The Impact of Words

Some time ago, I wrote a piece directed at my mother. It was inspired because she had been proclaiming to my family and others that I was a slut as a teenager. Even in my adult years, my own mother was still happy to call me a slut if it meant justifying her behavior. I’ve since taken the piece down for a number of reasons mostly because it was a exceptionally long winded rant that could have been better articulated.

When I was a teenager, I was sexually active. I won’t dress it up or sugar coat it. I lost my virginity at a young age, and while I don’t regret it, I do wonder if I should have been a little less energetic to move to make that choice. However, I was in a relationship with a person who I cared deeply for, and we felt that it was something we wanted to share together, safely. After we broke up, any other sexual partners I had were always people I knew, and cared for. I spent the time making sure I was routinely tested, was on birth control, and made sure that I knew my partner’s sexual history. In short, I was responsible with my sexual activity.

None of my maturity regarding my sexual health matter to my mother. The Mormon church advocates for strict “purity”, and the act of having sex before marriage is considered as heinous as murder. There was no room for discussion in my home regarding my changing body, my sexual curiosity, or my basic questions regarding relationships and sex. When I admitted to my parents that I had indeed had sexual intercourse, an all out war began. It opened up the floodgates for insults that my mother justified based on church doctrine. Often, I found myself dealing with self-loathing because of the rhetoric that I was being dealt at home. All of my worth as a human being was suddenly balancing on the fact that I had sex before marriage.

When I became pregnant with The Kiddo, my mother told me point blank that my pregnancy was God’s way of punishing me for having sex before marriage. According to her, I was too stupid to listen to reason, and as a result, God knocked me up to teach me some greater lesson. Her insults didn’t end there. For much of my pregnancy, she insulted me sexually. I was a “whore”. I was a “slut”. I was “that girl who couldn’t keep her legs shut”.  During a time when I needed and deserved to have a supportive, caring mother to help me through one of the toughest ordeals of my life, I was instead treated to a woman mad with indignant self-righteousness. She simply valued her reputation in the church more than she valued unconditionally loving her own daughter. This was proven greatly when she threatened to with hold any and all family contact if I decided to parent my baby.

I was never asking for her to celebrate this teen pregnancy. As a parent now, I can understand the disappointment you’d feel if your child wound up pregnant before a time that was ideal. However, I can’t fathom ever behaving in the manner that she did. I can’t understand the idea that you could blackmail your own child with the retraction of your love if they don’t do what you say. There is no way for me to make sense of the idea that a loving mother would repeatedly insult her own daughter. Worst of all? I can’t imagine behaving in such a depraved manner, and never thinking that a genuine apology was owed.

When my brother went on to have issues with his sexuality, I became the scapegoat. I had led the way, it was my example that he was following, according to my parents. Except, that he wasn’t. Where he was reckless in his sexual decisions, I hadn’t been. Where I had gone out of my way to make sure I was healthy sexually, he didn’t even know how birth control actually worked. I wasn’t engaging in sexual behavior recklessly or thoughtlessly, but my brother was. He had/has no sexual boundaries whatsoever. None of this mattered to my parents, because blaming my unexpected pregnancy on his sexual deviance was a far easier reach for them. It couldn’t simply be the fact that they didn’t allow him to take sexual education class. It couldn’t be that their method of obedience at all costs wasn’t working. It couldn’t even be the fact that he was making all of these poor choices all on his own. In their minds, it was, it was me, the slut (according to my own mother) who had led him down this path.

There has consistently been this cyclical system of blaming everyone else for the actions of their children. Instead of taking the time to reflect on the possibility that they may have added to the behavior, or that simply, in my case, an accident, they have decided to blame everyone else, and act as though they are the victims. Personally, I don’t blame my parents for the stance they took on sex; abstinence is taught explicitly by many religions, not just Mormonism. I don’t blame them for the unexpected pregnancy. I do, however, blame them for using said pregnancy as a reason to refuse to act like parents. Instead of parenting, they chose to be religious fanatics, who would have happily stoned their own daughter. They refused to have discussions surrounding all of my options, instead falling prey to their own church. It’s unforgivable in my mind, the abuse they threw at me through the time of my pregnancy, and even after. They had the ability to parent me, they had the ability to ask hard questions, but they simply refused because their religious dogma told them they shouldn’t.

