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Last night I sat on the beach and watched my kids and their cousins run around in the sand with the sun setting behind them. I had worked a twelve-hour night shift and only squeaked in a few hours of sleep before greeting them at the school bus to head off to the water for a beachside picnic on my night off. I basked in the moment, thinking how thankful I was for my life.

But had I made a few different decisions, my life would have been totally different. All the wonderful things I cherish now almost weren’t a reality. If I had taken a more common path, things might have been easier, but I have no interest in knowing what my life would be like without the view in front of me that day on the beach.

You see, the path I took that led to this beautiful scene of my family in front of a sunset all started quite unexpectedly with my teen pregnancy fifteen years ago.

I found out I was pregnant when I was 19 and a sophomore in college. I hadn’t chosen a major yet. I went to class and studied and attempted to be a goal-oriented adult, but for the most part I continued to be an irresponsible teenager. To say I was horrified when I saw the pregnancy test is a serious understatement.

I wanted no part of what was happening. I could barely manage to keep my own laundry clean and make it to class on time, much less raise a child. I had only been dating my boyfriend for a couple months. We had certainly never talked about having children. He wasn’t even the kind of person I thought about spending the rest of my life with, and vice versa. Sure, I intended to have kids someday, but I had planned for that day to be many years later. I wanted to travel and live in the city and spend my days off from work on artsy pursuits. When the time came to settle down, I wanted to marry someone just like me. Together, we would raft down the river of life raising a couple kids, and things would be gravy.

But suddenly my river of life was full of rapids.

The whole teen pregnancy thing felt like being banished to the second circle of hell. My then boyfriend admitted that he never wanted to have children at all, but he said he would be willing to help raise the baby if I wanted to. My family is a conservative, religious family; it is unheard of to get pregnant before marriage. Though at the time I was neither conservative nor religious, the shame it would bring on the family was almost more than I could bear. It felt like I spit in their faces.

And forget about turning to pals for comfort. Even though a large percentage of my peers at school were also having sex, you would have thought that I was at a convent with the way people reacted when they found out. My friends, save two, immediately distanced themselves from me. It turns out that pregnancy equals social pariah status. Word spread like wildfire, and I got condescending smirks everywhere I went on campus.

Time to Make Some Tough Choices

I couldn’t come up with one happy outcome to this situation. I didn’t want to have an abortion, so that was out. Three, also undesirable, choices remained: Option one was to raise the baby myself; option two was to stay with my boyfriend and raise the baby together; option three, probably the best, was to give the baby up for adoption.

Even though I knew that I should choose the third option (and to this day I believe adoption is a wonderful gift and support those who choose it), when push came to shove I just didn’t have it in me. I knew myself well enough to know that “future me” would be an emotional wreck because of it. So, adoption was out.

We were down to two options. Future me also knew that even though I normally wouldn’t have chosen my boyfriend as a life mate, I had to admit that he meant more to me than I had anticipated he would. And I meant more to him than he thought because he was willing to be in it for the long haul. So, in the end, option two prevailed. I left college and got married and started being an adult instead of masquerading as one. My family didn’t banish me, as I might have once feared. They were distressed about the situation, but they always stuck by me.

An Unintentional Blessing

That was fifteen years ago. My husband and I went on to have three more children together. I went back to college at age 22, taking one class at a time while raising the kids. By 31 I had finished my degree and entered the job market. Yes, my story reveals me to be one of those people who front-loaded the kids and still managed to have a successful career after. I just can’t say it was intentional.

I am close with my parents and siblings, and they have always been my cheerleaders. My husband and I both work much harder than we may want to in order to support our family, but we found out a long time ago that, while we do love each other, the secret to a good marriage isn’t love—it’s hard work. (That is also, it turns out, the secret to most things that are worth having.)

Now I snicker at the idea of me marrying someone “just like me”—someone to coast through life with. We certainly have had our struggles, sometimes more than not, but in the end there is no one I would rather have by my side. I wouldn’t have learned anything about myself as a woman, wife, or mother had that been the case. I wouldn’t have learned where my strengths lie or that I am much more intelligent and determined than I gave myself credit for back then. I would’ve continued taking the easy road.

How did I get through it? I had my husband’s support (which countless teen moms can’t take for granted), my family’s support in the end, and my in-laws’ support. Eventually I also found a wonderful group of friends. But at the end of the day, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I think God gave me the strength to get through it.

Am I suggesting that everyone go out and get pregnant as teens? Surely not. In the same way, I wouldn’t recommend that teens take part in a lot of the irresponsible behavior I did back then.

Data shows that teen pregnancies correlate with all other unfortunate disadvantages in life, including dropping out of school and experiencing more economic hardship than others, both of which are true of my story. But I am one of the few who beat the odds because my husband and I are the masters of our destiny. It is not by chance that we have made it. It is by choice. I feel my story is worth telling if for no other reason than to remind people faced with unexpected pregnancies (or other unforeseen hardships) that despite what it may feel like at the time, your life doesnt have to end right then and there.

To this day, my daughter has no idea how she came to be or that she is the reason behind my strength. She has no idea that the reason I am teaching her to be intelligent, independent, strong, and capable now is because she is the one who taught me those things. So, no, my life didn’t end by getting pregnant at 19. In many ways, that’s when it started.

Photo Credit: Britt Rene Photography