Ellisse: Pregnant and Numb at 19

Name:

Ellisse Tracy

cute young mom

I got pregnant at:

19

I am now:

21

My initial reaction was...

Numbess.

People in my life reacted...

With caution. No one was sure whether or not to congratulate me and I still was undecided on whether or not I was keeping the baby when I told several people.

My biggest challenge has been...

Finding out what makes me happy instead of constantly trying to please people. Breaking out from under my parent's wing. Stress of creating a life and a career with a young child (not necessarily the stress of the workload, but just the uncertainty of everything). Finding confidence as a young mom and especially as a young mom in school. Demanding respect.

My biggest accomplishment has been...

Making the Dean's List with a newborn, finding confidence in my role as a mother, and finding confidence as a person.

I love being a young mom because...

I have energy! I have more years to spend with my daughter. I will be a young empty-nester. I am a hot mom. ;)

I struggle with:

Finding balance. Taking time to find myself and still put my daughter first. Young relationships.

I wish all young moms knew:

Everything doesn't have to go perfectly for everything to go well. You're going to be okay. It will be really hard, but hard doesn't mean bad and it will also be better than you could have imagined. Create your own path, don't try to fit into someone else's mold. It's still okay to make mistakes.

Read more from Ellise at LittleWomanBlog.

Favorite Children's Books: The Adventures of Kate and Nate

We have children's books stacked throughout our small apartment. One stack of library books over in the living room, another piling of "read these tonight" books on his bed, and several books that are read so often that they just kinda live in our space. There have been days when every table, every room (including the bathrooms) have children's books strewn around, and I can't tell you how happy that makes me.

The quality of those children's books vary. I try really hard to not be all judgy and snoodie about the books he loves — I should be happy he likes books at all, right? — but between you and me, I have to suck down a lot of internal NOs before reading yet another vapid story about the goddamn Power Rangers.

But part of that comes from the fact that I really love children's books — like, beyond the literacy thing, beyond my own nostalgia and writer heart. Kids have this unbounded imagination, this deep capacity to learn and absorb the tiniest intricacies of life. And like Kathleen Kelly said in You've Got Mail, "When you read a book as a child, it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does."

It does! There's a responsibility there. It's important.

So when I mentioned maybe featuring some of my favorite children's books that I've read (and my god, there are a lot of incredible children's books being made right now), and there seemed to be an enthusiastic response, I knew exactly which book series to start with:

The Adventures of Kate & Nate

children's book

I heard the first book in the series, "Kate's First Mate," casually mentioned in a podcast, and it was described as a book that teaches realistic relationship lessons to kids. Considering I've written about how crazy unprepared we are for the realities of relationships, and how downright irresponsible the Happily Ever After narrative is for kids, THIS IS EXACTLY THE BOOK I WISHED EXISTED.

And I'll tell you, the author Colin Dubin did not let me down. I did a brief write-up a few months ago for Babble, which you can read here, but this is the gist of the story:

Kate is a little girl who sails the seas with her grandfather on a ship called ‘The Happy Marriage’ — where she has a lot of fun learning and exploring, but also fights rough storms and fulfills her daily responsibilities on the ship. When her grandfather gets too old to keep sailing, he tells Kate to find a new First Mate. Rather than sail on alone, he suggests finding someone who can help with the work, stand by her throughout the storms, and make the trip more enjoyable. She goes on her search, interviewing potential First Mates, and learning a lot about who she can and can’t sail with as a partnership.
— me

If we're going to fill our children's heads with stories of relationships, which we do all the time, shouldn't we pay attention to what they're learning?

So Colin got in touch with me and sent over the second book in the series, "The Adventures of Kate & Nate: Journey Through Jellyfish Island." He also included a note about his intentions with the series:

"In tackling the job of presenting children with a positive relationship model, you must reveal the good and the bad and the ugly and that cannot all be presented in one book. The Adventures of Kate and Nate are designed to show children, over the course of 5 books, that with each new challenge and accomplishment in relationship experiences, first mates grow together. One of the most rewarding moments in a relationship is not the forward looking promise of "...and they lived happily ever after" as the princess stories would have children believe, but the glance to our past when we realize we have been supported through our best and worst by someone all along."

children's book

The second book is about FEAR. Fear in a relationship, in your life, and how it's a very real place that you can unintentionally land in your relationship.

Kate is sailing with her new mate, Nate, and all of a sudden the fog rolls in and their boat, The Happy Marriage, gets stuck on a place called Jellyfish Island — a place where the signs are confusing and give no answers; a place where the songbirds can't sing, and the jellyfish drift aimlessly. A place controlled by Captain Fear.

 "As the mist slowly parted, they saw an old man with skin made of rust and a cane in his hand. He had eyes of regret and sat hunched on a log and when he exhaled, his breath turned to fog."

