Unexpected Lessons from an Unplanned Pregnancy

I had everything under control, and then my pregnancy test turned positive. I was 21 years old.

It’s a situation that virtually every woman has imagined herself in or avoided being in countless times over, so it’s probably easy to empathize with. Imagine being two months out of college, unmarried, no health insurance, no savings and a packed schedule of job interviews. You’re standing alone in the bathroom, and the positive pregnancy test your mother urged you to buy is lying on the sink.

It instantly turns positive. You’re pregnant. You’re the only one who knows it. It hasn’t even traveled from your brain to your lips yet — you haven’t actually said the words — except you know.

For dramatic purposes, I could say that I stumbled backwards, clutching my still-flat stomach, hyperventilating from a panic attack. But that’s not true. I felt…numb, as if I had to swaddle myself in denial to absorb that kind of shock.

It took a good 15 minutes for the tears to come—and they came: tears of fear, tears of guilt. This isn’t how my life is supposed to go. I’m not this type of girl. This can’t be right.

Up until that point in my life, I was fully trained to believe that, a) There are “right” and “wrong” paths in life, and b) I could and SHOULD plan my future carefully. I was also hardwired to judge situations and feelings as “good” or “bad” based on how they feel in the moment. In that moment, I didn’t feel very good.

Besides fear, I felt anger. Betrayal, even. How could I—a good girl with plans and goals, who used birth control, who deserved to succeed—get pregnant? The A+ report cards, the unpaid internship hours, the dreams I spent years concocting and executing, all evaporated. How could there be fairness in the universe? I may have been carrying another life inside of me, but I felt more alone than ever.

Thankfully I had a choice in what to do next. (If I didn’t have a choice, the walls may have closed in on me altogether.) Against all logic and assumptions, I chose to keep my pregnancy and embrace the terrifying void.

What I didn’t understand back then, six years ago, is that being thrown off of a carefully laid track and being hurled into that void, forced to let go of virtually everything you know about your life, can be transformational. In fact, that unplanned pregnancy gave me so much more than a child...

The Secret Life of an Inspirational Young Mom

young family

"How can my marriage be falling apart, when I started a Web site to prove young couples can have happy marriages?"

"How can I inspire other young moms when my life is such a mess?"

These thoughts have gone through my mind, I admit. Back when I first thought of the Early Mama concept, the "early marriage" component was key. I desperately searched for any indication that we could have a lasting, successful marriage despite our young ages, and I wanted to share those positive stories. In hindsight, of course my insecurity was showing, but I loved my husband madly. I still do.

Even though we've come a long way in the last few years — my husband recognizes and is in treatment for his gripping addiction to prescription pain killers — I still might end up separating from a man I'm in love with. (That's an ending they don't cover in fairytales.) And yet I'll still be grateful for this marriage. It's been a valuable experience, especially in my formative 20s. Entangling my life with another person has given me a first-person understanding to the interconnectedness around us, to the complexities and simplicities of love, and to the importance of loving ourselves. It's taught me more about myself than I ever knew possible.

Is young marriage always the BEST experience? The ONLY way to be mature? No.

Is it a BAD experience? Destined to end in flames? No.

There is no narrative to follow. Being an "early mama" doesn't give us a new set of rules and expectations, no matter the inspirational stories. We can be inspired and encouraged without using our stories to predict and judge our own lives. The only things we can expect are meaningful experiences, opportunities to learn, and both happy and sad moments. No matter the circumstances, we can be okay. We can grow through uncertainty, learn through pain, become stronger and smarter and better. And just because a relationship might end, that doesn't make it a failure. Not if we learned something from it.

No matter what life throws us — a pregnancy test turns positive, a marriage turns abusive, we have a sudden and shocking loss — we can keep moving forward, or we can let a situation break us. Sometimes it's not an either/or — sometimes we get wrapped up in mind-made identities and patterns, sometimes we bury ourselves under shame and fear, and that's okay, too. Because there's humanity in the struggle.

