Nobody Knows

When I found out that I was pregnant, I panicked about many things. I panicked about telling my parents, I panicked about telling the biological father, A. I panicked about what choice I would make; abortion, parenting or adoption. And being a teen, I panicked about telling my friends. I knew, since at this time most of them were Mormon or LDS, that I would end up losing most of them. But even though I knew, I didn’t really grasp that concept.

I didn’t really understand what it’s like to be the girl wearing her proverbial “sin” on the outside. I truly didn’t know just how mean, and cruel people could be. I was shown that judgment is much easier to harness and execute then kindness or empathy.

A friend, via Facebook, posted this link about a pregnant teen who was forced to stand up and announce her pregnancy during a school assembly. Nothing like a helpful dose of sheer humiliation to get a point across, right? Color me jaded, but I did roll my eyes as I read the piece.  Not at the girl, of course, but at the unnecessary reaction to another teen pregnancy. I quipped that those commenting truly had no idea how what it’s like to be an unwed teenage mother. It hasn’t changed in 10 years and I sadly say, that I would be surprised if this conversation was not occurring still, in another 10 years. I often talk about the burning judgment I get as a mother now, but it is nothing compared to intensity of other’s self-righteous indignation when you are the “girl who got knocked up”.  Everyone has determined that they know better than you. Of course, nothing will ever top the knowing feeling you get when you see fingers pointing, and people sharing a secret on your behalf. I spent many evenings alone, reading, writing, or organizing my room. In my time of need, many people, family included, completely cast me aside.

When news originally broke of my pregnancy, people who were my supposed friends showed their true colors. They spread rumors, and gossip. Within days, everyone knew, and really, how could they not? A girl was pregnant, and she wasn’t married, it was the very definition of Mormon scandal. At one point, I walked into a conversation, awkwardly with one of the girls animatedly describing my “condition”. As I spoke to the group of women she had been entertaining, she stared at her feet, and refused to look at me directly during the rest of that interaction. This girl went on to never speak to me again; a girl who I went to school with, had gym class with, had joked with and called my friend. No longer did I or my belly fit into her perfect world, and my sin had erased all memory of our friendship.

If that was the only time in my pregnancy I would experience harsh rejection, I would have laughed it off. It was not, and almost daily, I dealt with some form of moral judgment being slung at me as though I was unaware of the underhanded insults that often accompanied the “advice”. Most of the time, I ignored and let it all slide off my back. Reactions from others were comedic, others were pathetic. I would laugh with my roommates when they overheard a so called friend discussing how they were horrified that I had “allowed” myself to become pregnant; the same friend who knew I had been on birth control. I would smirk when I would see old friends in the mall, know they saw me, and watch as they’d turn quickly on their heel and run in the other direction. One family, who had never taken any interest in me before, invited me over for dinner, asked me pointed questions about my pregnancy; later in the week, everything I said was common knowledge in our church community. All of it was very juvenile and laughter was the only way I could deal with the majority of it. The other option was to fall apart, and I didn’t have the emotional energy to allow other people’s issues impact me that greatly- I had bigger fish to fry.  I knew I was the leper, a social pariah of sorts. I was 17, involved in a very fundamentalist type religion, and pregnant. No one had any idea how to wrap their head around me, and the pregnancy. I was everything they warned against and yet, there I was in the flesh.  I knew that; I knew I was not supposed to be pregnant, and every day, I would have to remind myself, “You are pregnant”. Even the girl who was pregnant struggled to wrap her head around it.  The difference was, I had to deal with it, head on. They could dance around me, and the whole situation, as if I was on display for their enjoyment or disgust.

However, it all hit an amazing wall, one that was both insulting, degrading and ridiculous.

One evening, I had attended a young adult evening (a type of youth group, but for the older group). They would be watching a movie and eating popcorn. My roommates had all but forced me to come. I had protested, saying that I would stay home and enjoy the quiet house. They refused that idea.  Afterall, I was just Danielle to them, the girl who was funny, liked to read, craved a lot of carbs, could come out of the bathroom smiling after puking, and loved to rock out to Ben Folds. To them I was more, they looked past the belly, and saw the girl. Eventually, I was off the couch, out of my comfy sweats and dressed ready to go.

I wore a black sweatshirt, and my favorite jeans, on purpose. My belly, at 5 months, was still concealed. I really, truly did not want to draw any attention to myself. I just wanted to enjoy being out in public for a couple of hours. For all intents and purposes, the night had been vanilla at best, neutral and mostly fun. There wasn’t anything scandalous. I spoke to only a handful of people, and left almost immediately after the movie was finished. I figured despite my hesitation, that it had been a success.

Let me make this clear: I did nothing wrong. I did not speak a word of my pregnancy, I did not talk about sex, or having sex, or being in a sexual relationship. I did not perform any acts pertaining to the aforementioned items.

On the following Sunday, the Bishop (the Mormon version of a preacher or pastor) approached me. He asked me how I was, with a kind smile that I had seen often over the last couple of months. He went on to tell me he had an important matter to discuss with me. Before I could say a word, he went on to tell me that I should refrain from attending young adult events because of my pregnancy, and that my presence at the function on Friday had offended some in attendance. It was in my best interest to “lay low” until I had the baby, he advised.

