‘Mom, I lied.’ She didn’t look up. ‘About what? You better not be pregnant.’ I held my breath.’: Teen mom’s journey creating better life for her daughter

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“Before I got pregnant, I lived a carefree life in a sunny beach city, named Torrance, in Southern California. The summer of 2010 was the summer before I started high school. I turned fifteen on July 5th. I would wake up any time I wanted, call my friends up, and head to the beach. After hours of soaking in the sun, we would end up back at my house playing Mario Kart on my Wii. When school started in the fall, I was thrilled for my many new adventures awaiting me as a high schooler. I felt grown up.

group of 5 friends who are teenagers pose with silly faces
Courtesy of Emily Williamson

My dad was very protective and worried about me. I started dating Leiyah’s dad, and my dad warned me I shouldn’t get into a serious relationship. Of course, I didn’t listen. How can someone listen to logical guidance from a parent when they’re experiencing falling in love for the first time?

My dad moved to Hawaii to take care of our grandpa who had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and my freedom reigned. I loved not having my dad monitoring my every move. I started experimenting with recreational drugs like smoking weed and drinking alcohol. I guess I thought about the consequences of my actions, but I was up in a cloud of naivety, thinking, ‘Yeah, but that would never happen to me.’

Leiyah’s dad and I had been dating for about seven or eight months by the time I must have gotten pregnant. I didn’t find out until September of 2010. I think I told my friends I hadn’t gotten my period, so they convinced me to take a pregnancy test. I remember searching for one on the shelves of the 7-Eleven I had grown up going to every day. I tried to hide it from the people around me, but as soon as the cashier saw it hanging by my side, he told me it was okay, and I didn’t need to be ashamed.

Her dad was with me when I bought the test, but I told him I would go to my friend’s house alone to take it. My two friends and I all stood in the bathroom waiting for the results. Positive. My first thought was, ‘No, that’s not right.’ But there was no denying it.

pregnant teen mom poses in a dress smiling while holding her baby bump
Courtesy of Emily Williamson

After that I must have gone into shock, because my friends told me I was quiet for 45 minutes before I said anything. I only remember a few seconds of silence. Staring at my stomach in the mirror, my head must have been spinning.

I called her dad, and told him the news. I wish I had told him in person, because I never got to see his face and his reaction. One of my friends was telling me to have the baby and give it up for adoption, and the other was telling me to abort. I almost couldn’t stomach the idea of adoption because it meant someone else would be raising her, so somehow abortion seemed like a better idea.

I figured I would never have to face her, and the problem would be gone. (I’m in tears now writing this.) I researched abortion and realized I had no idea what was involved in the procedure. I watched videos of tiny humans with arms and legs being torn apart and placed on medical trays like defective organs.

Her dad and I decided abortion was not an option. He told me his parents would help, and we wouldn’t have to do it all by ourselves. The idea of having a child with someone I loved was exciting, and I thought, ‘I can do this.’ We told his parents first. His mom was easiest to talk to, but once his dad heard the news, he shut down and didn’t speak to us for three days. When he finally did speak, the first words out of his mouth were, ‘Emily, you need to tell your mom tonight.’

pregnant team mom poses with family member at her baby shower, she is wearing a sash and a crown
Courtesy of Emily WIlliamson

My mom was laying on her bed playing a game on her phone when I opened the door. About a month ago, she had asked me if I was having sex, to which I had quickly dismissed her and told her no, I was not. Now it was time to tell the truth.

I curled up next to her on the bed and put my head on her shoulder. ‘Mom,’ I said, ‘I lied.’ She didn’t look up from her phone, but I’m sure I had caught her off guard. ‘About what?’ she replied. ‘I am having sex.’ I paused and waited for her response. She finally spoke, ‘Are you using protection? You better not be pregnant.’

I held my breath and didn’t know what to say. She stopped looking at her phone and looked at me, ‘Are you pregnant?’ she asked. All I could do was nod my head. She let out a big sigh. ‘What are you going to do?’ she asked.

I told her my plans to keep the baby, and somehow, she didn’t protest. After she told my younger sister, Sarah, who was 13 at the time, Sarah came to me crying. We sat in silence for a while, and then I looked at her and forced a smile, and said, ‘You’re going to be an auntie.’ With a half-hearted laugh, she looked at me and smiled, and then she hugged me.

My older sister, Chelsea, and my older brothers, Ian and Aaron, weren’t as happy about the news, but my dad was the person I dreaded finding out the most. I didn’t have the best relationship with my dad at the time. I knew how protective he was, and remembered his warnings, and I expected the worst from him.

When he called me, I rushed to a private room to talk to him. I was nervous. He told me he was disappointed, but not angry, and that he loved me and would be there for me no matter what. That moment changed my relationship with my dad. I suddenly stopped seeing him as overbearing, and I saw him as loving and on my side. Knowing I had his support made me a stronger mother.

