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It Happens to "Good Girls" Too!

At 16, a 'good girl' became a mother... here, she shares her story.

I remember uttering those words for the first time to the guy I was with. I was 15, in love, doing well in school, had an after-school job and not a care in the world.

I was also sexually active; I had been since I was a freshman in high school. I vividly recall the first guy I slept with -- tall, strapping and popular with the ladies, and for some reason, he liked me! Or so I thought. Even when he told me, "If you get pregnant, you will have to deal with it," I looked at him starry-eyed and did not utter a single word.

I hated the way I looked. I lived in a home with eight other people, and the idea that this tall, good-looking guy wanted me instead of the other girls, well, that was worth anything. I equated his touch with being special, his kisses with love. When I was with him, all the loathing I felt about my appearance and the sadness I felt at home disappeared. I wasn't just one of those other girls. After all, he said he loved me, and he wouldn't have sex with me if he didn't, right?

Well, I did have to deal with it. I became pregnant by that first guy, and family pressures led me to have an abortion. Lesson learned right then and there, huh?

Guess again. Next was the guy I really thought I was in love with. This "first true love" dumped me for a cheerleader in my class about three weeks after we slept together. About nine months later, I was a junior in high school, with straight A's and in honors classes. I still had my after-school job and yes, I still was sexually active. My latest boyfriend was this guy I had met about two months before through a friend of a friend.

Lesson still not learned. Here I was once more. Kisses, touching, words of love. One day I don't get my period. No big deal, I think; I am very physically active. I'm just late, is all. One day turns into a week, and then two and then three. I had now officially known my "boyfriend" nine weeks. Do I tell him? Do I go to the doctor? What if my family finds out? I finally break down and ask a friend to go with me to the drugstore, too terrified to ask my very old-fashioned grandparents for help. Our house was a house where you didn't ask and you weren't told. After all, they were raised that way, so why not raise us that way too?

We went to Eckerd's under the guise of needing a pair of pantyhose, and with great embarrassment, I asked the pharmacist for a test. I ran home with the sacred box hidden under my shirt and locked myself in the bathroom. Those three minutes were the longest, most painfully anxious moments in my young life. I couldn't bear to look at first and then, slowly; I turned my head and saw the bright pink "X" staring me right in the face.

At first I was disbelieving. I think I sat in that bathroom for an hour, just staring at this white stick with the big pink "X." My heart was in my throat, my pulse was racing, my stomach was doing flip-flops. Instinctively, my hand went toward my belly. I removed my top and stared at my flat stomach in the mirror and tried to fathom its getting big and round.

Eventually my sense of hopeless romanticism took over and I began to imagine myself and my boyfriend taking long walks with "our child" in the stroller, "our child" lying in a soft bed next to his/her parents, "the proud mom and dad" sitting side by side as "their child" grew up in utter bliss. By the time I left that bathroom with the little white stick in my hand , those childish fantasies were real in my mind.

Never once did it occur to me that my unborn child's father might not want this. After all, he loved me; he had told me so. In my naiveté, I had made myself believe that sex was love. After all, I was a good girl and good girls didn't sleep around. They "made love" to the person they were in a relationship with.

Now excited about the idea of being a mom (me, a mom!), I called the father-to-be, expecting, I guess, for him to share my enthusiasm, for him to come right over, scoop me in his arms, profess his undying devotion and propose to me on the spot! Well, as I eventually learned the hard way, fairy tales only exist in those beautifully drawn books in the libraries. This was no library and he was no Prince Charming.

He was a 17-year-old kid, getting a phone call from a girl he barely knew, telling him he was going to be a dad. "Are you sure?" was his first question. "Are you sure it's mine?" was the next. That should have been warning enough for what was to come, but I had always been a romantic and I wanted -- no, I needed -- to believe in love so badly that I didn't process his doubts. To me, they were just a reaction to major news; he would come around.

We went to the doctor several weeks later to confirm what I already knew. Soon, at 16, I would be a mom. Soon this tiny life would be in my arms.

The doctor confirmed my pregnancy, and this time I decided not to have an abortion. I moved in with my boyfriend and his family. I was to learn, years later, that both of our families felt it was the right thing to do. I simply thought at the time that it was a sign of his love for me and his excitement about becoming a father.

