I've had this article bookmarked on my computer for awhile now and I keep passing by it while searching through my toolbar. It's about a 22-year-old single girl named Emmie who found out she was pregnant right before starting a demanding graduate program in a city that's three hours away from her family and friends. She wrote into the New York Times' Motherload blog asking for advice. (This was back in 2009, mere months after I had my own baby at 22 years old.)
The comments flooded in, mostly telling her how difficult, even impossible, her situation seemed. Empathetic commenters said they had an abortion at 19, 21, 23 years old and it was absolutely the right decision. One woman wrote that she was the product of a young mom, and although she was glad to be born, she sensed regret from her mother -- and it wasn't an easy road, of course. Even pro-life commenters (who were staunchly against abortion) urged her to consider adoption. Many, many, many comments said something along the lines of: I had my baby in my mid-30s and it was way harder than I could have imagined, even with support. Another large segment of the comments encouraged her to either choose between termination or adoption because she'd have many more opportunities to have children -- and do it the right way.
I read through the majority of the 814 comments, and not one gave her encouragement or even perspective from a young mom. And definitely not successful professional young moms, which the comment thread seemed to assume could never exist.
Here's just one example from the hundreds I could choose from (which happens to be from a man):
Your life will be ruined if you have the child You will not adequately be able to take care of the child I have been involved in two aboritions in my life and nigher mother felt that they had done the wrong thing Both mothers were able to get on in thier lives and follow the paths that they wanted fo follow -Michael
And there are many responses like this:
Secure your futre now. Its more difficult if you miss it now.
You can not be a mom and exel in college. One has to give
Difficult but you have to be more objective and rational than emotional.
Simply put, termination or adoption are the only two options.
Dont even think of raisning the baby on your own. Too high a price …
Termination is easier and simpler that would be my advice.
If you can identify adotion options .. explore it. But it is more taumatic handing over your child of few days to some one else.
What ever you do decide quickly.
Good luck and my prayers - Vaidy
Emmie decided to terminate her pregnancy.
To be fair, her situation was difficult.It's easy for me to say it's possible to persistently follow your dreams when my own professional goals (writing/editing) have blended so well with motherhood. I took big risks, yes, but I also didn't have 20 hours of classes + 20 hours of field work a week, plus demanding professors and zero support. If I wanted to become a surgeon or a lawyer then I might have had to defer (or downplay) my professional ambitions. And I'm not traveling the world writing about human rights and political situations (as I once imagined); I'm writing about babies and breastfeeding. Yet I know what it feels like to work so hard throughout school, to be on the brink of a dream career, and to then have an unexpected pregnancy uproot everything I thought I needed -- only to bring me the success and happiness that I never would have had otherwise. (I would have told her that.) And Emmie also mentioned that part of her field work was working with government programs and charity organizations that helped others -- something that could have been further fueled by the passion and purpose of motherhood. (I would have told her that too.)
The thing that really gets me was her lack of support. Besides the fact that she had no baby daddy in the picture, her friends and family were three hours away and her close friends started to slink away as they learned about the pregnancy. To be a young single mom going through the rigors of a prestigious graduate program and the turbulent newborn phase without anyone to hand off the baby to? That's unfathomable to me.
As young moms with happy stories, we are the minority of the minority. Perhaps Emmie could have joined us and realized new dreams and new ambitions. Or maybe Emmie would have been forced to leave her graduate program, jeopardize her career and resent her innocent baby. It's impossible to predict what would have happened, but I can't help but wonder if a little more positive encouragement might have made her entertain a different path for her life (and her unborn baby's life). She was only given one set of advice: young motherhood = sacrifice and hardship. She didn't have a pool of young moms to give her first-hand inspiration. And even if it didn't change her mind, didn't she deserve to hear both sides?
Lately I've been accused of "encouraging young women to get pregnant," but I don't see it that way at all. It would be irresponsible of me to paint this lifestyle as being full of never-ending, sunshine-filled benefits for everyone. But with all of the negative bombarding us (as evidenced by the comments on my Yahoo post and this New York Time post), I'm just trying to provide some counterbalance. I'm just trying to give a voice to all of us who are drowned by the stereotypes.
If Emmie didn't want to be a mom and was completely certain of this, then I would never have encouraged her to do so. It was ultimately her decision, and I think early motherhood takes a specific type of character, maturity level and life situation. But I know there are a lot of young mothers who could have served as an inspiration for Emmie while she made that incredibly difficult decision. And maybe, just maybe, she might have seen more options on the table.
Without getting into the politics of pro-life or pro-choice (please) what would you tell a young, single, pregnant woman like Emmie?