Seattle, WA

I Selfishly Kept My Daughter at 18

Modern Parent

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“I have found it helpful to think of my life as if it were a game in which each problem I face is a puzzle I need to solve. By solving the puzzle, I get a gem in the form of a principle that helps me avoid the same sort of problem in the future….all sort of emotions come to me while I am playing and those emotions can either help me or hurt me.” — Ray Dalio, Principals.

When I first found out I was pregnant at 17, I thought my entire world was collapsing.

Sitting in a Wal-Mart bathroom stall, staring in disbelief at a big, pink + sign, all my hopes and dreams for my life seemed to vanish into thin air.

If it weren’t for the fact that I hadn’t had a period in over 65 days, I would have clung to the hope that the test was a false positive. Knowing without a doubt that I was pregnant, I threw the test in the trash and hurried back to my car. I had seven hours of a ballet intensive ahead of me, and I suddenly just wanted to take a nap.

For the next few weeks, I kept the news limited to myself and a few of my closest friends as I ruminated over what to do.

I secretly prayed that my situation would take care of itself in a miscarriage. I even contemplated throwing myself down the stairs.

When full-blown panic set in, I went to Planned Parenthood to speak with a counselor about my options. I knew I didn’t want an abortion. I just wanted a way out. I wanted someone, anyone, to tell me this was not the end of the world and that it would all go away.

But when the counselor handed me a paper describing the procedure to terminate my pregnancy, I felt sick inside.

I knew I couldn’t go through with it. I asked her about adoption, but she shook her head and said, “we can only offer you an abortion.”

As I walked out of the clinic, hoping I wouldn’t encounter my own mother picketing outside as she frequently did, I went back to my car and cried alone.

Over the next week, I slipped into a momentary state of denial that this couldn’t be happening to me. I felt like there was no way out of my situation without massive pain, guilt, and shame. Instead of dealing with it, I pretended my pregnancy didn’t exist.

I buried my head under the blankets for days, frozen with anxiety and fear over what I was going to do; I did not want to face my parents with the news.

One morning a few weeks before my senior year of high school started, I was sitting at the breakfast bar, staring into my cereal. As my mother came behind me, I got the feeling she was going to ask me a question I did not want to answer.

Sliding her arm around my shoulders, she asked me, “Liz, are you pregnant?”

I knew at that moment that she already knew.

I couldn’t pretend anymore.

I immediately broke down in tears, nodding in confession.

Even though I had grown up watching my mother be actively involved in the pro-life community, I was still surprised when she hugged me, smoothed my hair, and reassured me that everything would be okay.

She said “a baby is a gift,” though at the time I thought she was nuts to consider my pregnancy a gift.

However, when my mother told my father about my pregnancy, he screamed at me, “Congratulations! You just ruined your life.”

Hurt and ashamed, I flew out of the house and got in my VW ’96 Passat, gunning out of the driveway in second gear as fast as I could to the comfort of my best friend’s house for a few days.

Though my dad got over his anger and eventually came to love and adore my daughter, I ruined my life, slipped into my subconscious, and played on a loop for years, clouding the lens of my view on life.

Though I decided I would continue with my pregnancy no matter how hard it was, I was still adamant that I did not want to be a teen mom. During my second trimester, I picked out the “perfect” family for my baby. The mother had dark hair, loved strawberries and grapefruit-like I did, and loved Math, unlike myself. She was a teacher and had three sons with light brown hair and bright blue eyes.

I loved the idea of my daughter having older brothers close to her age who would look out for her. Even more so, I wanted my baby to grow up in a stable home with two parents who were financially secure and could give her everything she needed.

Being pregnant at a Catholic high school was not what I had envisioned for my senior year.

I gritted my teeth and bore the stares and whispers.

I refused to shop at Motherhood Maternity and continued to squeeze myself into Abercrombie polo shirts and khakis, and Charlotte Russe dresses for as long as I could.

I watched almost every one of my “besties” slowly slip away from me as they, understandably, chose to party their senior year rather than sit on the couch and eat take-out with their very pregnant classmate.

The cat was already out of the bag everywhere I went. I clung to the little normalcy I could find, and so I continued taking ballet classes in a tight leotard well into my sixth month. Every time another ballerina’s eyes lingered on my belly or covered her mouth to whisper something to her friend at the barre, I felt a twinge of shame and told myself it would only make me a little tougher.