Shocked, I nodded. He walked away, and I processed his words. Offended? Stay away? Was I being banished? What had I done wrong? I felt my heart begin to race. My dad looked at me, as if he was waiting for me to break. but still silent about what he’d witnessed. The break was coming. My eyes darted around the room, and I deliberated on what exit would find me the closest bathroom, as my anxiety rushed through my veins. With no hesitation, the tears began to stream down my face. With as much dignity as I could gather, I ran out of the meeting space as fast as my legs could take me.

I sat in the woman’s bathroom for the duration of church, sobbing, listening to my intakes of breath bounce of the cold, green walls. I cried until my eyes were swollen shut. I cried as I drove home to my house. I cried as I recalled the story for my concerned roommates. And then I cried myself to sleep.

The next day, I woke up, and I was resolute. I could shake this off, but I knew there would be girls who wouldn’t be able to have the same resiliency that I had learned as a result of my abusive childhood. I’d mastered the art of breaking down, and picking myself back up in record time. I set about making phone calls to church officials and set up meetings so I could get my message across:

Just because you can see what I did “wrong” does not give you the right to treat me like I am a terrible, no good, unworthy person. I am welcome any place I please, and this pregnancy does not give anyone a free pass to treat me like shit.

I came to learn, that I had offended no one, save one person, in a supposed leadership role. She was “concerned” that my presence would give people the wrong idea. When I was told that, I actually cackled, and hysterically laughed before saying candidly, “No, I’m the right message, and more of an example that corroborates church doctrine regarding chastity”. My message was sent up the line to higher up individuals, and it was explicitly discussed that no one was to ever behave like that again. Hands were slapped, though no one ever apologized to me directly. I took it as a win, because we all know, no one likes getting into trouble for being a jerk. I just wanted to know that no one would ever think that treating another person so undesirably was necessary.

In the end, I survived it all. All of the comments, all of the criticisms, I accepted it, bounced it off, wrote about it, or laughed at it. Did it leave some wounds? Of course; how can something like that not have a residual impact? Yet, I managed to come out swinging, when I finally came out of the fog.

My main fear, and complaint during that time, has still not left me, unfortunately.

All of those who treated me poorly, the one who was telling the story about my “condition” to the one who took offense to my minute presence? They were all women. Women terrorizing other women, sometimes hiding behind men, allowing them to do their dirty work.

This is a pattern that I’ve witnessed numerous times over the last 10 years.  It’s become a pissing contest of sorts to make other women feel like they are the scum of the earth for their decisions, or experiences. We stand around, and wag our fingers as if we know better. We refuse to look at the whole story, or see the bigger picture. When our raised eyebrows and pursed lips leave no impact, we hold up our picket signs, and protest against the woman. Sometimes we do it indirectly, other times we all but tell them of their screw ups and rub their supposed wrong doings in their face. When that doesn’t work, we resort to backstabbing, silent and not so silent insults, and petty, damaging gossip. Instead of offering our hands in comfort, we stand at the ready, eager to pounce and chew away at the next woman, in a hope to feel better about our own imperfections and flaws. That can be the only reason we do it, I’ve concluded. The other option is ugly and leaves us painted as a cold-hearted, vindictive, brutal gender. As a feminist and more importantly as a woman, I cannot and will not accept that.

So, I ask what greater purpose does this judgment and petty behavior serve? We end up facing off against each other. It allows men like the Rush Limbaughs of the world to continue to say derogatory and hateful, untrue things about our gender. We take thousands of steps backward when we talk down to other women for their choices, or try to force our opinions, thoughts, moralities, and beliefs on them, instead of celebrating our differences. Our inherent, beautiful differences. Why should we care about what the men are saying when we can’t seem to stop running our own judgmental mouths about each other? We need to stop all of the madness in regard to our interaction with each other, so we can take men like him to task. As long as there are women who get off on breaking other women down with differing viewpoints from their own, the brutal rhetoric will continue.

I learned many things while I was pregnant with The Kiddo, some lessons have come much later on in life. The biggest lesson I learned was that often, we have no idea what the reality is for someone else. Which in my humble opinion, leaves no room for any of us to be judging another person. No one knew that according to the safe sex rules, I had played by all the rules; and if they did know, they ignored that tidbit. No one knew how my parents were treating me poorly as I smiled my best smile, and dressed the part. No one knew that I often spent many nights crying into my pillow, hoping for some reprieve from the pain I was feeling. No one knew how utterly lonely I felt, or how I practiced what I would do or say when I had to hand The Kiddo over to his adoptive parents. No one knew because, they weren’t living my life, they weren’t in my head, and ultimately:

They weren’t me.

Louis Armstrong figured that out long before I arrived on this planet, it seems…

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen;

Nobody knows my sorrow.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…

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10 thoughts on “Nobody Knows

  1. What a great post, thank you for sharing.
    I’ve often wondered why women judge each other so harshly and why we can’t seem to come to grips and fully embrace sisterhood, loving and supporting and not judging each other.