The damage my parents did by not being my parents during my pregnancy has been lasting. There was a removal of trust. I became frightened of them, emotionally. I wasn’t eager to pursue a relationship with them. My pregnancy was not a greater lesson from a petty God, nor was the pregnancy itself foreordained so my child could go to another family. I resented my parents for not only supplying this idea, but giving it wings to fly. This idea that this Mormon God was this mean spirited caused a great deal of inner turmoil both emotionally and spiritually. Most of all, this rhetoric ultimately played a defining factor in damaging our relationship as a family.

There is a long list of things that I didn’t know or wasn’t told about the big picture of adoption. Where I used to be angry at my parents for their behavior, I just feel incredibly sad for them. They were (and still are) so wrapped up in their religion that they didn’t have the clarity of mind to ask the right questions. They didn’t even ponder the long term rammifications of the adoption, on both myself, themselves, and The Kiddo. They just accepted, blindly, that their church was doing the right thing, because they have been conditioned to never question church authority. As a result, they lost out on their first grandchild, and subsequently, their inaction caused a great riff between themselves and their daughter.

My family is welcome to proclaim from the highest mountain that I’m a slut. I’m not angry about it now; I know the truth, and I’m old enough that I don’t have to explain myself over and over again. However, underneath all their self-righteous proclamations, I wonder if their are projecting their own hurt, their own anger, and their own regret regarding the situation. It’s often easier when we’ve made mistakes to place the blame on others instead of taking a hard look at our own actions. In the Mormon church, many members are happier in their own echo chamber, preaching to the choir, and receiving “answers” that solidify their actions. It’s hard for many to step out of that box, and re-evaluate their personal role in tough situations, because it may mean that they have to admit that they were wrong.

And, my parents are/were wrong. I wasn’t a slut. My pregnancy wasn’t some sign from god, or some attempt at mediation from a higher power. It was the result of failing contraception, and I wish that when I had been pregnant, that less time had been spent on lecturing me on how I was being punished by a petty god. I wish that instead of insults and coldness, my parents opted to take that journey with me, and help me make the right decision instead of passing me off to their church. I wish they had the wisdom to understand that their action and inaction then, would have a resounding impact on the future.

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5 thoughts on “The Impact of Words

  1. It’s interesting that in a post where you discuss the impact of words that you would use language to support the idea that children having sex is acceptable. (I gather this particularly when you say you don’t regret it, or when you push that you were in a committed relationship.)

    I am not religious and I am not proposing that sex is only okay within marriage– but it IS only something that should be shared amongst consenting ADULTS. People who are old enough to have sex are old enough to no longer need to be parented. The consequences of sex, as you well know, can be huge and life altering. It’s irresponsible, I think, to not acknowledge that your behavior was wrong because you were simply not old enough and mature enough to engage in it, regardless of the commitedness of your relationship or your birth control method.

    That said, I know that it’s also unrealistic to expect all teens to not have sex, and I completely agree with you that your parents failed you in a huge way by not parenting you through your unplanned pregnancy. I’m sorry they failed you. No child deserves to be let down like that.

    Still, I think that now that you’re on the other side and have the benefit of maturity and hindsight, you might choose your message more carefully to be a better example that teens are simply not ready for sex.

    1. I’m not sure if your intent was to come across condescending, but it definitely has. So I apologize if my response is blunt.

      I believe sex should be between two consenting partners. You say adults; for arguments sake, I was 17 when I became pregnant, in a committed, consensual relationship. I don’t buy into the idea that when you come of age (which varies by country) that suddenly sex is appropriate. Maturity has a lot to do with the act, although many people (including adults) don’t understand this. Exploring your sexuality, even in your teen years, is perfectly healthy and natural. I think it’s important to stress the responsibility that comes along with it, and possible repercussions. But by no means do I believe I was a “child”. I had gone above and beyond to make sure that I was educated about my sexual activity, and I was unfortunate in the case that birth control failed me.