It took a while for Chelsea, Ian, and Aaron to come around, but once a baby is born, who can stay angry at a sweet little face? She won their hearts, and they love her.

newborn baby girl shortly after birth
Courtesy of Emily Williamson

Chelsea wrote and illustrated a book with Leiyah as the main character. Ian taught her how to play Ratchet and Clank, which she’s very good at now. Aaron is the oldest of all of us and often looked after us when we were younger. He treats her the way he treated us as kids, with love and goofy humor.

image from a children's book that was written by teen mom's sister for her daughter
Courtesy of Emily Williamson
Courtesy of Emily Williamson

Sarah has loved being an auntie from the beginning, and now that Leiyah is older, Sarah has inspired a love for heavy metal music in her. My dad flew out from Hawaii to visit when she was born. I take her to visit him in the summers and she often tells me she misses her grandpa. My mom had Aaron when she was seventeen, and I think that contributed to her understanding of my situation. She knew I would be ok.

teen mom and baby visit grandpa in Hawaii
Courtesy of Emily Williamson

Leiyah’s dad’s family has been supportive since the beginning. His mom has stayed with her while I was working or at school. She’s treated her like her own daughter, taking her to doctor’s appointments or softball practice. Without her I wouldn’t have been able to be the mother I am for Leiyah.

In high school, right after Leiyah was born, her dad and I broke up. The decision to end our family was even harder than the decision to start our family. My parents are divorced, and I didn’t want the same for her, but he and I were too young to know what we wanted in a partner.

teen mom holds baby making funny face
Courtesy of Emily Williamson

I made the right decision to end things with him, but for the first year, my junior year, back in school, I was incredibly depressed. I failed all my classes. I talked back to teachers. I just didn’t care. I felt frustrated and sad, and school was the least of my concerns.

It took a year for the depression to subside. Senior year, I came back a new person. I was ready to succeed again. I focused and got all A’s in my classes. My teachers loved me. I even gave the graduation speech for my class. Leiyah deserved a mother who worked hard and cared, and I was going to do that for her.

teen mom and daughter walk down runway in matching outfits
Courtesy of Emily Williamson

Years later, the depression came back. I could barely get out of bed, even with Leiyah begging me to take her to the park. I stayed in bed most of the day if I could. I managed to work but called off a lot. I failed and dropped the classes I was taking at my community college. I saw a psychiatrist and got put on antidepressants, and that made a world of difference. The first time I noticed the antidepressants were working was when I woke up and asked Leiyah if she wanted to go for a walk. It had been a long time since I had wanted to be outside.

Although I had loved every minute of being a mother, I started to realize I wasn’t accomplishing the goals I had set for myself. I picked up a full-time job to appease my mom, who demanded I either finish school or get a job. Since I didn’t know what I wanted to study, I chose the latter.

I started paying my mom rent, and real life set in. Suddenly I had bills and even more responsibility, and trying to be the best mom I could be seemed harder with a job and no degree. I decided I needed a degree, and I needed it soon.

teem mom stands looking down adoringly at her daughter, both are smiling
Courtesy of Emily Williamson

I contemplated moving out of state. A few of my friends were attending the University of Utah, and I had loved the state every time I had visited. If men can leave their children to go off to war for their nation and families, then I could leave Leiyah for a short time to finish school. Then I could get my degree sooner, and I could build a better life for her.

cute African American girl takes picture in front of house
Courtesy of Emily Williamson

I’m here in Utah without Leiyah, because I need to fully devote myself to school. No distractions. Once I get my degree, then I will be with her again. She’s living with her dad and his parents, so she’s well taken care of. It’s the toughest sacrifice I’ve made since she was born, but being a parent always involves sacrifice.

Every day as a mother is a day of sacrifice. The sleep you lose, the food you make, the money you spend, and the goals you have for yourself are all surrounded around the little human being you created. I gave up a carefree lifestyle for a life of responsibility, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

teen mom and her young daughter
Courtesy of Emily Williamson
young girl poses outside by the water with her arms outstretched and a smile
Courtesy of Emily Williamson

I think the hardest part about being a teen mom is losing out on your teen years and seeing your friends move on with their lives ahead of you. All my friends were graduating from college while I was dealing with a mental breakdown in therapy.

If I could reach out to other teen moms and offer some advice, I would tell them they can do it. I would let them know there will be days where it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be ok, but it will be.

young girl wears apron and oven mitts on Mother's Day
Courtesy of Emily Williamson

The choices they make for their child won’t always make sense to other people, but if they are doing what is best for their child, they are making the right choice. I hope their family and friends can be supportive, but I know from experience that’s not always the case.

Be patient with those who don’t understand you, and cling to those who care about and love you. My advice to families would be to try to understand you don’t understand. You and many others will never go through the experiences of a teen mother, so love them and help them in any way you can. It’s tough, and they can’t do it alone.”

young girl sits on rock at the beach
Courtesy of Emily Williamson
young African American girl holds doll that looks like her
Courtesy of Emily Williamson

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Emily Williamson. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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