This past year, I completed my bachelors of science in nursing. The same year, my eldest daughter started college. She turned 18, and I turned 38. My daughter’s graduation from high school was made possible by the same event that delayed my college graduation. I got pregnant with her quite unexpectedly at 19.
When people say unplanned pregnancies hurt women’s chances of education and accomplishments, do they mean individually or collectively? Often I think they mean both. But for me, my unplanned pregnancy didn’t hurt my individual accomplishments; it just adjusted the timeline. And collectively, my pregnancy doubled women’s accomplishments, in that now there are two women who benefit from college instead of one.
I know that I benefited from a number of factors not everyone with an unplanned pregnancy has: a supportive family who brought me up with a can-do spirit, and a partner-turned-husband who is nothing short of amazing. Not to mention the many opportunities afforded to me by being an American today. But at 19, I wasn’t as aware of these benefits. Everything seemed foggy and overwhelming, and I didn’t immediately know where our relationship was going or how he’d take the news. This was not how I planned to start my family.
A different view of freedom
I thought about the turbulence of my unplanned pregnancy, and the accomplishments I and my daughter have achieved in the wake of the reporting and conversation surrounding Michelle Williams’ acceptance speech at the Golden Globes a few weeks ago.
In her speech, Williams says that she worked hard to get where she is and for the award in her hand, and that her right to choose gave her the ability to do so. It’s not clear if she was admitting her own abortion, or just talking about family planning generally. Either way, her message was clear: unplanned pregnancies interfere with a woman’s freedom to pursue her goals.
I couldn’t help but think of my daughter and of the choice I made with regards to my unplanned pregnancy with her.
Certainly having a child as a teen did deprive me of a sense of freedom, if freedom means you get to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Yes, in that sense, having a baby did deprive me of that. But it didn’t deprive me of making choices for how I’d like my life to turn out, and how to get to how I’d like my life to turn out. In fact, I’m confident I wouldn’t be the woman I am—a strong, independent woman, who is a force to be reckoned with—if it weren’t for my choice in the face of an unplanned pregnancy.
Hard days made me the woman I wanted to be
My unplanned pregnancy, and the newborn days that followed, really put me to the test.
At the time of my pregnancy, I was a silly lackadaisical kid who was clearly not making wise choices. But the very challenges I faced—living on the poverty line, relying on food stamps to get by, negotiating a relationship with a man I wasn’t married to yet—gave me goals for the future.
In many ways, the unplanned pregnancy was a challenge that pressed me to employ strengths I didn’t know I had. I had to fall back on the only tools I had in life—morals, virtues, hard work, being a team player, integrity. The version of myself that accepted the hard times that I brought upon myself is a stronger, more courageous, more powerful, and fiercer woman than any woman I could have been without them.
Of course, I’m not suggesting every woman needs to go through an unplanned pregnancy to find her strength. She doesn’t—I wouldn’t wish some of those tough moments on anyone. But what if we stopped looking at pregnancy as a stumbling block to women’s success? What I thought was going to hold me back from my goals of graduating college and becoming a nurse actually propelled me more toward those goals—for my sake and my daughter’s.
Imagine if someone asked me and Michelle Williams, what’s your end goal in life? If her end goal was to win a Golden Globe and mine was to become a successful nurse at a world-renowned health center, can’t we both say that having a child might have affected the timeline, but it didn't affect our achievement of that end goal? And if we can’t, isn’t that telling us something needs to change in society and in our workplaces (like flexible parental leave policies, for example)?
Michelle Williams is entitled to her perspective, but I look at it very differently. The choice I made wasn’t not getting an abortion. The choice I made was to roll the dice with my choice of partner and to carry on with my teen pregnancy. My choice ultimately led to the birth of a beautiful, unique baby girl. And a choice that allowed me, just recently, to watch my brave, beautiful, courageous, and bold daughter become an adult that I’m quite proud to turn out into the world, because of the great good I know she’s going to do. I’m quite proud of the contributions to women’s progress she and I are both making.