I was 21 when I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant with Alex. I was in my junior year at Smith, but would be graduating a semester early. While I had originally planned on attending medical school after graduation, I had left that idea behind when I realized how much I didn’t want to be a doctor. Instead, I decided I would get a second degree in nursing. That way, I’d still get to work with people and help them get or stay healthy, but I wouldn’t have to make the sacrifices necessary to become a doctor.
It was all planned out. Two more semesters. I had recently made Dean’s list again! I was finally in My Place. Feeling Good. I’ve Got This, I was thinking of my life.
Things obviously worked out, but not in the way I had always planned. Instead of graduating a semester early, I ended up graduating a semester late. We borrowed money, Zach had to finish college with a newborn at home, life was really, really, tough for a while, but we survived. I finished my semester at Smith, getting bigger by the minute, and then was able to have Alex and finish my degree in Pittsburgh over the next year. Smith was so wonderful, and essentially my last semester worth of credits was my “semester abroad”…it was just in Pittsburgh and took a year after taking a semester off to stay home full time.
But during all of this, during our figuring it all out, finishing up college degrees, trying to accept the change in life plans, fighting back tears (or not fighting back and letting them flow) regularly, I lost myself.
I got stuck. I got trapped. I was so consumed by being the “21 year old who had a baby” and a “young mom” that I lost track of who I really am.
Yes, I am a young mom. Yes, I did have a child earlier than originally planned. But does that define me? No.
And now, nine years later, I think I’m finally, finally, realizing that. I am not the sum of my motherhood. My motherhood is part of me, but it is not me.
I removed piercings when I found out I was pregnant. I couldn’t stand the thought of people already judging me for being pregnant and then double judging me for my piercings, too.
I became more “preppy” or “conservative” in the way I dressed. I wanted to look “mature” (or something?) and I did everything I could to not instantly be regarded and, in my scared mind, judged, for my age. I constantly worried about it. My age was mentioned routinely when I was out with Alex. It still is. “Are you a nanny?” “Oh, you’re too young to have him!” “Wow, you must have been a baby when he was born!” “Where are his parents?”
In December I turned 30. A milestone, for sure. I’m still the youngest mother in Alex’s class. I expect I (almost) always will be. At this point, I have some friends and acquaintances who have babies, are pregnant, or are married and will likely be having babies in the near future. I have some contact with a few schoolmates from high school and college who have children around Alex’s age, but we are a rare breed.
Regardless of my insecurities year after year, it is something I’ve been recently working through. I’m not over it, but I’m trying to pay attention to how it has shaped who I’ve become over the last nine years since I found out I was pregnant. It’s made me defensive, a trait I never would ask for in myself. I can be rude, quick to react, and I definitely can come off as arrogant. I am realizing that a lot of this has to do with how I view myself as a young mother. Or, more accurately, my worries about how other people view me.
Here I am. A thirty year old mother of an eight year old. I am working on myself. Me. Not who I think I should be. Not who I think people see me as. Me. I finally got a tattoo that I’ve been thinking about for six years. Six Years. I kept not doing it because I was scared. Scared of judgment. Scared that it wasn’t the “right” thing to do. But I did it. And it’s so me. One hundred percent me. And if people judge me?
I can be a mother. I can have tattoos. I can wear whatever I want. I can shave the side of my head, or dye my hair. I can wear a cashmere sweater and pearls and show off my tattoo and undercut at the same time, and that is all me. I can go out and drink with my friends, or I can stay home and go to bed at nine. I can be thirty and act forty, or be thirty and act twenty, because who is to say what makes these acting?
We’ve all grown a lot in nine years. And we have a ways to go.