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Young woman talking to son at home

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Alisa Hyman is a freelance writer who lives just outside of Washington DC in Maryland with her 16-year-old son. She got pregnant while in college and feared that her motherly instinct wouldn’t kick in because she never wanted to have children. Here, Hyman shares the story of how she eventually fell in love with her son while giving herself space to be an imperfect mom.

It was the Christmas break of my sophomore year of college when I found out I was pregnant. My immediate reaction was, I need to figure out how to terminate this pregnancy because I’m not going through with this. I was 19 and very immature. I never wanted kids — certainly not at 19 — so my first instinct was to end the pregnancy before other people found out about it so I could move on with my life.

I told my son’s father about the baby and he immediately began telling everybody we knew. The truth is I ended up having my son because I was too embarrassed to all of a sudden not be pregnant anymore. I felt pressure as he went through the whole “I’ll be there for you” spiel. He cried and told me, “This is my first child. I promise I’ll always take care of y’all. I want to be the dad that he deserves.” He begged me not to terminate the pregnancy and I think that’s why he started telling people. He knew that I wasn’t a very forward thinker. I didn’t want people to think badly of me and I did a lot of stuff to satisfy other people at that age so he used that to his advantage.

In the early stages of my pregnancy I stopped calling home. My parents and I have always been close, so they knew something was going on. One day I walked over to student support services and when I told the guidance counselor what was going on she picked up her phone and said, “I want you to call your parents right now!” My father was actually already on his way to the school and I didn’t even know it. He knew something was going on so he was about an hour away from my school when I called and told him I was pregnant. He drove the rest of the way to my campus, we talked for a little while, and then he went back home and told my mom. She was pissed. My mother is the scary one. She drove down to campus and had a conversation with Mike [my son’s father]. According to her, he wasn’t going to be the standup guy he promised. She also told me there was no judgment if I didn’t want to go through with the pregnancy. But when I told her I was going to have the baby she said, “Well I’m only paying for four years of college and that’s the end of it.” I believed her. She said, ”Michael seems great, but let’s just say he’s not going to be there the way he says. If you don’t have a degree, you’re not going to be able to take care of this child.”

It was those words that kept me focused, that kept me going, even after one of my professors failed me while I was pregnant. I was missing a lot of classes due to morning sickness and she told me, “If I let you use this baby as an excuse now you will use this baby as an excuse your entire life.” That was such a learning experience for me. I loved my professor for that in the end because that was my first real wake up call. I was always spoiled and needed everyone to coddle and take care of me. She was the first person to hear my excuses and basically say, “I don’t know what to tell you.”

After that, I threw myself into the academics of pregnancy. I walked and I ate really well. I talked to the baby. I did all the stuff I thought I was supposed to do while pregnant. The blessing is I didn’t spend all nine months of the pregnancy being resentful and angry because I believed that would have affected my son’s development. I did what I was supposed to do and I figured that the love everybody talks about having for their growing child would happen eventually. I waited my entire pregnancy but that love never came.

When I gave birth, I thought my son was cute and squishy. I worked with the lactation specialist and tried to nurse. I was dutiful and did what I felt like a mom would, but neither my desire to be a parent, nor my love for my child came right away. Everybody else was ecstatic, however, showering me and my baby with love. I, on the other hand, felt guilty because of all the magazines I read featured stories with women who would say motherhood is the best thing that ever happened to them. You hear about these moms who are overjoyed and so full of love and I didn’t feel any of that. I felt like I was broken.

The strangest thing happened the day I got home from the hospital and everyone else was gone. My son and I were the only two people in my apartment, and when I woke up he was making this weird noise. I walked into his room and he was grunting like he was getting ready to cry. Instead, he farted. It was the loudest, most obnoxious fart and it scared him to the point that he actually started crying. As crazy as it sounds, that was the moment I fell in love with him. My son scared himself by passing gas and I cracked up laughing. He was hysterical so I picked him up and calmed him down. I remember sitting in the rocking chair with him looking up at me in that moment and thinking, It’s just gonna be me and you, and we’re going to do this life thing no matter who else is around us.

Today, I can say for sure my son is exactly the teenager I need. I know when I birthed him, God knew that this was the child I would need 16 years from then. I don’t want to say he’s my best friend, but we have a great relationship. He’s my homie. My son and I talk about everything, he understands me, he’s helpful, he’s a sweetheart, he’s extremely compassionate, and he has a heart for people. He’s just a really dope kid. My child’s father is one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known, but he’s not a responsible adult and I had to learn and accept that. I was really angry and resentful for a long time, but eventually, he got married and I adore his wife so now we all have a good relationship.

We spend a lot of time looking at other people to be our example of what we parenthood is. In turn, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we think parenting looks a certain way and if we do it wrong our kids are going to be ruined. We feel so much societal pressure to follow behind some ideal of what motherhood should be, but a lot of the images we see about parenting are just not real. Being a parent is hard, and while it may be rewarding and fun sometimes, we should be kind to ourselves when it gets difficult. Society says you have to dote on your child and love on them at all times, but sometimes it’s okay to say, “I’m going upstairs, I’m closing my door, you just need to give me a minute.” We have to be okay with that because as a mom you can really deplete every energy reserve you have and how good are we to our children when we don’t have anything left to give? We should be kinder to ourselves as moms; I know my pregnancy would have been a lot easier if I had been kinder to myself.

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