"As the mist slowly parted, they saw an old man with skin made of rust and a cane in his hand. He had eyes of regret and sat hunched on a log and when he exhaled, his breath turned to fog."

As I was reading it, I kept thinking, I'VE BEEN HERE! I know Jellyfish Island! Some days I still drift over to this place. And so not only does it have a positive message for kids, but it gives a certain language, a certain context, to explain our real-life marriage issues in an age-appropriate way.

This has become one of Noah's favorite books — not for the deep meaning, but because it's a good story, and he loves the illustrations, and so he picks it again and again for bedtime. And this book? This book is always a YES.

I can't wait to read the next three stories in the series.

Read more and order your own copies at KatesFirstMate.com.

No, I'm Not His Babysitter

“You look too young to be a mom!”

Or how about …

“You have a BABY? No! You look like a baby yourself!”

Oh wait, here’s a good one …

“Are you the nanny, ooor … ?”

“No, yeah I’m his mom,” I’d reply. “Yes, I am young,” I’d agree.

Considering I got pregnant straight out of college, I was certainly on the younger end of the parenting spectrum. (No one was more surprised than me, I assure you.) And yet, I wasn’t exactly a teen mom. I wasn’t juggling school courses and motherhood, like so many student moms. I had my own apartment and generally lived like a grown up, despite the thrift-store furniture and empty bank account. I know that some 21 year olds are just starting grad school, or living a parent-coddled lifestyle, but me? I was off into the world with a crisp college diploma, a new full-time job, and a fetus in my womb. I’m not sure I had even thought about my womb up until that point in life, until it was inhabited.

Yes, I know, I am quite young.

I knew I’d be a young mom; I was just surprised at how often the outside world would remind me. And directly, I might add. I would never think to walk up to a random person in the mall food court and ask, “Wow, how old are you?” — half accusing, half astonished — and yet it’s happened, right in front of my eyes...

Jessica: young mom grows career + family

Name:

Jessica Kolenda

I got pregnant at:

23 years old

I am now:

28 years old

young mom story

My initial reaction was:

shock, tears, fear of not being ready and still living five states from our families!

People in my life reacted:

with excitement and encouragement! (My husband was the most calm, best support system I could've asked for.)

My biggest challenge has been:

I had just applied to go back to college. I started 6 months pregnant and graduated with an 18 month old. I'm starting to build my career and my family is still growing! I now have two wonderful beautiful boys — 4 years and 8 months! I think overcoming the loss of sleep was a BIG challenge, but now it's finding time for family, friends, myself, and all the mundane at home too.

My biggest accomplishment has been:

My family by far...other than graduating with my second Bachelor's degree and kick-starting my career.

I love being a young mom because:

I have energy now and I'll have it later. In all honesty, I'm learning as I go but I feel as though I have more patience as well.

I struggle with:

The lack of sleep! Oh my! Especially with two now, but they make coffee for a reason — right?!

I wish all young moms knew:

It can be tough, lonely, heartbreaking, exhausting, mentally and physically draining — did I mention lonely? But we all feel that. Find a friend, confide in someone, join a mom's group — whatever you do, just know you're not alone; you're not the only one. You can do what you set your mind to, and you're stronger than you think!

Unexpected Lessons from an Unplanned Pregnancy

I had everything under control, and then my pregnancy test turned positive. I was 21 years old.

It’s a situation that virtually every woman has imagined herself in or avoided being in countless times over, so it’s probably easy to empathize with. Imagine being two months out of college, unmarried, no health insurance, no savings and a packed schedule of job interviews. You’re standing alone in the bathroom, and the positive pregnancy test your mother urged you to buy is lying on the sink.

It instantly turns positive. You’re pregnant. You’re the only one who knows it. It hasn’t even traveled from your brain to your lips yet — you haven’t actually said the words — except you know.

For dramatic purposes, I could say that I stumbled backwards, clutching my still-flat stomach, hyperventilating from a panic attack. But that’s not true. I felt…numb, as if I had to swaddle myself in denial to absorb that kind of shock.

It took a good 15 minutes for the tears to come—and they came: tears of fear, tears of guilt. This isn’t how my life is supposed to go. I’m not this type of girl. This can’t be right.

Up until that point in my life, I was fully trained to believe that, a) There are “right” and “wrong” paths in life, and b) I could and SHOULD plan my future carefully. I was also hardwired to judge situations and feelings as “good” or “bad” based on how they feel in the moment. In that moment, I didn’t feel very good.

Besides fear, I felt anger. Betrayal, even. How could I—a good girl with plans and goals, who used birth control, who deserved to succeed—get pregnant? The A+ report cards, the unpaid internship hours, the dreams I spent years concocting and executing, all evaporated. How could there be fairness in the universe? I may have been carrying another life inside of me, but I felt more alone than ever.

