‘I got a call from my dad. In a moment of panic, I blurted quickly, ‘Dad, I’m pregnant.’ There was radio silence on his end. I remember thinking it’d never get easier.’: Teen mom’s journey keeping her baby and co-parenting

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“I sat on the sink, hand clasped over my mouth. I knew what I’d seen. My hands shook as I picked up the test and read it again over and over. Pregnant. It was undeniable. The nausea I’d felt for the past month, the headaches, the food aversions; it all made sense. Less than a month after graduating high school my life was over.

I grew up in a stable LDS family with good values, but despite having an amazing family, I had a strong desire to feel loved and needed, romantically. When I hit my teenage years that need to be loved and to have attention grew. I was extremely insecure and anxious, and I derived my self-worth entirely from what other people thought of me. I had one particular incident right after a break up where a guy I thought cared about me took advantage of my vulnerability and after that I spiraled into partying and dating boys who cared more about getting into my pants than getting to know me.

Courtesy of Morgan Gifford

A week after my 18th birthday I started to feel really sick. I was living away from home with my grandparents to work and save up for college over the summer, so I thought maybe it was homesickness. I was nauseated all the time, but when I started to throw up several times a day, I decided to take a pregnancy test. As soon as I walked down the aisle where the pregnancy tests where, I knew. I bought the test along with a bachelorette party card, convinced that by doing so the cashier wouldn’t think I was buying it for myself. I was terrified that someone I knew would walk into the store and see me buying it. I took the test in my grandparents’ guest bathroom while they sat downstairs eating Sunday dinner. I remember it so vividly, my hands shaking as I waited for the two minutes to pass. They shook so hard that when the window changed from loading to pregnant, I accidentally dropped the test, and I jumped when it hit the floor.

My boyfriend promised everything would be okay and we tried to work out a solution. As anxious as it made me to think about having a baby, we both knew an abortion wasn’t the answer for us and talked about marriage and adoption as our best options but had no idea what to do. His family decided to come down and visit me. We stayed at a hotel and talked for days about what to do. In the end we decided we’d just get married and try to make things work. I dreaded the thought of getting married. I remember thinking that if we got married, we’d get divorced just as fast because our relationship was so immature. We weren’t in that deep, committed place that I knew you should be in before you get married. But I also didn’t want to lose my baby and thought this was the only way I would get to keep him.

On the last night of my boyfriend’s visit, I got a call from my dad. I ignored it, hoping he was just calling to check in, but when he called again, I was hit with a sinking feeling. He knew something was going on. In a moment of panic, I answered and blurted quickly, ‘Dad, I’m pregnant,’ to which he replied, ‘Okay talk to your mom!’

Courtesy of Morgan Gifford

Not too long after that call I went home, and we started planning the wedding. The day after I bought my wedding dress, my boyfriend called and told me that we wouldn’t be getting married. He said that his family didn’t approve of it and he couldn’t go against them because they were paying for his school. I felt like myself and the baby I carried were worth less to my boyfriend than getting his college paid for. I was bringing our baby into a broken family. I remember sitting in the living room surrounded by my family and his family sobbing. Over and over I thought, how are we going to take care of this baby? I felt incapable on my own and weak. My heart ached for my baby.

Because adoption was something I had considered before, I thought about it again as a possibility. It hurt my heart to think of not getting to raise my sweet baby, but at this point things had become tense. We argued to the point where even talking about my pregnancy turned bad. I didn’t want him to grow up in a situation where his parents were constantly fighting, so it felt like the right thing to do. But my boyfriend disagreed. We went back and forth for months without making a decision. Our relationship, which was new to begin with, quickly fell apart as we fought constantly. I was torn apart by people in his family and people from high school. I was jumpy and terrified, worried that I was going to run into someone we knew at the store or the doctor’s office or while walking down the street. But I couldn’t commit to a relationship that wasn’t going to be healthy.

With only a few weeks to go before my due date, I decided to bring up adoption one last time. I sent an email to my son’s dad letting him know I was still pushing for it and that I was with family and waited. I waited and researched, and waited and went to a counselor, and waited and saw the doctor, and waited some more. The last few weeks were agonizing as I waited for the birth of my baby and waited to see what my ex would say. But there was radio silence on his end.

Only a week before having my son, I got an email from an attorney. She sent a petition to establish paternity filled with lies and advised that I get an attorney because I was breaking the law and would go to jail for kidnapping the baby. I was still carrying. I was stunned. I was left with two options: raise him and try to give him all of the best of me or sign over my right to parent. The answer was easy.

Courtesy of Morgan Gifford

The day I gave birth was the one of the most surreal and beautiful experiences of my life. I had spent the night before feeling panicky and it had taken hours for me to fall asleep. At 4 am, I woke up to what felt like my water breaking, and after a few hours was in the hospital fully in labor. I was lucky enough to have not only my mom, but my grandma in the delivery room with me. I had a relatively easy delivery and the moment they laid my sweet baby on my chest time stopped. I felt like I was in another dimension. All of the anxiety and stress washed away and in that moment all I could feel was love. I sat for hours staring at his perfect little face and petting his full, beautiful head of dark hair. He was everything I could’ve imagined.

The day after having my son I watched as the friends I had gone to high school with tore me apart online for posting a picture of my baby and saying I loved him. ‘How can you say you love him when you didn’t even want him,’ they wrote. ‘You didn’t even want to be a mom.’ Over the next few days, I would watch as people would continue to make comments on a situation they knew nothing about. I spent hours crying as I navigated the strange new world of single parenthood and was terrified that at any moment my son would be taken away from me.

Co-parenting was an entirely different beast. Because we weren’t living together and I was nursing, for the first few months my son’s dad was at our house a lot. Because of the way our relationship had ended, it was painful and uncomfortable. It sometimes ended in us talking about our relationship and the potential of reconciliation, but it often ended in disagreement. We got into fights over silly little things that really didn’t matter and communicated mostly through emails and attorneys.

Courtesy of Morgan Gifford

To make things worse, my family had to move out of town and with no support financially or emotionally, I was granted permission to move with them on the condition that I would fly our brand-new baby up to see his dad. The first time I dropped him off with his dad for the week was brutal. I stayed in bed almost the entire week and bawled. People would mention my son’s name and I would cry. I was still nursing so I would sit in my room painfully engorged, crying and pumping in silence. I remember thinking it would never get easier.

With time though, our lives have all evolved so wonderfully. 5 years ago, I was drifting through life carelessly and now I’m married to the most wonderful man and stepdad. I have had a second son and I am now a teacher who will soon be starting a master’s program. My son’s dad is busy with his life and happily in a relationship with someone who our son loves and cares about. And our beautiful little boy is smart, healthy, happy, and has the best that we can both offer him. And he’s about to start kindergarten which is equally exciting and oh so hard for my mama heart!

Parenting is hard. My son’s dad and I live several hours away in different states and there are times when meeting halfway or deciding on visitation plans is difficult. We’ve gone through rocky seasons but have both come to the realization that it’s our responsibility to make our son’s life the number one priority and put any old disagreements in the past. We don’t always agree. We’re definitely not in the place of having blended family gatherings. But for our little guy we would both do anything, and that’s what is important- that he knows we’ll both show up for him all the time.”

Courtesy of Morgan Gifford
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