Leading up to Christmas, I want to share with you FIVE GIFTS of LIFE. These are five real stories of local women who fell pregnant young, outside of their plans, and made good anyway. Each Friday between now and Christmas, I’ll publish another. Here’s the first, Rachel:
The night of Rachel’s 16th birthday was the first she slept rough on a park bench in Launceston.
It was winter.
None of her family called.
Her boyfriend said she was a “Slut!” and pushed her out the door.
Sweet 16, it was not.
Rachel slept rough for a week before she started exchanging sex for a place to sleep. How did it get this bad?
Rachel is sunken into an oversized armchair and she shifts her weight to ease the pressure of her 29-weeks-pregnant belly. She flashes the sparkliest smile you’ve ever seen. Really, how can she be this happy, this radiant?
“I moved to Tasmania when I was eight, when my parents started having trouble in their relationship and they wanted a fresh start. But it all went downhill from there,” she says.
“They fought all the time and separated when I was 12. Mum took off with my older brother and I stayed with dad and my younger brother.”
She pauses, spreading her hand across her stomach, smiling.
“A kick?” I ask.
“I felt so much pressure. I just wanted everyone to be happy. I was worrying about everyone around me and that’s kinda hard for a 12-year-old. That time shaped me,” she says.
“I taught myself to smoke when I was 14. I waited till dad was at work and stole a packet of his cigarettes and just sat there in the backyard and smoked the whole thing until I could do it properly!”
Her first boyfriend was part of this crowd, part of the downward spiral.
“I lost my virginity to him at a party, in the passenger seat of a car. I was pressured and so drunk, I passed out straight afterwards. I wasn’t raped, but I did regret it afterwards, especially because there were people taking photos of it happening. Somewhere out there, there are photos of me.”
Her smile is grim.
“My story’s not a particularly happy one,” she says, apologetically, as if she feels sorry for the person hearing it. She says it with joy too, so much joy that it prompts the question: Your story’s not happy, but why are you so happy now?
“I’ve got so much going for me that I can’t not be happy now!”
Life back then was about the ride. Stealing alcohol from parents, staying out late, getting drunk, getting in cars with random guys. When Rachel’s dad started a new relationship with a “controlling, all-round horrible person”, home was no longer a safe place.
“We had absolutely no freedom and I felt trapped. I wasn’t allowed to stay half an hour after school let alone go out at night,” she says.
She moved out, first to a homeless shelter and then couch-surfing with anyone who would have her, often in exchange for intimacy.
“I was never pressured into anything but I felt like that’s what was expected of me. I feel used. I let myself into that situation where I was never anything more to anyone than the easy lay.”
Rachel was 15 when her mum returned and took her in, rescuing her, at least for a time, from her own destructive behaviour. She managed to focus on school again until, in year nine, the pull of her old habits was too strong. She started smoking pot and left home. Then, along came Marty: popular, good-looking, the guy all the girls wanted. And he took an interest in Rachel, if only for the sex.
“He ruined my self-esteem and confidence. He was emotionally abusive but he’d be so sweet to me in private and I thought, oh well, the good times outweigh the bad, and I let it go on. My whole world was about him, and I smoked weed to cope.”
This was the boyfriend who turned Rachel out on the night of her sweet sixteenth to experience her first night sleeping rough. Descending to such a lows, both physically and emotionally, eventually gave Rachel the wake-up call she needed to seek help and start making good life choices. She started seeing a social worker who helped her quit drugs and get back to school.
What happened next might be considered another spiral. But the way Rachel tells this part of her story suggests otherwise.
She met Jason at school and four months later, fell pregnant with Chloe who is now three. Rachel was still 16.
“I kept her because I don’t believe in abortion, I never have. I grew up believing that a life was precious. Every life to me is really important. I’ve always been against taking a life.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you where that came from. It was my decisions that led me to get pregnant and I felt like, if I was silly enough to get pregnant in the first place, then I’ve got to deal with the consequences. I have nothing against people who have abortions, I’m really pro-choice, but I would never be able to do it. I’m a really emotional person and I just knew that if I had an abortion I would regret it and I’d let the guilt eat away at me for the rest of my life.”
Rachel moved in with Jason and his family and finished school – with Chloe born during Year 11.
“I’m really, really lucky. I have all these amazing people in my life now and I can look back and see how I went wrong. I got to such a low point. It was horrible, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone but it kind of made me who I am, how I view the world,” Rachel explains.
“Since then I’ve just been rebuilding relationships and looking after Chloe.”
And preparing for the new addition to their family.
*All names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
Are you facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy?
Before making a decision, why not check out some of these sites where you’ll find information, understanding and support.
Babymum Australia: for mothers under the age of 21.
Not Born Yet: for women grappling with a tough decision.