Allison Crews was a fierce activist, advocate, and queer teen mama. She passed away in June of 2005 at the age of 22, but her words and her inspiration live on.
When I was Garbage
by Allison Crews
Last year, when I was in 10th grade, I skipped a week of school. I was too scared, too humiliated, too sick and weak to leave my house. A week away from school earned me two weeks of “in-school suspension.” Ten full school days I had to sit in a boxed-in desk, in a 6-by-20-foot room. Yellowing posters of needles and bottles of beer proclaiming “JUST SAY NO!” hung crookedly on the walls. I was allowed to go to the bathroom only twice daily, for 15 minutes. When you are five weeks pregnant, 30 minutes a day is hardly adequate for throwing up.
I sat at my desk, 15 years old, failing in school, pregnant, sick and terrified. I sat at my desk, rubbing my still-flat stomach and clenching my jaw tightly to hold down my vomit. “Two more hours and I can throw up,” I reassured myself. I replayed the moment of truth in my mind millions of times during those two weeks. The moment I saw the second line appear on the pregnancy test stick. POSITIVE. POSITIVE. POSITIVE. But from that moment on, I wasn’t positive about anything. Except the fact that I needed desperately to vomit. I wrote furiously in my blue velvet covered journal, tearing the pages with my Hello Kitty pen and smearing the ink with my tears. Fantasies of virgin-white wedding dresses and sponge painted nurseries unfolded on those blank pages, in the brief moments after bathroom breaks, when my fears were purged and flushed away. Incoherent poems and pessimistic single line entries poured out during the rest of the long days. Many pages read only “NO!” in bold letters, traced over and over, the impressions appearing on the next several pages.
I remembered facts I had learned as a freshman in “sex-education” about teenage pregnancy. Teenage mothers are a burden to society. The children of teenage mothers inevitably become crack-addicted gang members. Teenage mothers never successfully complete high school, let alone attend college. These weren’t just statistics, I was led to believe, but invariable truths. I had become garbage, worthy only to sit in my isolated desk and cry to myself and throw up in a dirty bathroom stall. I was a pregnant teenage girl.
After my two weeks of suspension, I forced my pregnancy to hide in the depths of my mind. Thoughts of my future and of becoming a mother all but disappeared, forced to linger with memories of childhood and homework assignments. It was forgotten. My boyfriend and three friends who knew of my pregnancy assumed I would abort. I was not the type of girl who becomes a mother. Months began to pass, and the only sign of pregnancy were my swollen breasts and an infrequent fluttering in my belly. These signs, undetectable to anyone but myself, dredged up the fears that I thought I had buried so well. I was actually pregnant, I began to realize again, more clearly than I had since those two weeks I had spent in isolation, with only my thoughts and my morning sickness. I continued to hide my pregnancy, even as it became more and more obvious.
School was dismissed during my sixteenth week of pregnancy. My boyfriend and I were engaged in another vicious, mud-slinging fight. He threw the lowest blow. At the time I was so enraged and angry that I could not imagine a more evil act being committed. He told my parents I was pregnant. I realize now what an amazing thing he did for me, although his intent at the time was only to cause me pain. My pregnancy was real. Not only to me, but also to my parents, to my sister, to my relatives, to my newly appointed obstetrician. I was having a baby. There was no turning back. I watched a fuzzy little worm of a baby dance across a television screen, as I lay on a long sheet of wax paper, my stomach exposed and covered in chilled jelly. This was what had been causing me to vomit. This was what had been causing me to outgrow every bra I owned. This was what had caused me so much heartbreak and pain those first few weeks. What appeared to be a hand raised up, next to what appeared to be a head. “Hello mommy!” my 60-something year old OB said in a squeaky voice that I assumed was supposed to be a baby’s. “I’m a baby boy.” I realized then that this little worm that had caused my life to turn upside down in a matter of weeks was no worm at all. He was my son.
It was assumed my son would be given up for adoption, just as a few weeks earlier it had been assumed he would be aborted. I am not sure who made this decision. But it was not me. I wanted to be a good mother. My beautiful, fuzzy black and white son, who swam inside of me like a fish, deserved only the best. No mother under that magical age of 18 could provide that, and, being that I was only 15, I would have to let somebody else raise him. That was the ‘right’ thing to do. My boyfriend and I met with a lovely couple. A very rich, childless couple. While I enjoyed their company at dinner, and definitely enjoyed the food that they bought for me, I did not want them to be the parents of my son. I wanted my boyfriend and I to be his parents. We WERE his parents. The boyfriend and I left dinner that night, walking ahead of the lovely couple and my parents.
“We can call your lawyer and work out the rest of the details this week,” my mom cooed to the lovely wife.
“I guess we made our decision,” my boyfriend whispered. I was trapped.
I did call the lawyer, we did work out details. I cried myself to sleep every night for the next four months, staining my navy blue pillowcases. I wanted desperately to be a mother, not simply a baby machine for such a lovely couple. The lovely wife, I learned one night after Lamaze class, was pregnant. Relief flooded my swelling body. ‘I can keep my baby!’ I silently rejoiced. ‘I have diapers to buy, clothes to wash, car seats to find, nursing bras and slings to sew!’
“We still want to adopt though. You know our history of miscarriage.”