      I am absolutely not ashamed of my sexual history. I have no reason to be. True, I learned some tough lessons (emotionally) because of this, though I am remarkably glad I did have those experiences because they helped me in the future. But none of the partners I had were a mistake. I was aware of my actions, and eager to educate, and protect myself. I would hope that if I was as backward in discussing sex as parents were that I would be pleased my daughter found resources to educate herself and keep herself safe.

      My parents failed by pressuring me to make “choices” that were fuelled by religious dogma and not by education. They failed me by psychologically abusing me during my pregnancy. They failed me by refusing to remain parents during a time in my life where I needed support. I didn’t necessarily need them to “parent” me, but I need the loving support of two person who are supposed to love their child unconditionally.

      I personally don’t believe in shaming teens regarding sex. And I don’t appreciate strangers who come here, obviously have read very little of my story and tell me that I should have the “maturity” to know teens shouldn’t be having sex. Like I said before, there are adults who shouldn’t be having sex and yet, by your definition, due to age, that’s irrelevant. I think there is much more to the conversation than “just don’t have sex” and I think we, as adults, only serve to divide ourselves from the upcoming generations of teens when we aren’t willing to discuss the actuality of sexuality. Meaning, teens have sex. So no, I don’t buy into your beliefs, because my experiences have taught me otherwise.

  2. This is so incredibly brave (and I’m sure cathartic) for you to write. Ignore the above comment and dismiss it as being the blatant condescension that it is.

    My folks were not as beholden to religious dogma – they were more concerned with maintaining appearances within our extended family and to the outside world. I was sent 3000 miles away to live with extended family and have my child. It was strongly suggested I place him for adoption, which I did. And although it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I can honestly say it was the best choice for me and for him at the time. I feel very lucky that my relationship with my son and his family as well as with the birthfather and his family have only gotten stronger as the years have gone by (it’s been 25 years).
    I, too, was 17 when I had my son. Out-of-wedlock sex and pregnancy was a huge stigma. It was shameful and it was something to be hidden and not discussed. This wreaked havoc on me well into my 20s and 30s and ultimately seeped into my marriage and my parenting abilities when I became a mom for the 2nd and 3rd times in 2004 and 2011. Low self-esteem + secret-keeping + lies + not showing feelings or emotions = depression and trust issues. Many therapists later I’ve finally reached a place where I’m comfortable in my own skin – as a wife, mother, birthmother and as a woman.

    Your story is so amazing. I am so sorry for all you’ve had to go through. But I thank you for sharing in such a public way. Take care.

    x

  3. You can blame everyone else all you’d like– I’m not saying the behavior of your family and church wasn’t reprehensible– but the bulk of the blame lies with YOU. It was YOUR pregnancy, which came about by YOUR choice to have sex before YOU were prepared to deal with the consequences.

    I’m not sure how old you are now, but it’s telling of your maturity that you still don’t take responsibility for your role in the situation. It’s a lot easier to play victim, I suppose, and continue to defend that you were old/smart/mature enough to have sex, but somehow, the consequences of that is everyone else’s fault.

    1. Excuse me? Where did I say that I blamed anyone else for my pregnancy? Please, tell me where I said, “It’s X’s fault I became pregnant.” Because, the only blame I lay is the fact that birth control failed (something I say so other people know this happens).

      I was prepared to deal with the consequences, again, I’m not sure where you got the idea that I wasn’t. You are clearly not reading anything I’m writing, nor are you understanding what I’m even talking about in terms of how I was treated. I’m blaming those around me who failed to support me. I’m blaming the people who took away my choices as a woman.

      If you aren’t going to be able to apply some reading comprehension while reading my blog, please refrain from commenting. Insulting my maturity level when you aren’t actually reading what I’m saying? Totally pathetic. White Knighting your abstinence cause on a blog because OMG, someone doesn’t agree with shaming teenagers out of having sex? Annoying. Take your cause and your judgment elsewhere.

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