Having a baby and getting married at a young age isn't always easy, but it's not supposed to be. Life will NEVER be consistently easy, and comparing our lives to that expectation will always lead to disappointment. But just because something is hard, doesn't mean it isn't worth it. In my experience, it's the most struggling moments that have been the most necessary.

So this is my story, in all its raw honesty...

What It's Really Like To Be Married to a Drug Addict

I could hear my husband open our front door as I prepped dinner in the kitchen. Except I knew it wasn't really my husband, not the same guy I married 68 months ago. Not the same man who held my sobbing body as a positive pregnancy test sat on our bathroom sink, 74 months ago. Not the man who promised we'd be okay. That we could do this. That he would always stay by my side.

And, technically, he did stay by my side. Technically.

He limps into the room: skinnier, snifflier, dead in the eyes. We had a few good weeks going as husband and wife. I actually thought he might be coming back to me after a near-death scare, a promise to get clean, a few sessions on a therapist's couch—but it's all back again. The consecutive ATM withdrawals and sneaky deception. The coldness in his words, the preoccupation behind his eyes, the sound of his struggling lungs whistling as I try to sleep next to him. All back.

Today it's Vicodin, before that it was Methadone, before that it was Heroin, before that it was an OxyContin prescription from his doctor, hoping to ease a gnawing pain in his leg. The doctor didn't ask if he had a deeper pain, an emotional pain that this prescription might temporarily patch. The doctor didn't ask if he had a history of addiction in his family or at what age, exactly, he started self-medicating the anxiety that plagued his childhood. That age was 9.

Not like my husband would have been honest, of course, because addicts aren't honest with anyone, especially themselves.

When signs of my husband's dependence became obvious to the doctor—and to several doctors afterward—there was no acknowledgment, no understanding, no effort to help a man struggling with a coping strategy that turned self-destructive. There was simply a phone call from a receptionist: "We can't see you anymore." Dropped from care.

So he went to the streets, which is where so many addicts go when their prescription is yanked from their hands. He wasn't looking for a high; he needed to feel normal, to not be in constant pain. And so the cycle starts: Disappearing money. Lies. Falling asleep at the dinner table. Denial. ER visits. Broken promises. His life is chaotic, consuming, no matter how or why it is.

He shuffles past me; I hold my breath. Everything in me wants to scream.

Your Voice: Kelly W.

young mom stories

Congratulations on your pregnancy, Kelly! I was right around the same age as you, and I very much remember that unique mix of emotions.

For all the other Early Mamas, add your voice at the top of the page. Your stories matter.

10 Signs You're a Codependent Wife

The post I wrote for YourTango.com, "10 Signs You're in a Codependent Relationship" has been shared a bunch, and many of the comments are the same:

"Crap. That's me. Now what?"

It's easy to dismiss the label of "codependent" — A) because it's often misunderstood or misused, B) because no one likes to be put into a category, and C) it's easier to put on blinders and ignore our issues.

Yet when you see the signs written in black-and-white, it's hard to ignore. Do you recognize any of these?

1. You do things for your partner that he can and should be doing for himself.

2. You can't help but worry about your partner — where he is, what he's doing, what he's thinking, what's wrong with him. The worrying eats you alive. More often than not, you're worrying about things that you have absolutely no control over.

3. Your partner's mood affects your day.

4. You've allowed irresponsible, hurtful behavior into your relationship.

5. You let your partner have his way, and then feel overwhelmed with anger and resentment. ("Look at all I do for you!"..."How dare you do this to me again!"..."I knew this would happen!")

The thing with codependency is that it's SO COMMON, and often a major source of unhappiness and unhealthiness in not only our relationships, but our lives.

I understand that wave of exhaustion you might be feeling, just thinking about tackling these issues head-on. Not only is it overwhelming and unappealing to look at ourselves this closely, but addressing our codependency can be a direct threat to our relationship. If we get healthy — emotionally and mentally healthy — will we realize that our marriage needs to go?