‘Oh well. I guess I can’t keep my baby after all.’ I was deflated.
Sure enough, the lovely wife miscarried at 12 weeks. She called me nightly, crying and thanking me for giving her my son. I was, she told me, the only thing that kept her from giving up on life. My son and me. “OUR baby” became his name while she talked to me on the phone. She gave me weekly reports of how the nursery was coming along (complete with a 2,000 dollar classic Pooh mural, which I am sure would make a world of difference to a newborn), the hundreds of dollars they were spending on clothes, how excited their family was, and how much they loved “our baby” already. The hole got deeper. I couldn’t crawl, scratch or shovel my way out. By law in California, birth mothers must meet with an ‘adoption facilitator.’ This mediator ‘counsels’ you and explains the process of adoption too you. I repeatedly told her,over the course of two months “Lisa, I don’t want to do this! I want my baby!”
“Well, I want to take a cruise to the Bahamas. But if I took a cruise to the Bahamas, I wouldn’t have money left for rent or food. Sometimes what we want isn’t what is best.”
Oh, yes, babies and cruises are so similar! How could I have been so blind? I later learned that adoption facilitators, while required by the state, are not employed by the state. Prospective adoptive parents employ adoption facilitators. At the time, I wasn’t aware of this. I believed this woman. I was selfish to want to raise my son. How could I be so selfish? (She did use the word “selfish”). Pregnant teens are garbage. Once the baby is born, the mother becomes even smellier garbage, dependent on her parents and society’s tax dollars to support her children. I had to do something to hoist my son above the metaphorical garbage bin. I had to give him to this lovely couple; they were not garbage, like I was.
I grew during those weeks, not only physically (60 pounds!) but emotionally and spiritually. I meditated, prayed, screamed, cried, slept, wrote, read and thought. I realized I was more capable than I was being led to believe. I made my decision, 38 weeks into my pregnancy. I informed my boyfriend of this decision. “I am keeping the baby. I don’t care what anyone says or feels. I WILL NOT lose my son. They want any baby, and I only want mine!” My boyfriend and I were going to tell my parents the next evening at dinner. I fell asleep quickly, not sobbing into my pillow like I had grown used to doing during those pain and growth-filled three months. I was keeping my baby.
I woke up to go to the bathroom that night at around 2 a.m. As I waddled to the bathroom, I looked down the hallway and saw my boyfriend typing away at the computer, talking to some stranger on the internet, like he usually did while staying the night. Then came the gush. “JOHN! MY WATER BROKE!” I panted, attempting to jog down the hallway. Then came the pain. “JOHN! I AM HAVING CONTRACTIONS ALREADY! It wasn’t like this in the Lamaze videos! The women in those never got contractions so fast- there must be something wrong with me! I gripped the edge of my kitchen counter, and watched the clock on the microwave. Six minutes apart, the orange numbers informed me. I stayed calm, just like I had planned. I packed my bag, brushed my teeth, wrote e-mails to all of my pregnant friends online, wrote in my journal and cried. I forced my mom to drive me to the hospital at 5:15 am. She didn’t believe I was really in labor, but still told me “OK, I will call the lovely couple and let them know to start driving down.” She said this in the middle of a contraction.
“NO! DON’T YOU PICK UP THAT #%@!ING PHONE! THIS IS MY BABY. GOT IT?”
She told me we would “Talk about it after the baby came.”
The baby came at 8:02 a.m., November 20, 1998. My labor was natural, painful, and beautiful. I held my tiny infant son in my shaking arms, tears running off of my face and on to his still purple hands. He was so much more than I could have dreamed, so much more than a fuzzy little worm ultrasound baby. He spent three days in oxygen as a result of inhaled amniotic fluid. I was terrified of the lovely couple stealing my new son from the nursery, so I woke every hour to walk quickly and quietly down the hall, into the nursery, to see if he was still there.
He was. I checked the machines he was hooked up to, making sure his oxygen saturation levels and heart and breathing rates were what the nurses expected them to be. They were. I would pad down the hallway, back into my room, rubbing my soft, wrinkled tummy and pull out my new breast pump. I pumped and pumped, watched TV, and imagined that it was my tiny baby extracting milk from my breasts. I had an abundance of precious golden milk that only a mother could make. That is what I was.
My father told the lovely couple that I decided to keep my son. The lovely husband cursed at him, cursed my boyfriend, told my father I was a piece of trash and hung up. The lovely wife called a few days after I brought the baby home to say that she did not hate us. She also said that when I “changed my mind and things got too hard,” I could always call them to adopt him. We never spoke again.
Cade Mackenzie is now a happy 24-pound, 8-month-old. He sleeps in my bed, and is happiest when he is nursing, watching Teletubbies, or listening to Bob Marley. I am not a burden to society, my son is not a burden on me. I have received the “Teen Mom Look” from anonymous strangers more times than I can count, but have learned not to be offended but to turn the other way and hold my son even tighter to my chest. I am graduating a semester early, and attend a wonderful homeschool program, which allows me to spend my days at home, raising my son. And contrary to what fear-based sex education classes, lovely couples and wonderful counselors had led me to believe in the past, contrary to what I had written so many times in my blue velvet covered journal, I am not garbage. I am a mother. I may not have blown out 18 candles on a birthday cake, but I am an excellent mother.