As my senior year approached its last few months, I did my best to ignore the increasingly tight space between myself and the desks.

When my breasts started leaking in the middle of my AP Literature class, I quickly covered them with a sweater and pretended nothing happened, hoping no one else saw my soaked shirt.

I set my focus on maintaining my straight A’s and spent hours studying hard for my AP anatomy and physiology class (the hardest class in the school) to still graduate with high honors and then go on to college as most of my siblings had.

In retrospect, the months flew by fast, but at the time, it felt like time ticked on slowly in juxtaposition with my swelling belly.

When Haleigh was finally born, the doctor placed her on my belly. Even though the name on her hospital bracelet was BUFA, baby, up for adoption, I had told the doctor I wanted to see and hold her when she was born.

I was shocked when her bright blue eyes collided with mine and how wide awake she seemed. She wasn’t screaming as I had always thought newborn babies did.

In that moment when our eyes met, I felt a surge of love for her that had been almost absent during my pregnancy. Her eyes seem to pierce right through mine, as if to say “I know your voice, I know who you are — you’re my mom.”
Suddenly, the hesitations I had stuffed down about giving her to an adoptive family surfaced in full force. Was I making the right choice to give her away?

I remembered a silent wager I had made with God a few weeks before going into labor, where I prayed that if I delivered the baby before I met the adoptive parents, that would be a sign I was to keep her.

The memory of a quiet promise I had made in confusion quickly became almost too much for me to bear.

When my dad came to see us in the hospital, I could see tears welling in his eyes when he saw my baby; he loved her too.

The rest of the day, my room was flooded with visitors.

I hadn’t planned on so many people coming to visit us; friends from school, friends of my parents, the baby’s father’s family, they all came to see Haleigh and me.

I was inundated with gifts of diapers, bottles, clothes, and even a new car seat and a stroller.

Hadn’t I made it clear that I was giving her up for adoption?

I spent the rest of the next two days sobbing uncontrollably in the jacuzzi of my delivery room. The warm, bubbling water was the only thing that brought me comfort.

I didn’t know what to do.

I still felt strongly that I did not want to be a mom, yet I didn’t think I could bear to say goodbye to Hailey either. My oldest sister even offered to adopt her so that I could still be in her life as the fun auntie. But that only made me feel worse. My sister had her hands full with three special needs children, and the thought of my baby growing up calling my sister ‘mommy’ left a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

In my final hours at the hospital, I knew I was in no condition to part with her.

So I selfishly decided to keep my daughter because she was my baby, and no one would be able to love her the way that I would because they had not gone through what I had gone through.

I knew I couldn’t give Hailey the picture-perfect, stable life like she would have had with the adoptive family.

I wasn’t married.

I didn’t have a college degree.

I didn’t have any money or even a real job other than nannying other rich people’s kids.

And worst of all, I didn’t have a plan or any idea of what I was going to do.

However, I felt like she had been a part of me. Perhaps I had watched too many Gilmore Girls episodes, but I couldn’t help but wonder if she would be the only person in my life whom I could truly love and would love me back. She had been with me in my last year of high school, and the idea of growing up alongside her was a journey I would rather take than never knowing what it was like to watch her grow up at all.

But the feeling that I had “ruined my life” still lingered in my subconscious. It was a subliminal message I couldn’t shake, no matter what I did.

“Time is like a river that carries us forward into encounters with reality that require us to make decisions. We can’t stop our movement down this river, and we can’t avoid those encounters. We can only approach them in the best possible way.” -Ray Dalio, Principals

Even after I took Haleigh home, I struggled with not wanting to be a mother, let alone a teen mom. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be with my daughter; it was that I didn’t want to face the harsh realities of being a single teen mom with so much uncertainty and loneliness ahead of me.

Subconsciously, I knew my life would be radically different, but I never came to grips with the reality that I had to change to be a good mom.

I did change, but not in the way I should have.

While on the one hand, I had decided to be a mom, on the other hand, I was always subconsciously looking for ways to escape my new reality.

In the beginning, it was little things.

I’d put the baby in a playpen while my mother was home so I could go on a burn cruise with a friend.

I’d stay out late at night on the weekends.

I’d find myself getting lost on my phone throughout the day.

I felt restless and listless, and as time went on, I felt myself really slipping emotionally.

At the time, my doctor told me I was going through post-partum depression. So I got some counseling. It did little to relieve the constant aching of loneliness and sadness.

