1/3 of American girls become pregnant before the age of 20. Should I repeat that? One-third, one out of three, thirty-three percent, of American girls become pregnant before the age of 20.
Or so says Barbara Walters in response to the announcement of 17 year old Bristol Palin's pregnancy. (Yes, in addition to watching Regis and Kelly, I believe I may have just outed myself as a viewer of The View.) I know that many an infertile's reaction to the announcement of yet another oops! pregnancy is bitterness. Jealousy. We might find ourselves pleading with the universe, begging for an answer as to why they get pregnant and we don't. I have been there. I still do that. But this time that is not my reaction.
As an exceptionally liberal liberal, one who has developed a serious aversion to the pick of Palin for V.P., my immediate reaction might've been glee. Upon sharing the news I could tell my mother expected me to lick my lips at the scandal. My husband, who has been surprised by my violent reaction to Palin's candidacy, assumed I would rant about the hypocrisy of a champion for abstinence-only education finding herself a 44 year old grandmother. But I didn't experience this revelation as a liberal, but rather as a woman. My gut reaction was simple sadness at the official statement that the parents-to-be will be married.
An unintended teenage pregnancy can be, I imagine, a devastating, scary event for the family. And I understand the desire when faced with a personal tragedy to do everything you can to Make Things Better. In some situations that might mean an abortion and in other, more right-wing families they Make Things Better with the sound of shotguns ringing in the air...er, I mean, wedding bells.
I can understand a girl, a child, who thinks that Johnny No-Condom will make a wonderful husband - I mean, he *always* texts when he gets home! - and I can relate to her dreams of an (off-)white wedding and blissful family days to come. But what I cannot understand is the parent who condones these childish delusions. More likely than not, the parents have had their doubts about this boy from the start. They don't like that he beeps from the driveway instead of ringing the doorbell. They aren't sure about all those text-messages - isn't it too soon to be *so* swept up in each other? They probably haven't trusted this boy to bring their daughter home by curfew, but now they trust him to hold her beating heart in his palm? Now they ask him to help raise their grandchild, when days prior they wouldn't have allowed him to pet sit their dog? I understand the need to fix things, but I wonder just how many things, how many hearts, how many people will be broken as a result of this "fix". And I worry that Bristol, like so many other young mothers, will feel herself and her life speeding past her, without her control, on a crash-course with a future she never intended.
Upon blowing out the candles on my 20th birthday cake I exclaimed that I officially would never be a teenage mother. It was a joke, of course. Mostly. I didn't even lose my virginity until I was in college and officially legal and I went on birth control immediately thereafter. At 20 I'd still only slept with one boy and he was so concerned about knocking me up that we often tripled up on protection - pill, condoms and spermicide. But I'd known of so many unwelcome surprises (I *was* an unwelcome surprise!) that I assumed the same fate would befall me.
When my brother, at 21, found himself an unexpected father to a very unexpected pregnancy I couldn't help but try to picture myself in his place. He loved his son, as did his girlfriend, but it was clear that this was not a path they would have chosen for themselves. They fought through those early days together and now work separately to give him a stable(ish) home. They've done their best and it's been enough, but it wasn't what any of them wanted. I look at my nephew today, at almost 11 years old and am proud of the smart, feisty boy he's become, but I cannot for a moment imagine him to be mine.
I might not have chosen the path I currently walk, had I been given the chance. I wouldn't have asked for the waiting, the heartache, the loss. But if I'm honest, I wouldn't have traded it for the alternative. I am glad that I didn't drop my 10 year old off at school this morning. I am thankful that I haven't spent the last decade wondering how I would provide for myself and my child. I would've loved my baby and I would've done my best, but I don't know that my best would've been enough.
Infertility might hold my heart in a vice-like grip, forcing me to grow in ways that I never expected and wasn't prepared for. It's battered and bruised me. Teenage motherhood would have beaten me just as thoroughly, however it's pushes and punches would've fallen not just in my gut, but in my child's. And I'm so thankful that I'm the only one taking the beating.