The summer that I was 19, I was living by my own rules, a wild and carefree young woman who was responsible and irresponsible sometimes in the same minute. I held a job as a nanny for a financially well-to-do family with three young children. Emotionally, they were bankrupt. There was yelling, arguing, shaming over bed-wetting, criticism of behaviors related to ADHD and in many cases lack of attention and compassion. I tried to fill in as many of these gaps as I could, my last year as a teenager. I gave hugs and praise and attention when their mother couldn’t while preoccupied with unhappiness, shopping and wine consumption. I would rarely have a week day off and recall one time calling the house to be told that the mom was taking a nap and the three year old was in the backyard pool by herself. Never very good with boundaries, I drove as fast as I could to get there and supervise. Everyone was safe. There was a lot of “overtime”. It wasn’t typical, but I once worked 90 hours in one week.
In the evenings and on weekends, I would spend time with friends, including casually dating a boy I’d adored for several years. For some reason, I thought that he would treasure me more, if I didn’t sleep with him. However, that didn’t stop me from “sleeping” with other young men. Tacky and trashy and totally inappropriate, I know. (To this day, I consider him as “the one that got away.”)My insecurity throughout out my teenager years had prompted me on several occasions, to be physically intimate in the hopes that physical love would be enough, even if I wasn’t actually loved or respected. It made my self-esteem even worse. One of these meaningless, sexual relationships was with a young man who worked for the family that I was a nanny for. He worked for the dad in his excavating business and did odd jobs around the house as a handy-man and pool boy. He was tan and handsome and older than me. I took every opportunity to flirt with him. I was young, pretty and showed enough skin to peak his interest in that backyard, near the pool.
That summer the family decided to take a trip to Lake Shasta in California. There was fun in the sun with boating, glamping in two RV’s for the 7 of us. Boys in one and girls in another. There was more flirting to cure the boredom that the evenings brought. I didn’t need to be watching for the kids and there wasn’t any boat or truck for him to drive. One fateful evening, the Mom and Dad were getting along and ended up in the same RV together. I discovered the door was locked and looked for entertainment elsewhere. We were young and dumb and it didn’t last long, but our fates were likely sealed that first night. There were a few more nights of enjoying each other’s company. Despite our major differences in upbringing, economic background and interests, I found myself attracted to him and thought maybe we would start dating when we got home. The last night of our trip, he found the guts to come clean. He said, “It’s been a fun week but I have a girlfriend back home. ” Pause… “That’s ok, ” I replied, “I have someone I am interested in too.” And that was that.
We saw each other occasionally around the family’s places but didn’t talk or hang out. I went back to “the one who got away” (who was still around) and set about winning him over. I succeeded. It was a sweet romance. I loved listening to him create masterpieces on the piano. The end of summer came and it was time for him to go back to college, I was staying behind to go to the community college. Neither of us knew then how different life was about to become for me.
Summer turned in to fall, the beginning of the college semester came and went. My dad had emergent coronary bypass surgery. I slept a lot in the waiting room at the hospital and fell asleep at a production of Rent. Something weird was going on but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I had a light period in August, I didn’t entertain the idea that I could be pregnant. But then again… I shared my symptoms with a friend of mine and bought a home pregnancy test. I took the test at her house and she looked at the test before I did. I was anxiously waiting for the three minutes to be up when about 30 seconds in she said “It’s positive.” My life ended, and began in that moment. I can’t even begin to share all the emotions I experienced in those minutes after the truth seeped into my soul. I was a pregnant teenager. A statistic. I expected that my parents would disown me. (A totally irrational fear because they aren’t those kind of people.) I was horrified and terrified and struck dumb. I don’t recall the supportive things that my friend said, but I know she helped ease my pain. We told her parents who I’d known for a long time. They encouraged me to tell my own parents. As a secret the situation would get bigger and bigger and harder to tell as time went by. The timing was terrible. My dad had just had open heart surgery and wasn’t supposed to have any stress. I don’t think any of us handled my announcement very gracefully. Both of my mothers said hurtful things that I will never forget, but they had their reasons.
There was an ugly debate about how many options I had as a pregnant 19 year old with a lame job, no career, a few college credits under my belt, who still lived at home. In my mind and heart, there were only ever two choices; parent my son or place him for adoption. I recalled in those early days the photos of aborted fetuses that my friend Elizabeth F had shared with me. It was the exposure to the reality of abortion from my early years of high school that removed the possibility that I would ever make that choice. My parents did not mean any harm or malice but suggesting abortion as an option. Their job was to raise me to be a successful member of society and had no allegiance to the tiny bundle of cells that had invaded our lives. They were very straightforward with their expectations. The one that has never left me was their requirement to get pregnancy counseling. If I was going to live under their roof and live with their support, I needed to see someone professional and impartial about making an informed decision. Week after week, month after month, I went to the Boys and Girls Aid Society and saw Barbara Buckingham Hayes. Together we made pros and cons lists. Pros to raising a child, pros to placing him for adoption. Cons of raising a child, cons of placing him for adoption.
I was able to consider the adoption option from a unique perspective. I had been an adopted child. I’d experienced the primal wound and grieved when I lost my first mom. While my adoptive parents loved me and worked very hard to give me a life with everything I needed and most of the things I wanted, something had always been missing for me. From the time I was in elementary school, I remember feeling like I didn’t fit in with my family. My personality was very different from them, at times I was volatile with dramatic mood swings. At 19, I believed that more nature would have benefitted me tremendously. To be raised by someone that could relate to the depression that I had experienced. Well meaning words but “snap out of it”, is not helpful to someone hurting that bad.
The lists I wrote were lopsided in terms of the number of items in the list. There were many more cons for placing the baby, rather than raising him. However, it wasn’t a numbers game. It was decision that came down to me feeling that there was a change that no other human being in the world could love and relate to the little human growing inside me, better than I could. A roll of the genetic dice and circumstances and he could have been nothing like me! My silly childish wanting, of believing that no one could be the person I could be in his life could have been bullshit, but it wasn’t.
I decided that I would be the person in my son, Preston’s life, that no one had been for me. (Not for lack of trying, just because of genetics and circumstances.) I felt in my bones that I could understand him like no one else would. In my dreams, he never sobbed himself to sleep believing that no one understood him. My commitment was to be his mother, to always be there for him, to love him unconditionally, to remember my hurts and dislikes from my childhood, to focus on where I felt my parents had failed me and do things differently.
Last October, on a Monday afternoon, everything from the instant he was conceived at Lake Shasta until the second he answered my phone call that day, lined up in a perfect line to put me in the position to save my son’s life. To save him from himself. The feeling in my heart that I was the right one, the only one ordained to be his mother, the mother he would need, never was more sure and true until the moment I heard him crying while his heart was breaking. I felt as if God was calling out to me “Rebecca, your time is NOW!” I answered His call.
That next part of the story will have to wait for another blog post. It deserves it’s own spotlight.
(Preston has given me permission to share parts of his story where our stories intersect. It is imperative that as a culture, a community, a nation, a world, that we END the stigma that surrounds mental health illnesses. We believe in being open and sharing our struggles so that others will know that they are not alone. God loves everyone and we are made in His image. If you or a loved one is considering taking their own life, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. 1-800-273-8255.)