I instead looked to external distractions, mostly online, to provide temporary relief from the reality that I was a teen mom with palpable responsibilities that rested on my shoulders.

These seemingly innocent distractions, though, quickly morphed into making choices that completely altered my life path, which ultimately led to my living an even more complicated, double life.

My emotional distancing from my daughter and everyone and everything else only worsened when I was lured into the adult industry.

My former friends were all off at college parties, and we lost touch. Facebook was relatively numismatic then, and I got daily updates in my newsfeed about everyone’s fun college life.

My willpower of doing the right thing started to evaporate when I became virtual besties with another single mom, who made it seem as though she was living her best life with loads of money and freedom.

I would confide to her my struggles with being a teen mom, and she was a great empathizer.

We would text throughout the day.

Her experience as a young, single mom in her early 20’s stood in dark contrast with mine.

While I spent my days nannying other kids who came from ‘model families’ with master's degrees and million-dollar homes and carting my infant daughter along with me, she spent her days at the spa, taking her child to shows and events, and shopping up a storm.

As our daily contact increased and our friendship blossomed, it came to light that her envious life was thanks to her lucrative career in the adult industry.

It was never my intention to follow in her footsteps. But I was envious of her beauty, her freedom, her seemingly easy life of being a single mom.

At first, it was an innocent virtual friendship.

Eventually, it morphed into a kind of mentorship for the adult industry.

I didn’t realize that I had fallen into the “wrong crowd.”

For a while, I was able to keep my double life a secret. But I had been sucked too far in. I even roped my last best friend I had at the time into joining me on my newfound path to financial freedom. It wasn’t too long, though, until my controversial career choice was exposed. I was suddenly kicked out of my parent’s upper-middle-class suburbia home and saw the cushy comfort of their support evaporate. My part-time secret summer job had unintentionally become my full-time source of income.

“You must own your reality..so many people avoid their life..the problem is avoidance is the best long term strategy to ensure suffering.. A lot of people don’t own their role fully in life, and it creates wreckage…Owning your reality means owning your role.”
— Brendon Burchard, The Four Gates to Lasting Change

My daughter is now 13 years old. Even though I have been out of the adult industry for 10 years, it left lasting memories and scars that can’t be forgotten or erased.

It changed me in ways I didn’t anticipate, and it’s had residual effects on me in more than one area of my life. Worst of all, it took precious time away from my daughter that I can’t get back. Even after I left, I spent so much time re-cooperating physically and mentally, all time and energy that was sucked away from my daughter.

After I left that industry, I tried to be a better mom to my daughter, but I failed to put the pieces of my life together.

Even though our little family eventually became a blended one a few years later, with a new baby sister and an older one, I failed at giving my daughter a stable environment with two loving, married parents like I had wanted to give her.

I dealt with so much inner baggage that I had little direction in my life. I had become jaded, and my perspective on people, on money, and life had been hardened in such a way that it bled through to virtually all areas of my life.

I operated on auto-pilot and reaction mode for a very long time, relying on medicinal crutches and distractions to fill the emptiness and pull me away from all my experiences.

It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I was diagnosed with PMDD, or pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder, an extremely amplified version of PMS, which was a huge contributing factor to so much of my emotional instability.

Even when I learned this, I still failed to face the reality of how my emotional and mental state had permeated throughout so much of my life, affecting my relationships with those around me, and worst of all, my relationship with my first daughter.

I spent so much of her childhood unable to get out of my own head — any attempt I made was distraction-driven and not an attempt to heal and grow.

And unfortunately, it was my daughter who suffered the brunt of my own self-deprecation because it trickled into all aspects of my life and my interactions with others around me.

I allowed my self-doubts, traumas, and weaknesses to take over my thoughts, and thus, my actions mirrored my mind.

There were many times I tried my hardest to pull myself out of the mental rubble, where I made dreams and plans, pursued new endeavors, and even saw some success.

Then, I’d run into my brick wall called PMDD, which sucked me right back down to my comfort zone, a dark well of puddle jumping from one project to another coupled with self-sabotage and subsequent self-hatred for another deemed failure.

During all those years hopping between distractions, self-loathing, and aspirations of a “better reality,” I lost sight of my daughter, who needed so much more of my love and attention than what I gave.

While I was mostly physically present throughout her childhood, I was mentally out to lunch.