But I can tell you, without a shred of doubt, that if there's something about your relationship that you want changed, the only thing you can change is yourself. And really digging into the patterns and symptoms of codependency can dramatically improve things about yourself that hold you back — like anger, fear, control, anxiety, and perfectionism.

There's no need to be embarrassed for identifying with codependency; it's not your fault. This is how you were programmed — how SO MANY OF US were programmed — but there's a healthier way to live. And it really doesn't have to be that overwhelming. Researching the topic and being aware of your issues is step #1, which you can do with a book or a therapist.

Don't get me wrong. Just because I read a few books, researched a few experts, and started a therapy program doesn't mean that I'm cured — not even a little. Codependency is something I'll have to work on for years, maybe even for the rest of my life. But that's okay. Because recovering from codependency gives me a potential for happiness that I never had before, and a way of understanding and loving myself from a different perspective.

Recovering from codependency has been the most illuminating and important turning point in my life.

Perhaps you'll feel the same.

Your Voice: Acacia

Acacia has more of her story to share with us:

"When I got pregnant, I was still young enough to cling steadfastly to the idea of a fairytale ending. Even though my ex was emotionally and physically abusive, I'd been fed the same story as so many other young women: that it was my job and DUTY to nurture and support him through "difficult times." That it was wrong to walk away.

By the time I chose to have my daughter, I had no hope of leaving and had resigned myself to making the most of the situation I was in. Thankfully I did leave, even though it meant walking right out of the cultural narrative and into a swamp of stigmas and stereotypes. I was the "bitter jealous bitch" when I finally went to the police to protect ourselves from him.

The thing that bothers me is when people say, "Wow, I never thought you were the kind of person who...(was abused/would get pregnant, etc.)." Ummm, the kind of person? Of course I am. The people who get pregnant, who can have X, Y, and Z happen to them, tend to have some things in common: They breathe air, they are made of flesh, they are human. Because these thing could happen to any of us, to all of us. And the suggestion that there is a demographic, a "type," is damaging and fear-based.

So that's the dark part. But there is hope. I am now studying at University, and I recently began my honors thesis in environmental biology. I'll be applying to a Master's program in the next few weeks and I'm aiming for a PhD. My daughter, now almost 2, and I live in family housing through the university. I have so much hope for the life that we are building. We are happy, we are strong and we are amazing. There is no stereotype, no label, that could possibly contain us. I know I'm not the only single, scientist young mum out there."

Thank you so much Acacia, this is an incredible and important perspective. I wish you all the best! You sound like one strong, smart mama.

Do YOU have a story to share? Add your voice.

Baby Boy Name Ideas: Classic, Not Common

baby boy name ideas

Hi there!

I really hope you can help, as the clock is ticking. Our second baby, a boy, is due in the next week and we're panicking on a name. Our first-born daughter's name is Ivy, which I love so much! We would like something that has the same feel — classic, not so common, and not over the top. So far our front runner is Max, but I don't have that excited feeling I had when we found the name Ivy. Is this feeling a myth? Other options were Leo and Sullivan, which we're even less crazy about. Also if we did go with Max, would Alexander be a good candidate for a middle name, or is that too many X sounds?

I should say our last name begins with a D and has two syllables. Can you tell we're lost? I really hope you can help! Thank you.

— L

Hi L,

I'd first like to say that I LOVE your daughter's name. LOVE. I also really like the name Max, so I think we have similar taste and I'm excited to find some names for you.

The first name that popped into my head was Desmond. It pairs beautifully with Ivy and has the nickname Des, which is short and sweet like Max. If Alexander is the chosen middle, Desmond Alexander is very handsome. And I'm a big fan of alliteration names, so the Double D really appeals to me.

Okay, so if Desmond just isn't the one, how about...

What do you think? I was going for names with the same old-timey feel of Ivy, but with a little bit of spunk like Max.

I think my favorite with Ivy is Desmond, but I also really like Ivy and Hugo, Ivy and Beau, and Ivy and Emmett.

I also think that Alexander works with all of these. It's a great, classic middle name choice that you really can't go wrong with. It pairs well with almost anything — even Max and Felix, with all of the X sounds.