  2. I love how you handled this, and that you have been able to bounce back. It is so hypocritical of people to act as though one person is a worse sinner than another just because the results of that act are impossible to hide. We absolutely should support each other, and if you don’t agree with something then find an area you do agree on and put all the focus there. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Danielle,
    I read this last night and let it sink in. Your experience and mine in the LDS culture are so similar, but 10 years apart. Which state did you live in? I was in California? I was also asked to not be part of the young women’s program and told that since I was making adult decisions that I needed to go to the Relief Society now. I didn’t fight it though. Interestingly enough there was atleast 2 other girls making “adult decisions” but I got caught by becoming pregnant. Our actions were the same but I was bad about birth control. My thinking was I sinned and now I had to pay the price. My price was not having my friends any longer, not being able to socialize with them.

    1. I am actually in Canada! I was technically young enough for YW’s still, but because I had graduated from high school, I could go to the YA wards. I was told, originally, that I could attend wherever I felt comfortable. I tried a little of both but felt more comfortable in a family ward for actual church. I attended dances until I was around 3 months pregnant, and occasionally attended Institute when the urge struck. The girl who “tattled” was the YA Relief Society; and in any other circumstances, I believe she should have been removed for such an attitude. She stayed in the role for quite some time too, from what I understand. I was appalled at the way they felt they could purposely ostracize me based on me being “caught” in the “sin”. If they treated everyone like that, they’d have no members, honestly.

      I also bowed down and took the “consequence” to a degree. The me now would have gone ahead and continued to go, if only to prove a point. However, I was quite fragile for a number of reasons, and wanted to deal with as little drama as I could. The workers with LDSFS were actually appalled that I had been treated as such and a lot of the reason the higher ups get brought in was because the worker I dealt with also worked in Calgary, where you could attend wherever you wished, no questions asked.

      You lost a lot of friends too? All of the girls I had been friends with in high school no longer spoke to me, with the exception of one or two. The more I look at this scenario, I wonder if adoptions within the LDS church would be prevalent if girls like us were friended and supported rather then treated with such distaste.

      1. How could adoption be prevelant when we are supported and encouraged? How could adoption be prevelant if every woman that was considering placing were given all of the facts? How could adoption be prevelant if we could see the obstacles being removed? I feel as if my whole support group was taken away. I did feel like I lost some friends because of the pregnancy. I know some of my friends weren’t allowed to hng out with me any longer either. I didn’t have to be sent away to a home because I was already ostracized.

      2. It’s true, so true.

        I’ve noticed that the birthmothers of the scoop era have a more tangible ‘story’ then those relinquished in the modern post closed adoption era. They were obviously abused- they were sent away, treated atrociously in those homes, and completely disregarded as human. Their stories are cold, and disgusting; painting a harsh story of an era we’re obiviously eager to forget (though we should not). Then you have those of us, who were not sent away, but abused by family, by our religious figures. Information was still withheld from us, we were groomed to be “birthmothers”, and manipulated through the subculture of our religion; one that was meant to support and encourage us. I know I was coerced into my adoption through insidious means, even though I was not sent away. They did everything they could to make sure I knew I was a sinner, and to make it impossible for me to thrive as a single parent if I decided to keep my child.
        |

  4. I’m a woman and I am LDS and reading this post made me hang my head in shame for the despicable acts that we are capable of in these groups. I have no idea why women or Mormons do that kind of sh*t to each other. There is nothing nurturing or Christlike about it. Also just wanted to note that I bet that the chick in the YA ward that was “offended” by your presence was making the same “adult decisions” and seeing you made her realize her charade of chastity could easily come crashing down on her.

    1. I never did find out “why” she was offended. A lot of people took offense in some form to my pregnancy in the LDS community. For some it was the unfamiliar, for some it was the obvious fact that I was clearing having or had sex. I chalked a lot of the awkwardness from others to inability to understand, but it still stung.

      It by no means defines the religion, but apparently this behavior is commonplace in the LDS community, which is opposite of what they “stand” for in their church doctrine.

  5. My sister in law was LDS, and when she was 15 she got pregnant by a ‘throwaway’ boyfriend (the ‘badboy’ that she was rebelling with). She’d never intended to stay with him, or even date him longer than a month or so. But she got pregnant, and her family forced her to marry him. By 17 she had 2 children by him, and he was finally in jail for drugs and for abusing her. Her family (and the Church) insisted she couldn’t divorce him, or leave him in any way. Thankfully, she did both. She married my step brother at 25, and they have 2 more kids now.

    But if she’s stayed with her ex as her family insisted, she’d be dead at his hands- and her family could ‘mourn’ her death as a martyr to that holy wedlock.

    But it’s not just the LDS church. It’s Catholicism, Baptists and Evangelicals. It’s people who put their reputations above the feelings of others. And it happens in all religions (that I can think of) and even non-religious families too. It’s shameful when women aren’t allowed the freedom to be the sole decision makers regarding their sexuality.

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