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…