Best of luck on the arrival of your little man. Please let us know what you end up choosing!

— Liann

Our Handmade Halloween: Sonic the Hedgehog

sonic the hedgehog

Obviously I couldn't let Halloween pass without showing you my sister's latest Halloween costume creation.

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG! #90sgirlforever

sonic costume
sonic the hedgehog halloween

She used fleece to make the entire costume, which she bought from a local craft store.

"I didn't use a pattern, I just laid out his clothes for size and traced them, adding 2 to 3 inches to all sides to allow for the circumference and seams. Then I zipped it through my sewing machine."

Fits like a glove! She used Velcro to secure the back.

sonic costume

And of course Sonic needs to collect those gold rings! She picked up some green Styrofoam rings from the wreath aisle and spray-painted them gold. Ta-da!

As for the hat, my sister suggests using a regular fleece hat pattern for sizing, and then tweak it by adding a chin strap, widow's peak, and ears. Then stuff some fleece spikes and sew them onto the back.

You can see it better in this photo:


"Sonic, why are you so sad?"

"Because the world is ending...."


sonic the hedgehog
handmade costume: sonic!

"I'm waaaaaaiting...." (foot tapping not shown.)

Noah could not possibly be happier with his Sonic costume. He proudly introduces his aunt as "a maker" wherever they go, and she has yet to disappoint his very high standards. If it were up to me, kid would be wearing a bed sheet, so THANK YOU AUNT NIKKI.

Have a very Happy Halloween, everyone! I'll be trying to keep up with the speedy Sonic all night, and then most likely dipping into the candy bucket once he's asleep (as all parents do). ;)

If you dig this costume and you want to see more of Aunt Nikki's past costumes, click on the below photos:







Favorite Posts in October

So I do quite a bit of writing for this here Internet. It's how mama pays the bills. If you're interested, I'd love for you to check some out:

I Refuse to Raise a Bully

“Would you rather your kid be a bully or be bullied?” my friend asked a few years ago, back when our boys were still in diapers.

We grew up asking each other these kinds of questions — sprawled out in my childhood bedroom, arguing over the “Would You Rather” questions printed in that month’s YM magazine — but now we’re grown-ups. And this “Would You Rather” had a grown-up weight to it."

When an Attachment Parent Has to Detach

"It’s no wonder I gravitate toward being an attachment parent; I’m an attachment person. I already told you that I have caretaker tendencies and codependency issues, and that’s the other side of the “attachment parenting” coin. It’s the side that leads to enmeshment and over-bonding — which isn’t emotionally healthy for anyone involved. Except this side has a different label: Helicopter Mom, or Codependent Mom.

Whether we like it or not, our kids eventually need us to detach. And for those of us with attachment issues beyond an attachment philosophy, it can be seriously hard."

7 Reasons Halloween Is Way Better as New Parents

"#5. No more sexy costumes to squeeze into

Rather than worrying about our bare midriffs or super-short skirts (as we did) we’re dressing up babies to look like little old men. On my first Halloween as a new mom, I was 23 years old. My Facebook feed was splashed with frat party photos and lace-up corsets and spandex animal costumes — while I spent my night with a cuddly little animal baby. It was nice to bring some innocence back to a sexed-up holiday. It was nice to remember why this holiday was fun to begin with."

I'm Done Focusing on How My Son "SHOULD" Be

“Daddy, can we fight tonight?” my 5-year-old boy bounces like a terrier, looking up at his towering dad.

It’s the highlight of his day, really. Climbing up on the Big Bed, assuming a superhero identity and back-story, and facing off with kicks and jabs until my husband staggers to the floor in a humbling defeat, “You … got … me.”

My little boy gets into the fighting. He’s been deep in the Good Guy/Bad Guy playtime narrative for a few years now (his entire working memory), except the violence has taken a sharp turn upward.

His drawings are getting bloodier and more elaborate. His imaginary guns and bombs have become more detailed, and when he came home from kindergarten with a crayon-scribbled picture innocently including a school, children, and bombs, I thought, “Crap. I am seriously messing up here.”

