Not your typical teenage life.
It was Friday morning, first period, and I was in my science class, just like a typical kid in a typical high-school science room. I'm sure you can picture it -- the little plants sprouting in Styrofoam cups, the usual charts and posters on the walls, the teacher asking us if we'd done our homework. Just a normal moment in the life of a teenager.
But then the loudspeaker on the wall squawked: Jamie Rush, report to the nursery!
It was another reminder that, no, I wasn't a normal high-school kid. I was a teenage mom attending an alternative school with built-in day care. I excused myself from class and hurried to the nursery, where the attendant met me at the door. "You forgot to leave your son's diapers!" she told me, scowling. I confessed that I had left them at home and asked if I could borrow a few from someone else. She said okay, but then she shook her head at me as if to say, "Careless kids!"
Such moments -- and there were lots of them that year -- made me realize how out of place I felt in high school after my son was born. I graduated last June, thank goodness, and have been working as a clerk in a local toy store ever since. Still, I can't ignore the fact that my life is really weird compared with the lives of most kids my age.
Everything changed for me in tenth grade, the night of the school play. I was 15. This guy and I were just friends, but that night, he asked me to go for a walk with him. He grabbed my hand, and we started heading to the stadium. He kept stopping to kiss me and tell me how pretty I was. I was nervous, but I was also flattered. I had been feeling so self-conscious about my looks. (I know -- it's lame.)
Anyway, one thing led to another . . .
My mom and I are very close, so the following week, I told her about what had happened. I couldn't keep it a secret -- I was so scared I was pregnant. I just had this feeling that something was going on inside me. She said we'd just wait and see what happened.
A few weeks later, I took a home pregnancy test, and it showed a very faint pink line. I yelled for my mom, and later that day, we were at the doctor's office. The doctor did a blood test, then came back, lowered his glasses and said, "Positive," in a stern voice.
My mom and I just looked at each other -- nervous and numb. I could tell my mother was disappointed, but she wasn't mad. I think that's because she had my older brother when she was only 17, and he turned out great. Anyway, after the shock wore off, both of us felt a little nervous but excited. We never even considered an abortion; my mom and I are both pro-life. And adoption was out of the question; I couldn't imagine giving my baby away.
From the start, I wanted to be a good mom and decided to teach myself everything I could about pregnancy and child rearing. I looked at a bunch of pregnancy Websites and learned all about how babies develop. I read lots of books, took my prenatal vitamins, and went to all my checkups. I tried to eat well, although I also used being pregnant as an excuse to treat myself to lots of fast food. After all, I was eating for two!
My pregnancy was considered high risk because I was only 15, but it turned out to be pretty easy. Except for the birth part. Whoa! That really hurt! After 19 hours of labor, though, Tyler Dominic Rush was finally born. He had a full head of black hair and gorgeous blue eyes. He was beautiful, healthy, and he was mine.
I couldn't wait to leave the hospital, but the second we got home, I froze. It was like, "Oh, no! I have a baby! What do I do now?" I never felt more like a little kid. With lots of help from my mom, though, I gradually figured out how to hold him, feed him, and bathe him. We set up a beautiful bedroom for him -- decorated with a Winnie-the-Pooh theme -- but he slept with me every night for the first five months.
My relationship with the father pretty much ended when I told him I was going to have the baby. He never really came around to the idea of being a dad. He's stayed out of the picture, and since we aren't really on good terms, I think it's best that way. I don't know what will happen in the future. Right now, I don't want to think about it.
With lots of understanding and support.
My parents have been great. I help pay for some of Tyler's stuff, but basically, they're supporting both of us. My mom babysits when I'm at work. She's terrific with him, almost too good. Some nights, I'll put him down, and he'll fuss nonstop. I'll try so hard to get him to stop crying -- and then Mom comes along and quiets him down in half a second. I have to admit it: That makes me feel bad. The whole situation has been harder for my dad. He wasn't planning on living with a baby again, and he gets annoyed sometimes. But he's really wonderful about everything and completely supportive in every way.
I don't have much of a social life. I can't relate to my old friends anymore: the things they talk about, the clothes they wear, the parties. I still have my Eminem posters in my room, but instead of staying up late listening to music or talking on the phone, I go to bed at 8:30 so I can get up at 6 a.m. with Tyler.
I plan to go back to school and will probably take some classes at the community college someday. But right now, Tyler is my life. I'm crazy about him. At 15 months, he's starting to talk, and he knows so many words. He says "Mama," "Mamaw" (that's what he calls my mom), "bye-bye," "hi," and "no-Ty" (for "no, Tyler" when he does something wrong).
He can wave bye-bye, clap his hands, and point at what he wants. He's starting to pick out his clothes by opening the drawer and pulling out a shirt. He knows how to Velcro his shoes too! I'm just so proud of him. I love buying him stuff: I get a 25 percent discount from the toy store I work in. Woo hoo!
Tyler's a good little boy most of the time, but like any toddler, he has his moments. When he cries in public, I really cringe, because I feel under a lot of pressure to be a perfect mom. If he acts up, or if he falls over and bumps his head, I always think people are looking at me as if to say, "It's because you're a teenager."
In truth, though, I think I'm a great mom, and I know that my son is crazy about me. I definitely don't want to promote teen pregnancy; believe me, it's not easy at all. But I truly believe that having Tyler has made me into a better person. And I'd like the world to know that teenage moms can be every bit as caring, loving, and perfect or imperfect as any other mother. We're parents too, and we're just like other parents -- only a little bit younger and with a little bit more to learn.
Copyright © 2004 Debra Immergut. Reprinted with permission of Parents magazine February 2004 issue.