.
It became evident we were on our own. A mother with 5 kids, trying to survive on a housekeepers’ income. As the years past, we all tried to cope with the reality in our own ways. I turned to alcohol at the age of 14. I didn’t care about my future anymore. Nobody would understand the home environment I grew up in. All the while my mother would push us to look beyond our circumstances and aim for a better life. At the age of 16, I made the decision to enroll in the Running Start program to become a nurse. All the while, home remained a hostile environment.
At the same time, I met a boy in my youth group. His pearly white smile mesmerized me. He was the stereotypical tall, dark, and handsome Prince Charming persona every girl dreams about. I was smitten. I instantly fell in love. He came from a broken home as well. The sparks, the fire, the butterflies, it was all there! A storybook romance quickly sprung up for us and over the next 3 years it was bliss. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could trust a man again. I felt safe, like I belonged at last!
Shortly after our 3 year anniversary, we were married in the same church we met. I was just 19, he was 22. He was starting his senior year of engineering school. I had just gotten accepted into nursing school. We were happy. We had big goals and dreams! We couldn’t wait to build a family where our kids would never go through what we did.
Being college kids, we decided to spend the first year of our marriage living at my mother’s house. Six months after we were married, I found out I was pregnant. I was still just 19, just a month shy of starting nursing school. The baby would come before my husband would graduate. How were we going to support this baby? What about our dreams and plans? We knew the child was a gift from God and given to us for a reason. So, we took the news with excitement and faith that the future would be provided for.
Pregnancy had its own complications. The baby was growing too fast. There was talk of early induction or cesarean delivery. Both of which I did not want as I planned to continue going to school. My son was due halfway through my Fall quarter of nursing school. Everyone told me to take time off that quarter. I knew if I did, I wouldn’t want to return. So, I stayed. I found a stand-alone birth center with a midwife who agreed to let me try for a vaginal birth. We prepared my body for labor and hoped it would start before my due date.
On October 21, 2014, at 39 weeks, I went to class in the morning. The contractions began lightly. I was able to finish the school day, then met my midwife for an exam. Was the baby coming already? Sure enough, it was! I couldn’t believe it. It was time. My husband was still in school over an hour away. I went home and waited for my husband not only to come home, but to finish his homework before returning to the birth center. My contractions had been every 2 minutes apart for 5 hours now. I couldn’t wait any longer. The drive to the birth center felt like a million years. Another contraction seemed to come on just as soon as one would stop. At 4:46 am our son was born, weighing a whopping 10 lbs. But I couldn’t adore his face for long. I had midterms coming up the next day.
We were home within 4 hours after delivery. I went straight to the books. I hardly slept in 48 hours. When the baby slept, I studied. When he was awake, I fed, burped, and changed diapers. I don’t remember the drive to and from school for midterms. It was all a blur. Somehow, I passed. I never missed a day of class. I was more determined than ever to graduate. Having a child wouldn’t be an excuse to drop out or give up. It instead motivated me to make sure I DID graduate so I could provide for him the life I never had.
December 10, 2016, I graduated nursing school! My husband was working for a local city as an engineer. Our son was 2 years old. We were finally able to live on our own and be a family. Since then, I’ve been working at a local hospital in the emergency room. I come across people from all walks of life. I share my story with all who ask. Coming from a broken home doesn’t determine your worth or what kind of future you will have. Having a child young doesn’t mean you can’t still achieve your dreams. The cycle of abuse, betrayal, and abandonment can end with you!”
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