The American dream: get a job, live in your own house, and start a family. Work might not be glamorous, but the people are decent and it pays the bills. The house is like the one you see on TV: white picket fence with a sprawling green lawn. When the children come along, you’ll be prepared. The baby’s room will be done up in soft colors and the shelves lined with every possible guidebook on parenting.
But life has a different agenda. The order gets scrambled.
When I got pregnant, I had just graduated from high school and was on my way to college. Now I come from a fairly traditional Asian-American household; my mother was the typical Chinese tiger mom who wanted me—above all else—to make money. So that generally meant a lot of “go be a doctor” or “go be a lawyer,” which I think many of my fellow peers will have heard growing up too. So no pressure. Right.
At eighteen, you’ve barely stopped being a kid yourself. How do you even begin to comprehend the possibility of bringing someone into the world? Terror plagued me. Logic would say the timing was no good, but other factors were in play. I had gotten pregnant, but didn’t even know until a considerable time had passed. I was also living across the country in Washington with my boyfriend and his family—far away from my own home in New York. My boyfriend already informed me that he wouldn’t support me or the baby should I choose to keep it. Abuse that doesn’t manifest physically still has the same damaging power. It’s almost impossible to end that cycle yourself, but having this baby—something that utterly repulsed my boyfriend—became my salvation in the strangest of manners possible.
My time in Washington isn’t a period I like to think about. It’s like the memories are hidden away in a little ship that I sent sailing. Yet they still hover on the horizon. I was alone. I was terrified. My boyfriend possessed a control over me that I didn’t know how to break. I was so scared that I would literally lose my entire world if I didn’t obey him. And obeying him in this instance meant getting rid of the baby.
So we drive to the clinic. During the entire car ride I keep imagining my escape, wishing I could just fly away. Misgivings claw at every fiber of my being, but I can’t let him down, right? Suddenly there’s paperwork being filled out, and my body won’t stop shaking. Do I really want to do this? I really, really don’t want to. My clothes change and I pause at the threshold of a dim room where the only light comes from over the operating table. I turn around to look at my boyfriend, and he’s sat there. Casually. Snap back to the room and I catch sight of the surgical tools, and my heart plunges. My body won’t stop shaking. I lie down and the doctor enters.
Holy shit, it’s about to happen.
She pulls on a glove. All uncertainty vanishes. Oh my God, I can’t do it. I start bawling hysterically.
“I don’t want to do this.”
“Why are you here then?”
“If I don’t get this done, he’s going to kill me.”
Everything was jumbled. After finding out I was pregnant, my boyfriend immediately pressured me to do the right thing. I asked for a week to get a grasp on my emotions, but I knew already from the start that I couldn’t do what he wanted. Either the baby died, or I did. That’s how it felt at least.
When I step out of that room, my boyfriend looks happy, surprised at how quickly it went. His face completely changes when he finds out I’m still pregnant.
I ask him, “Is it okay if we eat first?”
I want to feed the baby one more time. The ball was in my court, technically, since it was my choice that would change everything. So he tries to appease me. We go to a Mexican restaurant and I can’t eat the whole time. The doubts fade. I know what I have to do for myself, for this baby, but I can’t face him just yet. I see a scratch off machine and I propose a bargain. If we pool all our money on hand and win over $1,000, we’d keep the baby. Again, he goes along to appease me. By the end we’re down $180 and back to square one. He thinks I’m on the same page as him, that these games are just to make me feel better.
“Everything is temporary. If you don’t have the baby, it’s just going to be temporary pain and it’s going to go away.”
How can anyone say that? How can anyone say that about someone else’s body, someone else’s feelings? When we return to the clinic, I see the same doctor again. This time I don’t change my clothes. I’ll remember her following words for the rest of my life:
When your mind says something and your heart says something else, you have to meet them halfway—and there’s your answer.
I can’t stop crying because I’m afraid for my life, because what’s right for me will drive my boyfriend crazy. And while I’m sobbing, she starts signing papers. Then she tells me to leave the room. I’m dumbstruck.
She finally says to me, “I’m the doctor and right now I cannot perform a surgery on someone emotionally unstable.”
And in a moment that passes so quickly that I’m still not sure if it happened, she winks at me.
I don’t remember her name, but it was the biggest gift anyone could have given me.
My boyfriend knows already, when I step out of the room, that I didn’t go through with the abortion. He yells at me the entire car ride back home, purposefully stomping on the breaks so I get carsick.
“I’m gonna give you another week to make the right decision,” he declares.
We don’t speak at all for the next week while I continue my daily routine: cooking, cleaning, work—rewind, hit play. I lived in my own little room and every day he’d come home from work and ask just one line, “What are you going to decide?”
I think I’m gonna keep the baby. I think I’m gonna keep the baby.
After the week passes, he asks me one last time and a little voice in me screams, “I don’t know how many more times you need to ask me, but I’m going to keep this baby.”
I’m going to keep this baby.
He tells me not to talk to him until I get back to New York. The following day, as normal, he drives me to work and we pass the mailbox and I think of my dad who’s been sending me small letters or news articles that are relevant to me every day.
“I need to see if my dad sent anything,” I say.
“What the fuck did I tell you about speaking to me before going back to New York?”
Something in me snaps. For all the years he cheated on me, for all the years he’d been abusive to me, for all the years that he tried to control me, my fury erupted. I couldn’t—could not—allow this person to have any more power over me. I realized in that moment that the happiness and welfare of my child—my own happiness—outweighed my need to make him happy. I wasn’t alone. That strength gave me the courage to walk away.
So I unbuckle my seatbelt and jump out the car while on the highway, turning to walk in the opposite direction.
I haven’t stopped to look back since.
That day is one of my strongest memories, and I still can’t talk about it without the emotion choking my voice. When you have something in life that you really want, it becomes your purpose—it becomes greater than anything else. Especially making the decision to become a mother, whether you’re fifteen or thirty-five. David has brought me a lot of stress, but he’s also brought me a lot more happiness that can’t be measured.
I always say I was fortunate in my experience as a single mother because I had the most amazing support system. Many single mothers have to go through it entirely alone. While I didn’t have a partner helping out with the bills or serving as another parental figure to David, my own parents juggled numerous roles in helping me and my son. We’re not the typical “nuclear” family unit, but I guess we’re imperfectly perfect.
Families push us for better or worse. I faced a whole new set of challenges upon returning to New York. My mother would not condone the possibility of her daughter’s peers graduating from college without her. So after nine months of breastfeeding David and basically being a stay at home mom, I went back to school. From the moment I returned to New York, I worked twelve hour shifts for six days a week right before I popped so I could save up enough money for college, for David. And that was when life hit another slight curveball. College is really expensive. I attended school full time, worked, took care of David, rinse, repeat. It was exhausting. And the culture shock took some getting used to. In high school, teachers at least pretended to care about you. In college, you really have to fend for yourself.
That’s my main takeaway for teen parents. It’s a lot of work. A lot of work. You will sacrifice a lot because you have to be responsible for a whole other human being. I will say that it never mattered to me, though. I cared and loved this little baby so much before I even met him that I knew whatever the hardships, we’d be okay. My relationship with my ex was one of the most traumatic experiences I ever had, but I feel like everything is a blessing in disguise because I got David in the end. If it were me and him against the world, I knew we’d be just fine.