What many people see when they look at me and my family today is ‘picture perfect’. I am often complimented on having four smart and hilarious little boys with a devoted husband. The funny thing is that a large part of these people didn’t know me ten years ago. That was intentional. I made it a point to put that life behind me and it has actually served me well. Ten years ago, I was an 18-yr old kid barely out of high school, homeless and pregnant.
I moved to Atlanta from Philadelphia when I was 15 in 2002, leaving behind my step-father, three brothers and my sister. My mom was going through a separation and circumstances lead her to only bring me to get away and figure out her next move. I was both devastated and excited. I always wanted to visit Atlanta, where my aunt (my mom’s twin) lived. However, the way it happened caused me to leave behind childhood friends and my own siblings.
My mom left an awesome job in Philadelphia as a Kitchen Director for a renowned senior citizens home. The residents loved her and I loved coming to visit her at work. When we arrived in Atlanta, I was immediately enrolled in the local high school and we lived with my aunt for several months. While I tried to adapt to this suburban high school, my mom worked crappy job after job in order for us to get a place of our own.
Several months later, we finally got our own apartment. My mom worked at night and was sleep during the day, so I had a LOT of freedom. As a teenager, I became somewhat of a socialite and always had people around me and it felt awesome. When my mom would go away up to a week at a time for work, I would have parties at our house — lots of sex, drugs and alcohol. When I was 17, I met a guy, 24, who was very intriguing simply for the fact that he had his own place, a job, and a car. We quickly became involved and he seemed to have really loved me – he even got a tattoo of my name prominently displayed on his chest!
By this time, my mom had grown tired of me acting like a grown up and kicked me out. I had just finished up my last year of high school and had no other choice than to move in with my boyfriend. Within a month I was pregnant. He was ecstatic because, as I mentioned, he really “loved” me. Then, we had an argument one night and he became abusive. He never actually “hit” me, but he pushed, dragged and tossed me like a rag doll – yes, while I was pregnant. I was terrified and called my estranged father. He bought me a ticket for the first flight back to Philadelphia.
My father didn’t know I was pregnant at the time. No one knew except for my ex-boyfriend who had called me incessantly since the moment I left leaving apologies on my voicemail. It became increasingly difficult to hide my pregnancy and I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. I was too young to get an abortion without adult consent – yes, I most definitely did consider it. When I was about three months pregnant and seemingly out of options, I decided to answer a call from my ex. He apologized repetitively, promised we would be a family and everything would be OK.
I returned to Atlanta. My boyfriend was very excited about starting this family, but also very worried about how to provide on his minimum wage job – as was I. He did something that landed him in jail for ten+ years and me on the street. There I was 18 years old, pregnant and homeless. I finally reached out to my mother and told her I was pregnant and needed help (leaving out the abuse part). I was surprised that she wasn’t more upset with me — perhaps she missed me or maybe even felt partly responsible, either way I was glad to have her back in my life.
She got me a job at the restaurant she was managing at the time. When we weren’t working, we were preparing for the baby — decorating the nursery, attending lamaze and parenting classes, and just hanging out. I had never felt closer to her at any point in my life. When my son was born, it was the most amazing experience ever! I wasn’t terrified or clueless as many would think. Sure, I was exhausted and frustrated at times, but the motherhood part seemed to have come naturally. I was beginning to see a bright future for me and my son until disaster struck again.
My mother lost her job. While she searched for a new job, we survived off of my government assistance. We weren’t able to pay rent and was inevitably evicted. My aunt agreed to take in my mom until she got back on her feet, but did not have the space and/or tolerance for me and my 3-month old baby. So, I bounced around, staying with friends and struggling to find a job. Then, I came across a transitional housing program for young, single mothers. They set us up in an apartment with another teen mom and her daughter. I was required to look for a job and/or attend school, learn to take care of my son on my own, and attend church.
This was the beginning of the rest of my life! After about 6 months of me being apart of this program, with very little notice, the program had to shut down due to a lack of funding. Thankfully, I had a job and decided to lease a townhome with one of the other girls from the program. I finally felt like I had a grip on life and vowed to make decisions that would never land me or my son in the mercy of others. It wasn’t easy, I still struggled, but I was determined and never gave up because my son needed me.
I married an amazing God-fearing man at the age of 22 and we now have four beautiful children. However, there were many dark times in my life where I just wanted to end it all. I often had no one to turn to but God and as you can see that was enough. I made a lot of terrible decisions, but I’m grateful for these experiences for they have made me the woman I am today. As you can imagine, my past experiences was very hard to put into words and even harder to share. My hope in sharing my story is to encourage a parent that is struggling to never give up and to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Photo by Wise Photos