Kids Don't Need Internet Limits, They Need Internet Guidance

Our kids have the world at the click of a button. And while you can certainly argue the negatives and scary pitfalls of this strange new world — the desensitizing, the sensory overload, the addictive allure of a blinking screen — the bad always comes with the good. And with something as big and life changing as the Internet, the bad and the good are mega magnified.

Bottom line: The Internet and all of this technology are just tools. Tools that we created, and that we can and should control. Tools that can be used to share our stories, better understand the human condition, and learn about ideas and topics that would have been confined to a textbook only 20 years ago.

And so it’s up to us — parents of digital kids — to teach the next generation how to live and thrive in this new environment. Whether we like it or not, our kids’ future will be heavily reliant and driven by technology — even more than ours is. (At least we remember a life without this permeating technology; that won’t be the case for our kids.) That’s just reality.

So if we’re trying to raise ethical, responsible, productive adults, we have to think about it in a tech-based context as well. And if we can? That just might change the world.

Hey, Kid, You Are the Boss of Your Body

"Excuse me, please! I have something to say: It’s my birthday, and I’m tired of being pinched, noogied, hugged too tight, picked up, grabbed, tickled, and touched in ways that I don’t like. I’m six years old and I’m the boss of my body!”

I read these words to my 5-year-old boy from the book “Miles is the Boss of His Body.” Miles had endured a series of events that most kids, my son included, strongly relate to: an older brother gave him birthday noogies, an excited mother hugged him extra tight, a stranger rustled his hair, and a loving dad lifted him into the air. All harmless. All typical.

But Miles had a point: he is the boss of his body! If something doesn’t feel good, he has a right to say no.

I looked over at my boy as I read the book, reading his face along with the story. How many times have I told him to give Grandma a kiss, when he really didn’t want to? How many times have I grabbed and tickled him when he wanted to be left alone? Does he know that he can say “no”? And that other people can say “no” because we are all bosses of our bodies?

10 Signs You're Raising a Digital Native

Our kids might look and sound like ordinary children — they might enjoy apple picking, playing board games and reading picture books, just as you and I did as kids. But don’t be fooled by their play-dough-crusted fingernails and chocolate-smeared cheeks. There’s nothing ordinary about this newest generation of children.

In fact, these kids’ lives are drastically different than any child ever in the history of the world.

These brand-new children are digital natives, meaning they were born into a world where flat screens and Google are completely normal, expected even. Social media is as pervasive and established as newspapers and cable TV, perhaps more so. The only world they know is a digital world — always buzzing, always clicking, always blinking.

Here are 10 sure signs that you’re raising digital natives:

Young Moms Need Support, Not Shame

Shame reinforces the idea that there are “right” ways and “wrong” ways to be a mother or woman, and the fallacy that anything hard or challenging is bad.

Shame whispers that we’re not good enough, and that our lives aren’t worth supporting. Shame chips away at our motivation and keeps us in a perpetual state of discouragement and defensiveness. It also alienates young women, making us afraid to ask for help because what will people think of me?

Shame is so loud, so consuming, that it keeps us from hearing our true intuitive hearts. It keeps us from being the kind of mothers we could be. It fuels a cycle of insecurity and second-guessing, which ultimately hurts our children as much as it hurts ourselves.

20 Secrets of Motherhood

Psst. PSSSST. You there, with the tired eyes. I know those eyes; I’ve had those eyes.

I could spot a new mom anywhere (and it has nothing to do with that adorable babe strapped to your chest, swinging those baby moccasins). I actually recognize it from the inside out. I remember when everything was so new and confusing — the contentment and adoration and complete exhaustion?

Actually ... now that I’m back to a normal human sleep cycle and can think clearly, and now that I’ve gained a bit of perspective over the past six years, I could let you in on a few secrets. If you want.

No Baggage! And 9 Other Perks of Getting Married Really Young

"...Yet as life happened, I willingly signed a marriage certificate in 2008, with an 8-month-pregnant belly between us. I was 22 years old.

