"Teen mom" was one of the most popular TV shows,10 years ago, amongst my peers.
I was 19 with a toddler.
Watching an episode of that show was like being called by a famous director after they got hands on your deeply moving autobiography [called STUCK ON PAUSE] and said "I LOVE it...but just a few tweaks....."
"We have a $500 budget for the season.
And GOOD NEWS, we casted KIM K as the lead.
She ALREADY said K."
When I reflected on my own struggles and hardships as an abuse victim and teen mother, I envisioned MERYL uttering the last ink on the chapter of my future. And in my fantasy, she was divine.
That show, for me, was trash.
A garbage example of what it was like.
And worse, "The Secret Life of the American Teen" was its opposer.
I was more Lorelei Gilmore than Farah.
Small town. Stupid boys. Accidents. Betrayal. Cut to independent woman with bff mother daughter bond.
I got told countless times "I don't know how you do it."
I also had MANY girls come to me over the years to confide in me about the pregnancy test in their purse. Spent times talking to girls I never knew prior or never even met, face to face, via internet.
Because I was OUT and STABLE as a teen mom, girls looked to me for support. Advice. Aid.
And while that was beautiful and special, it was also so problematic.
Girls would rather confide in a fellow survivor than their loved ones.
Girls already KNEW their situation meant they needed to prepare for a harsh winter.
Being a pregnant teen was not like "will Bobby still ask me to prom even though he keeps making eyes with Melanie?"
It was more like "5 colleges in the entire Eastern side of the United States have family housing [permit a child on campus]. Only five. If I work 60 hours a week and save X amount for the flight, I will have exactly 86 weeks left until I can arrive in VIRGINIA. Arrive.".
That is 84736256383 miles away from the restraining ordered and abusive partner than abandoned me and i have 68 days to leave before he can file a petition against me leaving.
But being a teen mom also looked like:
Giggling and blowing bubbles with my wobbly toddler on the green grass of the football field next to the daycare building between my Psych class and Dance class every wednesday [true story].
Bringing bella to club, having her sit in a corner under the table with coloring books that the leadership Advisor brought every week in a little bucket, especially for her. [Also, true story].
Bella attending night class [a 3 hour long lecture course on pregnancy and midwifery] and not even making a peep and then being carried out in a blanket at 9pm when it was over, smiles and awwws coming from peers who had no clue a little person dwelled in the back right of the stadium style seats in a Country wide known, waitlisted Professors' course [truth].
Teen motherhood was often fun. Sweet. Calm.
She was my little best friend. I took her everywhere. Not just "because I had to".
I wanted to bring her to my classes. To the cafeteria. To rally's and events. To the campus wide Strawberry festival--->better believe we played hookie on those big days.
Having bella was the biggest joy of my life and everything else came second.
Being SINGLE was amazing.
Never sharing her.
Never worrying how anyone else will want to spend OUR time.
I grew up and she grew up. Simultaneously.
We knew more beach days and mall days than she could count or I could list because it was free and local. So we did it.
To fit in. To feel normal.
To see Santa from the sidelines.
To sign up for Godiva club just to get one sweet taste test per month [truffle sundays were also a staple truth].
We made the gosh darn best out of everything.
Visited stop and shop to "pick a pumpkin" and walked the local farm stand [ probably 400 sq ft] to experience farm culture.
Bella even got to take the train into NYC multiple times with me. We would walk aimlessly and explore without limits or curfews.
I expanded and she expanded. Simultaneously.
Thanks to local libraries, free museums, local farmers markets, and campus strolls to the duck pond. Even to work.
My kid even came to work.
And was treated like a princess.
Now I know TV is made to be dramatic. It is entertaining right?
It was entertaining for my peers to watch teenagers abuse one another, cry their eyes out on camera over heart break, exploit their children and make uneducated decisions about contraception and irresponsible legal decisions in their co-parenting situations.
My peers watched teen moms on TV but would not ask me if I wanted to be joined for lunch in the cafeteria.
They could never just ask me what it was like. Or even smile about it.
My peers made me think we were at a funeral when I said "17" in response to their "how old are you" when staring at my kid.
Wondering if I was the babysitter. Or a sister.
Instead of just saying "she's cute."
The AMAZING people who did ask me to eat lunch, walk to class, or even hung out with me AND my baby were a godsend.
They literally saved my life.
Because in the hardest of times I just felt alone. Isolated. Confined by the name "teen mom".
I will never watch that show. But I do read books about other teen moms.
One book brought me to tears as I read it 5 times over.
MAYA ANGELOU. Another "teen mom" for the books.
That is who I listen to. Who I honor.
And many other women who have talked about the TRUTH behind being a young mother.
And have validated the journey. The dualities. The simultaneous growth of two beings connected not just by responsibility but friendship.
J.S. Jaded Savior
Jean Soto, mother of 3 and wife, is a writer + artist in the Hudson Valley, NY community.
Content mention of Rape, Abuse, Neglect, Addictions, Mental Illness, Kidnap, Molestation, Child abuse, Teen Pregnancy, Abortion, birth, body image, gender/identity dysphoria, sexuality, personal trauma, domestic violence and other extremely personal stories. Please practice caution. I am not a licensed physician or mental health professional. No medical prescribing is provided on this site, Only personal insights, experience stories, and advice; All stories published have had prior authorization. Questions? Contact Jean at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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