Thankfully I had a choice in what to do next. (If I didn’t have a choice, the walls may have closed in on me altogether.) Against all logic and assumptions, I chose to keep my pregnancy and embrace the terrifying void.

What I didn’t understand back then, six years ago, is that being thrown off of a carefully laid track and being hurled into that void, forced to let go of virtually everything you know about your life, can be transformational. In fact, that unplanned pregnancy gave me so much more than a child...

my secret life as an addict's wife

young family

"How can my marriage be falling apart, when I started a Web site to prove young couples can have happy marriages?"

"How can I inspire other young moms when my life is such a mess?"

These thoughts have gone through my mind, I admit. Back when I first thought of the Early Mama concept, the "early marriage" component was key. I desperately searched for any indication that we could have a lasting, successful marriage despite our young ages, and I wanted to share those positive stories. In hindsight, of course my insecurity was showing, but I loved my husband madly. I still do.

Even though we've come a long way in the last few years — my husband recognizes and is in treatment for his gripping addiction to prescription pain killers — I still might end up separating from a man I'm in love with. (That's an ending they don't cover in fairytales.) And yet I'll still be grateful for this marriage. It's been a valuable experience, especially in my formative 20s. Entangling my life with another person has given me a first-person understanding to the interconnectedness around us, to the complexities and simplicities of love, and to the importance of loving ourselves. It's taught me more about myself than I ever knew possible.

Is young marriage always the BEST experience? The ONLY way to be mature? No.

Is it a BAD experience? Destined to end in flames? No.

There is no narrative to follow. Being an "early mama" doesn't give us a new set of rules and expectations, no matter the inspirational stories. We can be inspired and encouraged without using our stories to predict and judge our own lives. The only things we can expect are meaningful experiences, opportunities to learn, and both happy and sad moments. No matter the circumstances, we can be okay. We can grow through uncertainty, learn through pain, become stronger and smarter and better. And just because a relationship might end, that doesn't make it a failure. Not if we learned something from it.

No matter what life throws us — a pregnancy test turns positive, a marriage turns abusive, we have a sudden and shocking loss — we can keep moving forward, or we can let a situation break us. Sometimes it's not an either/or — sometimes we get wrapped up in mind-made identities and patterns, sometimes we bury ourselves under shame and fear, and that's okay, too. Because there's humanity in the struggle.

Having a baby and getting married at a young age isn't always easy, but it's not supposed to be. Life will NEVER be consistently easy, and comparing our lives to that expectation will always lead to disappointment. But just because something is hard, doesn't mean it isn't worth it. In my experience, it's the most struggling moments that have been the most necessary.

So this is my story, in all its raw honesty...


What It's Really Like To Be Married to a Drug Addict

I could hear my husband open our front door as I prepped dinner in the kitchen. Except I knew it wasn't really my husband, not the same guy I married 68 months ago. Not the same man who held my sobbing body as a positive pregnancy test sat on our bathroom sink, 74 months ago. Not the man who promised we'd be okay. That we could do this. That he would always stay by my side.

And, technically, he did stay by my side. Technically.

He limps into the room: skinnier, snifflier, dead in the eyes. We had a few good weeks going as husband and wife. I actually thought he might be coming back to me after a near-death scare, a promise to get clean, a few sessions on a therapist's couch—but it's all back again. The consecutive ATM withdrawals and sneaky deception. The coldness in his words, the preoccupation behind his eyes, the sound of his struggling lungs whistling as I try to sleep next to him. All back.

Today it's Vicodin, before that it was Methadone, before that it was Heroin, before that it was an OxyContin prescription from his doctor, hoping to ease a gnawing pain in his leg. The doctor didn't ask if he had a deeper pain, an emotional pain that this prescription might temporarily patch. The doctor didn't ask if he had a history of addiction in his family or at what age, exactly, he started self-medicating the anxiety that plagued his childhood. That age was 9.

Not like my husband would have been honest, of course, because addicts aren't honest with anyone, especially themselves.

When signs of my husband's dependence became obvious to the doctor—and to several doctors afterward—there was no acknowledgment, no understanding, no effort to help a man struggling with a coping strategy that turned self-destructive. There was simply a phone call from a receptionist: "We can't see you anymore." Dropped from care.

So he went to the streets, which is where so many addicts go when their prescription is yanked from their hands. He wasn't looking for a high; he needed to feel normal, to not be in constant pain. And so the cycle starts: Disappearing money. Lies. Falling asleep at the dinner table. Denial. ER visits. Broken promises. His life is chaotic, consuming, no matter how or why it is.

He shuffles past me; I hold my breath. Everything in me wants to scream.