September 03, 2008
I'm delighted to host this guest post from AirForceWife.
The news of Sarah Palin's 17 year old daughter didn't surprise me - it was me.
Or, rather, it was me about 17 years ago last month. Seventeen years ago, in August 1991, I discovered that I was pregnant before my senior year in high school ever started. I was an honors student, I was active in multiple clubs and organizations on campus, I volunteered at the local American Legion, I babysat, I even showed horses. I was also the daughter of a City Manager, which is pretty small potatoes compared to the position Bristol Palin finds her family in. But it is enough of a connection that I feel what she is going through as if it is happening to me.
The coverage of Bristol Palin enrages me, and it hurts my heart. There are legitimate issues to discuss about teen pregnancy - the thing is, those issues are only the excuse to uncover sordid and often untrue family rumors and cast aspersions on someone - and their family - who are going through a very difficult time in their lives. I had all of those same charges leveled at me when my seventeen year old self had to go to the grocery store with my enormous belly (I've always had large children) parting the crowds before me like Moses and the Red Sea.
People that I thought were my friends, parents of friends that I respected, suddenly started treating me like a leper. Not because I was sexually active, but because I "got caught". Even though many didn't want to admit it, what I did was no different than what many of their own children did. I was just blessed (or cursed) with fertility to rival anything modern medical science can discover. And I chose to keep my baby.
The injustice of it all still hurts me today. Even now, married for a gazillion years to my soul mate (who, by the way, never stinted to tell people that he never wanted children until push came to shove and children were no longer just a possibility but a reality) it hurts me to think back and remember the people who would see me at the store and pretend they weren't seeing me because they didn't want to talk about it. I heard the whispers behind my back, about how I "should have used protection", about how "that's what she gets for sleeping around." Not a one of them were true - as a Peer Educator, I put more condoms on bananas to demonstrate to giggling sophmores correct birth control usage than I could keep track of. I knew, and I practiced what I preached. But there's a statistic on a condom for a reason - because sometimes they just don't work. And anyone who has ever seen me with my husband can't think that either of us are worried about sowing wild oats, or that he is now one of the most devoted fathers on the planet.
And even more - my family was avowedly liberal. There was no "conservative hypocrisy" going on with us. Many members of my family encouraged me to have an abortion, and were quite upset when I refused. I was ruining my life, you see. It could be "fixed", I was being stubborn.
What happened to me in a smaller town (although bigger than Wasilla!) in California, I see happening to Bristol Palin on a national scale. And in the same vein, I see the very people turning on her who claim that we need to help others. Not a one of my Peer Educator compatriots had anything to do with me after I got pregnant with my first daughter. In fact, I ended up transferring to a continuation school to get my high school diploma. It was strongly encouraged; for my "state of mind", of course.
That is the reality of teen pregnancy that doesn't end in abortion when your family is in politics. People are gleeful, and people are mean. And the very people who accuse others of being hypocrites are often the biggest hypocrites themselves.
There were people who were wonderful. They didn't approve of my situation, but it was there. It had to be dealt with. A wonderful City Council member who was an Evangelical Christian scoured the yard sales at the local base for months to find me a high chair, a car seat, baby clothes, cloth diapers. She would bring these things to me a couple times a month. When my daughter was born, she was known to us as "Grandma Joan."
The Mayor Pro-Tem and his wife, devout Catholics, bought me a beautiful bassinet with a lace covering.
My Godparents - extremely devout Catholics - called every night for two weeks before I delivered and two weeks after to check on me and make sure that I had someone to talk to. They ran a crisis pregnancy center, they weren't about to let me fall apart.
The American Legion, where I volunteered and where my mother was the Commander, pooled together to provide other items a teen mother needs and can't afford.
And my family, my family pulled together to make sure I had a place to live, breastfeeding help, someone to drive me to the hospital. And they endured the rumors, too. It was their fault, of course, according to the conventional wisdom. It was something they had done wrong. I guess it always has to be someone's fault.
Bristol Palin will succeed. What happened to her is not ideal, but she has the support and, quite frankly, the genetics, to tough it out. I did - my husband enlisted in the Army at 17 and we both paid our own way through college. We're doing well now, we're happy and I believe that we've been successful in life. And there's really nothing special or unique about us.
It was hard, but nothing worth having is easy and sometimes life throws curveballs. Bristol Palin can do it, and I'm sure she will. But I'm also sure she will always remember how people treated her when they found out that she was a statistic. She'll remember what it was like to be the topic of an entire nation as though no politician's daughter has ever had premarital sex in the history of the United States.
My first thought this morning was this, "I think I should knit Bristol Palin a baby blanket." Because, as I did, I'm sure she'll remember all the nasty things people said and did. But I'm also sure she'll remember those who treated her with humanity and kindness and tried to help. I'd like to be one of those.
Just don't call me "Grandma AFW."
Posted by: awtm at September 03, 2008 08:31 AM (EgGGv)
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