I wasn’t ready. I did not plan to get pregnant. I was completely uncertain of everything about my future — my relationship was new, my “career path” took a temporary detour, and my finances were basically nonexistent and nowhere near in order.
Four months before I took a pregnancy test and saw two distinct lines indicating a positive result, I celebrated my 21st birthday. On the night of that celebration, I fell off of a barstool and decided to stay there, lying on the floor, laughing and staring at the ceiling. I thought about my carefree immediate future — I had just quit my job and decided not to enroll in any classes for the fall semester.
I was about to embark on a cross country road trip with a young man that I knew well enough to travel with, but not well enough to even attempt to plan a future together. I imagined crossing state line after state line before finding a waitressing or bartending job and settling in somewhere in California for awhile. I was willingly lacking direction. Flat on my back on the dirty bar floor, I was thrilled at the thought of aimless, careless travel.
By the time we reached Tennessee I felt like something was a little “off,” but I assumed it was due to the constant travel and inconsistent sleep. We ran out of money as we approached the middle of Arkansas, so we decided to settle in Louisiana for awhile and find jobs and work our tails off to make money to stash away for the rest of the trip. I woke up one afternoon after working the graveyard shift as a cocktail waitress on a casino boat and went out and bought the pregnancy test.
The two lines appeared within less than a minute. I didn’t expect this to happen to me. Back then, I still blindly believed that odds would always be in my favor and that because I was “smart,” something so life-altering could never happen. I almost cried, but disbelief and shock kept me from sadness.
I assessed my options and I spoke to my sister, my mom, and a close friend. And then I sat in the sparse, humid living room of our temporary rental and made my decision.
I want to tell you about that child. That unintended child. That child that I carried in the midst of uncertainty and instability. The child that many might say it was not the “right time” for. A child that many might say I wasn’t equipped or prepared for or mature enough to raise.
The first sight of him on a pixelated ultrasound screen at a clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana poured a confusing mix of hope and anxiety into my heart. For the first time in my 21 years, I was brimming with both awe and fear. It seemed that these two feelings alternated every other minute. I had no idea how I was going to do this- how I was going to handle being a mother.
I could not picture my future with a baby in my arms whose life would become my main responsibility. I wanted to believe that “everything happens for a reason” but the truth was that the only reason that I was pregnant was because I chose to be careless and irresponsible. My youthful ignorance that conned me into believing I was exempt from life-altering consequences died swiftly when I saw evidence of his life.
The monthly, then bi-monthly, then eventual weekly trips to the clinic to confirm his health and growth seared the reality of impending overwhelming responsibility into my mind.
Watching the days (actually the minutes) tick by as his due date approached, then passed put me in a state of complete confusion. Which did I want more: for things to stay exactly the same or for my world to change forever upon his arrival? His birth occurred about a month before my 22nd birthday.
I spent most of my first year of legal drinking age pregnant and diligent about what I did/didn’t put into my body. Had another choice been made, I’d have been living it up, out til the wee hours of the morning, coming and going as I so pleased, and focused on my appropriately self-centered future.
With this baby’s arrival came absolute bewilderment. I didn’t know that the word “love” was so weak and wrong and overused until I spent my first few hours with him alone in my hospital room. I used the word “love” all my life to describe strong feelings of adoration, fondness, and attachment to others, but this feeling I had while holding this tiny boy, would make any other feeling of love I thought I had seem so insignificant compared to what took up permanent residence in my heart that day.
The English language failed to produce a word that can describe the way I feel about this child. Merely proclaiming “love” does not do justice to the way it feels when every section of your heart feels like it’s bursting with every possible wonderful feeling: elation, happiness, contentment, exuberance, delight, excitement, suspense, and hope.
The word “love” does not begin to cover the feelings of protectiveness, devotion, and loyalty. And if “love” indicates adoration, what I felt for that fragile little baby (and still feel for that boy who is now almost a man) made that word seem trivial and soft. Whenever I saw him or thought of him, my world seemed to spin more smoothly.
My feet felt more firmly planted on the ground, yet at the same time, my heart and mind soared with joy and promise at an unbelievable speed. No one told me this could happen — that a brand new helpless baby, who can’t even speak or reciprocate affection, could sweep you off your feet and make you walk with certainty and deliberate purpose.
As this unintended baby grew, the mix of all of these feelings did too. Sometimes, I wished that someone warned and prepared me for this before he was born. And at other times, I’d feel grateful that I was surprised. Being stilled with awe from unrelenting delight and devotion is indescribable. When his first brother, then his second brother arrived, this love only multiplied.
The sweet alliance these sons of mine formed as they grew together made me wonder if indeed, everything happens for a reason. I could never imagine these brothers without my first son for a single second. Their identities were carved from his precedence. Their personalities molded by his example. The bond between the three brothers is so sacred that I will dare to say it may be as sacred as the bond they each have with me.
My unintended son graduates from high school this year. He will start college in the fall. He has friends, old and new, and a girlfriend that adores him. He is full of creativity, passion, integrity, and grace. Whatever path he chooses, and through all of his mistakes and victories, he will exude these things.
In subtle and incredible ways, he will continue to cause others to be grateful and appreciative of his presence. He loves, has been loved, and will be loved by countless others as he navigates through life.
He is the beacon, the pillar, the fire and the home to my maternal heart. His arrival swung the door wide open and paved a path for his younger brothers to travel alongside of him and me, their determined young mother, holding their hands and guiding them on their journey to adulthood.
When I think about the day that I discovered that I was pregnant, I’m still amazed by how something so poorly timed and so unexpected can result in a life with such significant purpose. My unintended son is also the oldest brother, the cousin, the nephew, the grandson, and the friend that completes and comforts and delights so many people. He was never an option — he was undoubtedly meant to be.
So many memories, decisions, lessons, and plans for the future began with him. So much more lies ahead.
Every woman’s choice is hers, and hers alone. I would never imply that what I did is right for every young woman in my position. But when I look at who my choice grew to be and I watch him with awe from a distance, and when I experience his gentle and genuine kindness and witness the way his presence brings joy to others and then I try to imagine all of our lives without him, I can’t even finish the thought.
The world, as we who love him know it, would not exist without him.
This essay was originally published at xoJane. Republished with permission.