I was 17 when I had my first child, but I never thought of myself as a “teen mom” statistic. I’d simply become what I told my high school guidance counselor I wanted to be…a wife and mother. Had he been the type of counselor who encouraged girls to go to college, I might have followed a different path. But this was the early 70s, and the importance of furthering an education didn’t seem to be stressed as strongly to girls as it was to boys. As a matter of fact, all I remember was a very brief meeting in which he asked me what I wanted to do after graduation. I told him about my domestic ambitions, he nodded his head, and I was sent on my way. And I was fine with that. While I was fortunate enough to be a pretty good student, it certainly wasn’t due to any sense of academic dedication. I studied because it was expected of me but, while I did feel that grades were important, I didn’t much care for school and all its trappings. Truth be told, it was a part of life I couldn’t wait to put in the rearview mirror.
My boyfriend was two years older than I was and joined the Navy after he graduated. We became engaged when I was in my junior year of high school. The plan was to get married that summer, and then I would graduate midterm and join him wherever he was stationed. Considering my age, my folks weren’t overly keen on the idea, but my mind was made up. I convinced my mom who, in turn, managed to get my dad to come around. Once that was settled, we began preparations for an August wedding.
When my then-fiancé came home on leave in May, he jokingly asked what I had planned for the following weekend. Turned out he’d received orders for a 6-month tour of sea duty, and the date of departure was fast approaching. He said we could either get married in the next week or wait until he came home in December. Neither of us wanted to wait, so a quick wedding was arranged, we had a blink-of-an-eye honeymoon, and he shoved off before the ink was dry on the marriage certificate.
After his ship departed, I kept myself busy with the summer school classes that would guarantee that mid-term graduation. In July, I suspected I might be pregnant and made an appointment at the medical clinic at a nearby base. I can still remember the idiotic response I gave the nurse when she told me I was approximately four months along. “That can’t be,” I said. “I’ve only been married two months.” It was a statement that warranted a facepalm if ever there was one.
I tried to keep the gestational timeline a secret but, unless I could figure out a way to carry my baby for two extra months, the jig would eventually be up. What bothered me most at the time was the idea that everyone would think we got married because we had to. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The only thing dictating our wedding date was my fiancé’s impending sea duty. But it’s a good thing we decided not to wait until he got back because, by that time, I’d have had to waddle down the aisle while sporting a huge baby bump.
No matter how grown up you think you are at 17, having a baby is, at the very least, a confusing endeavor. My mom did her best to prepare me, but that could only get me so far. Even now, with a plethora of available information, being a first-time mom consists of a lot of on-the-job training. Back then, there was even more guesswork. Books on the matter weren’t particularly plentiful, and Google wasn’t even a sparkle in its daddy’s eye. The mysteries of labor and childbirth remained just that. Mysteries.
As if to prove to me that fudging the due date wouldn’t have accomplished anything, our firstborn decided to make her entrance into the world two weeks early. And to make it even more memorable, she thought it would be fun for my water to break inside a local restaurant. The contractions started getting really interesting shortly after that. Ah…those were good times. Not.
People, if you haven’t had the pleasure yourself, I’m here to tell you…hard labor pains hurt like the devil. I’d never experienced anything so violently relentless. Fortunately for me, the alleged beauty of natural childbirth had gained no foothold in my life plan, so I was totally cool with accepting whatever fabulous pain-killing drugs the doctor offered me. When the spinal block finally took effect, only one word could do it justice…Hallelujah!
While I may have been a “Sadie, Sadie, Married Lady,” I was also still a shy teenager. The delivery itself went smoothly, and the obstetrician did his best to put me at ease while he stitched up the episiotomy but, when he finished, I wasn’t prepared for the indignity that followed. Splayed on the table like an overcooked Thanksgiving turkey, I heard the doc tell the orderly and nurses to come down to where he was sitting. When I asked what was going on, he said, “I figure not many people are going to see this, so I wanted someone to appreciate my handiwork.” At that very moment, I would have happily crawled under a rock and died.
All the aforementioned difficulties drifted from my mind as soon as the nurse placed a heated blanket over me before wheeling me out of the delivery room. I had never in my life felt anything so wonderful. I thought perhaps I had died…and gone to Heaven. That unexpected coziness was pure bliss.
It got even better, though. As soon as I was situated in my room, my husband and I got to officially meet our new daughter, Jacqueline Rose. She was a bundle of red-faced yowling perfection, and I immediately fell in love. Body-splitting labor just hours before? What labor? I didn’t remember any labor.
We took our little Jackie home – she later changed the spelling to Jacki in a rather subtle display of teen rebellion – and life was never the same again. She was the bearer of countless joys and challenges, delights and frustrations, and never-ending worry. Over time, as she blossomed into a young adult and then – dare I say – a middle-aged woman, the challenges and frustrations fell by the wayside. However, the joys, delights and, yes…never-ending worry…still remain. (I’m fairly certain a mother doesn’t stop worrying about her children until she draws her final breath. And perhaps not even then.)
There were a lot of hiccups during those first several months. Since the rabbit didn’t die at my premarital exam, and because I had such sporadic cycles, the doctor instructed me to go ahead and start taking birth control pills right away. So, during my entire third month of pregnancy, Jacki was exposed to whatever contraceptive chemicals might have leached into her tiny system. I also had two minor – but very jarring – car accidents that I’m sure had her flailing about in her little amniotic wonderland. And, when the poor thing was only a few months old, she managed to scoot through her bedrail and landed on her head. As luck would have it, our first home was a very old trailer, and its aging flooring was probably just soft enough to prevent any lasting injury. Jacki is, however, more than welcome to use that as an excuse any time she does or says something that’s less than brilliant.
It astounds me that her 50th birthday is right around the corner. I don’t quite know how it’s possible. I mean…she’s still my little girl. I often lament about how horrible my memory is but, when I think about how and when Jacki came into our lives, it’s clear as day.
Starting parenthood at such a tender age is not something I would recommend to others but, now that we’re approaching this major milestone, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Being a young mom means that, God willing, I’ll have more years to love on Jacki and her sister, Jen (you know…the one she didn’t flush down the toilet*) than I might have if I’d waited until I was older to start a family. And it’s really nice not to feel like we’re separated by some huge generational divide.
Who knows…it may be a race to see which of us is the first to wind up at Shady Pines.