I continued to go to school and study hard. Around my fifth month of pregnancy, when my belly started to get a little bigger and my breasts started to get a little heavier, the father-to-be and I started to drift apart. I don't think it hit either of us, until I started to show, how permanent this was. Once there was the "proof" that we would soon be parents, it dawned on him that soon he would be a dad and a parent with someone he neither really knew nor ever truly loved. By the time the baby was born, we had separate bedrooms and when we spoke, it was through his parents.

On a rush of hormones, adrenaline and fantasy, I still clung to the ever-persistent notion that it had to work. We had to be a family. We had created a life together, another human being, and that had to mean something. If it didn't, then all of those careful fantasies, all of those sweet little stories I had let myself believe, were wrong. It meant I would have to face reality -- that I was going to be a mom and I was going to have a child who would depend on me, alone. Me! For the rest of my life.

I just had not had the maturity or the strength to allow myself to see the truth. In reality, we never loved one another. How could we? Our relationship was based on a sexual attraction. I think in our secret hearts we both knew that when you date someone as a teenager, even if sex is involved, somewhere deep down you know that it is temporary. You are young with the world at your feet -- everything to explore and learn, and there is plenty of time to settle down and get serious. But girls and guys like me -- so desperate to feel love, never realizing that the love starts from within -- girls and guys like me cling to every word, every touch, every kiss, and make it into something much more than it is.

By the time our child, a beautiful girl named Christina, had been born, things were irretrievably broken between her father and me. Several months later, I left his home and moved back to my grandparents'. I was lucky to be able to continue high school, but like most young parents in my situation, I needed to seek government assistance to help with the insurmountable bills I never expected.

Reality came crashing down on me. I never had realized the demands and pressures that parenthood would bring. I was lucky to have supportive teachers, friends and family members, who, although sometimes overbearing, were always there for me. My daughter's father came by occasionally, although by the time I moved back home he and I had become quite volatile toward one another. We rarely spoke and when we did, it was never nice. He felt I had trapped him, and I, still clinging to my childish fantasies, felt he had betrayed my love, my trust. I laid a lot of the blame and guilt that I felt in his direction. It was much easier to feel less guilty myself by making him the bad guy.

Now I realize how he must have felt seven years ago, when I called him late at night to tell him of his impending fatherhood. Scared, alone, disbelieving. I don't absolve him for not taking part in his child's life, but I guess I can understand him a little better.

Looking back on the last seven years, I realize that I have grown up, and am still growing up right beside my daughter. I regret that there were many things that she did as a baby that I did not have the character or the maturity to appreciate as fully as I do now. I remember that when she was a baby, I was much more a big sister to her than a mom, content to play with my beautiful little "doll," dressing her in the prettiest dresses, putting the cutest bows in her hair and matching frilly socks on her feet.

Eventually it dawned on me that she was not a doll I could put on a shelf until I felt like playing with her again. She was a living person who soaked up everything I did and learned from it. She had demands and needs, and it was my responsibility to take care of them.

She isn't a baby anymore; she's already in the second grade. She is growing into the confident young lady I hoped she would be. I listen as she reads books out loud or calls a friend on the telephone, and I see how precious a gift I have been given.

After she was born, I graduated from high school. I am now a paralegal-in-training with a law firm specializing in guardianship issues. I am married and my husband and I have a 19-month-old son. I feel successful now. But the road still is not easy.

Being a parent is the most complicated yet rewarding job there is. All the education in the world cannot prepare you for the ups and downs. There is no textbook to give you the answers, no test to pass or fail, no notes that you can copy from of someone else. You have to learn through experience, and experience comes with age.

I write this in the hope that one parent who reads this will go home and talk to his or her son or daughter. All too often, those hugs that we give so freely to our children when they are small tend to come less and less the older our kids get. You may hear an "Aw, mom" or "Aw, dad," but the extra hugs and kisses will be worth more than any present you can ever buy.

I also write this with the hope that one teenager will read this and talk to his or her mom or dad, or even girlfriend or boyfriend. As teenagers we feel invincible: We feel the world is ours for the taking, that things like pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases can't happen to us.

Every hour, in this country alone, one out of every 100 women who finds out she is pregnant is under the age of 17. It is up to each sexually active teenager to learn to protect herself or himself.

Take it from someone who has been there. Abstinence is the best policy, but if you are going to have sex, be smart about it. If you are taking adult actions, then you are old enough to take on adult responsibilities. Being a parent is not temporary. The title "mom" or "dad" stays with you forever.

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