When I was eighteen I worked with AmeriCorp (also known as the domestic peace corp) as a mentor for pregnant and parenting teens. My own daughter was just turning one so, as you might imagine, I had plenty of hands-on experience with the issues teen parents faced. Still, my role was an ambiguous one; I never quite understood what I was supposed to be doing, or how to measure whether or not I was successful. I had roughly fifteen girls on my case load and I was charged with keeping track of various aspects of their lives. Most of them were only a year or two younger than me, so mentoring them proved to be kind of challenging. My duties ranged from making home visits to speaking on topic during school assemblies. I arranged speakers for “group” and organized a holiday party for the girls and their babies. Mostly, though, I sat at a desk and stared at the clock while the girls were in class. Probably the most important lesson I learned during that time was that social work is really not my thang.
There was something else, though.
I was introduced to a high school junior who had chosen adoption for her unborn child. I remember thinking–at the time–how lost she must have been. How sorry she would one day be. How the choice she had her mind set on was such a colossal cop-out.
Funny how time and a little bit of perspective can change things.
Looking back, I see her through the eyes of admiration. I’m in in awe of how someone so young could have made such a selfless decision. And yes, I am in the camp with those that think adoption is a selfless decision. Especially in contrast to a woman who would abort her baby. But we won’t go there. Not today.
Would you believe that I tried to talk her out of it? I’m almost ashamed to say so. Ashamed because how dare I think that the life she was choosing for her child was something she came to flippantly. I spoke with her at great length. And while I certainly didn’t realize it then, I know now that she was infinitely more mature than me. Whereas I chose to raise my child because I couldn’t bear the thought of a life without her, this young girl chose adoption because she couldn’t bear the thought of what that life would be like for her child.
I want it to be perfectly clear that I do not–in any way–regret my decision to raise the baby I gave birth to when I was 16. I most certainly do not. Our story is one with a happy ending. My baby–now sixteen herself–has almost exactly the life I wanted to build for her. Almost.
I would never have wished on her the road it took us to get here. A road littered with broken relationships and broken promises and broken hearts. We’ve been poor. And lonely. We slept side by side–curled up on my parents’ couch–for the first five months of her life. I battled in court for the right to raise her the way I wanted to. If you’ve seen a single episode of MTV’s Teen Mom, you’ve pretty much seen exactly the life we led while we–quite literally–grew up together. It was anything but ideal.
It is precisely that life that makes me realize now how entirely selfless a gift that young pregnant girl gave her unborn child. It wasn’t a decision I was capable of making. I had my heart set on a happy ending of a different kind. One that wasn’t easy to come by, by any stretch of the imagination.
That girl? And the child she chose a different life for? I’ll probably never know what became of them. But I’d be willing to bet that they each have happy endings of their own.
Happy endings–I now know–come in all shapes and sizes.