Haleigh had always had such an independent personality that I too often left her to herself to do her homework alone, or play alone, or watch tv. At the same time, I worked on a business project or tended to her baby sister, who came to take so much of my spare time and attention when she was born.

While I was stuck inside my own head, thinking of my own loneliness and wallowing in my own self-doubt, my oldest daughter experienced her own inner troubles. She kept them inside, and I was just too busy. Her own resentment festered under the surface. I couldn’t see things from her perspective, and so our already weakened bond slowly became more fractured, unnoticed by me.

As she grew older, I became more stressed. I carried my shame and traumas with me, and I allowed my personal failures to pile on top of me like bricks instead of using them to build a solid foundation for a better reality.

Over the years, the tensions between us increased. She lashed out at me, and I said and did things I regret, coming from a place of anxiety, stress, and frustration, not from love and empathy. Before I knew it, she had become a pre-teen.

Like how it had been when I was first pregnant, the years felt slow and monotonous at first, but in hindsight now, it flew by all too fast.

Now that it’s been over a decade of being a mom and having tasted the bitterness of many mistakes, I am armed with little gems that I fondly refer to as life’s hard lessons. Lessons you can’t learn in school. Lessons that I would have rather learned without my children witnessing me go through the pains of learning those lessons, along with their experiencing some of that pain as well.

However, those experiences that have shaken my world and turned it upside down have allowed me to clearly see the areas where I went so wrong and why.

At first, and for so long, I thought my teen motherhood was a curse.

But my daughter Haleigh, was in fact, a blessing.

There are many times where I look back and think of how, if I had not kept Haileigh, I probably wouldn’t be alive today. I probably would have entered the adult industry even if I wasn’t a teen mom. Even before getting pregnant with her, I was too wild, too impulsive, too easy a target to groom. In many ways, I subconsciously didn’t have much regard for my own life or my wellbeing.

Before becoming pregnant with her, the only things I could manage to keep stable were my grades and attendance at dance classes. The rest of my time was spent partying, sleeping around, and smoking way too much marijuana. It is hard to know what my path in life would have looked like had I, not a daughter who needed me to wake up every morning to look after her. But I can make some educated guesses.

Over the years of momming, I hate to say, there were too many times where I felt like I was ready to give up on everything — but ultimately, I couldn’t. I had two girls who were so much better than I was, waiting on me to be the example.

I have two girls who love me so much, who rely on me, and still see me as the grounding force in their world.

When there are moments that I am particularly down on myself, the feeling of a warm hug from little arms around my neck, and the sweet child words of “I love you, Mommy,” or a silly joke and a good laugh from my oldest daughter, I am reminded of how fast the time has already gone, and how much of it I have missed because my mind was somewhere else. I am grounded back to reality.

Momlife.

While there is truth to the fact that I could sit here and blame my difficulty in life on teen motherhood and that I wasn’t ready to be a mom, the reality is that it was so much more than that.

I could say my life has been somewhat of a mess because I failed to focus on my future. My failure to plan what I want for my life and my children.

I could blame the fact that I didn’t get married.

I could also blame my failure to manage my time productively or be more disciplined in my schedule.

I can also blame my PMDD and allowing myself to live in a state of anxiety, stress, anger, and worry.

But blaming doesn’t fix anything, it doesn’t solve the past that can’t be changed.

Instead, I have learned to own my reality, something I have never done.

The reality is, I am a mom, and it is hard being a mom. It is hard being a teen mom, it is hard being a mom in my 30’s, and it is hard being a mom to a teen. And, it’s hard balancing being a mom and having a career, and still finding the time and space to be my own person as well.

Furthermore, it is hard having a cluster of hormonal disorders that affects the state of my emotional and mental well-being significantly, for half of the month, every month.

But those are my realities, and I am learning to be more understanding that I am not going to handle all of it perfectly.

However, now I can approach managing it all with more intention. Because my girls are getting older, and they look to me to be the example of how to handle realities in life that are challenging or unexpected.

“Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives.” — Tony Robbins

I have spent the last 13 years living with the subconscious, disempowering beliefs about my reality as a teen mom and a young mom. Had I had a different perspective, perhaps my reality would have looked different.

Sometimes, it takes one, or even several, harsh life experiences to receive a blow to your consciousness, called perspective and beliefs.

By finally owning these realities and gathering the puzzle pieces of my mistakes and all the approaches that haven’t worked, I can put those aside; I can start to put together the pieces that work and assemble the puzzle of my mom's life.

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