Six years later, I've had more than just my perspective shifted. I've grown and matured in so many ways—mostly because of things in and around my marriage. Yes, marriage is challenging and getting married at a young age sets us up for unique obstacles, but there are also little-known perks to entering marriage and adulthood roughly at the same time. It's not all bad decisions and dead ends."

Messy Finances! And 9 Other Challenges of Getting Married

"...That's not to say we haven't experienced real, unique challenges from getting married in our earliest moments of adulthood. To claim otherwise would be disingenuous, especially considering all life situations have perks and drawbacks. Turns out legally committing yourself to someone in your early 20s has some mountainous obtacles to navigate around, too.

For the sake of full disclosure, let's talk about the hard parts of getting married really young."

I also wrote a print feature for the October issue of Renew. It's a piece on children of addicts and children of codependents, and it was incredibly eye-opening to research and interview. If you have access to the magazine, it's worth a read.

Thank you for reading! XO

Meet Ben: The Child of a Young Mom

Meet Ben.

He was conceived when his mother was only 24 years old. She had recently graduated with an Early Education degree and originally planned on working as an elementary school teacher, but at the time, she was working part-time at a preschool. Her salary wasn't very much, and she ended up putting her career on hold to be a full-time mom.

But Ben wouldn't know that. He always has food and a roof and plenty of love. He has more than enough toys. He's quite happy. In fact, he loves spending every single day with his beautiful Mommy. He'd tell you he's a lucky boy.

His Mommy and Daddy aren't married, and aren't planning to anytime soon. Certain people in their lives are upset about that. "Think about Ben! Poor Ben!" they say.

But Ben doesn't know the difference. He's never asked for legal proof of his parent's love. All he knows is a Mommy and a Daddy who live together. He'd tell you he loves them more than anyone in the world. He'd tell you he's a lucky boy.

Ben is a loving, silly, well-adjusted, smart little boy.

And despite his parent's age, career status, and marital situation, he's doing just fine.

Yes, he's doing just fine.

They're all doing just fine.

(P.S. Ben is my nephew; his mom is my sister. And I love them dearly.)

Young Moms Don't Need Shame. They Need Support.

young and pregnant

“You ruined your life.”

“You need to have an abortion immediately; nothing is more important than your education.”

“Pity. You had such potential.”

These sentences were all said to new young moms, straight in their eyes and into their hearts from people they love and value. (I know because I get emails and messages from young moms all over the world.) Looking from an outside perspective, we can see how these things were said with ignorance, or misguided love, or all of the above. But do you know what that feels like in our hearts? Do you know the weight of those words? Have you felt that kind of searing hopelessness?

I have. At 21 years old, I was thrown headfirst into the subculture of pregnancy and baby — learning how to breastfeed, sifting through an ungodly pool of must-have baby products, and then negotiating maternity leave at an entry-level job that I literally just started. I had no one to teach me; girls my age were barely out of college. “Nipple cream? What is that, some new sex toy?”

And I was in my 20s! I can only imagine the pounding pressure and negativity that young high-school girls face. Girls who had sex — just like so many high-school girls do, with or without protection — but ended up seeing two lines instead of one on their pregnancy test. There’s no turning back; she’s pregnant. We can’t shame that away, or wag our finger hard enough to turn back the time. But man, we sure do try.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the young moms I’ve met behind my computer screen, it’s that people say the rudest things when you’re a baby-faced woman pushing a stroller. Opinions, warnings, flat-out prophecies — all fair game when you’re a young-looking girl with a pregnant belly. Bonus points if your left finger is bare.  Instead of hearing “congratulations,” we’re told, “I’m sorry.”

We don’t see moms that look like us on TV — not unless it’s a mug shot, or reality TV stereotype, or another fear-based cautionary tale. We walk down the street and see billboards about how we’re not only ruining our own lives, but our children’s lives. (SHAME ON YOU.) Billboards that say things like, “You’re supposed to be changing the world…not changing diapers #NoTeenPreg.” (SHAME ON YOU.)