This is the sixth post of my “Real and Raw” guest post series. And this one is extra special for me because it’s written by one of my very dear friends. I met Julia (Juls) Washington when I was a guest on her utterly brilliant podcast, Pop Culture Makes Me Jealous. And we really connected on so many levels, very quickly, and I’m so thankful for her friendship! I also greatly admire her as a creative person and a lovely human being in general. And even more, I love her real and raw courage to share her experience with young pregnancy goddess-ness.
I knew Juls was a young mom, and she is honestly, so incredibly devoted to her son. I witness her devotion every day. And yet, I never knew the actual, real and raw terror she had to go through as a young woman. Gosh, I wish I would have been friends with her back then. So I could have given her the support she needed at the time.
For mothers and non-mothers alike, this post really speaks to our humanity. And our need for connection, love, and support, through every piece of shit that life can throw at us. I hope you find this post as moving as I did, and I hope you check out Juls’ podcast by following her on Instagram @popculturemakesmejealous
Now, away we go…
When I was a little girl, I didn’t dream of having kids the way my friends did. When the chatter would turn to motherhood, I would play along. “I want twins, a boy and a girl so I can name them Ruth and Ryan. Or Ethan and Esther.” But I didn’t really. I would say I wanted to have kids at twenty, because that sounded like a grown-up age, sophisticated, someone who had their shit together.
But the truth was, I wanted to get out of my hometown. I was beautiful. During adolescence, I had been stopped several times and asked if I had ever considered modeling. The worst part is I could sing, act, and dance too. But I was bored of my surroundings and ready to get out.
I dreamed of a life where I performed, starred in bit roles, but secretly I was a writer who accepted that she was so beautiful and use my beauty to my advantage. The plan was to get hired as the brownish side-kick and behind the scenes make all the friends so that one day, I could become Nora Ephron and write the next ultimate romcom that gets nominated for an Academy Award.
This was just one of my dreams. That’s the thing about boredom and beauty, where my mind wandered was limitless. My potential was limitless. I could escape into my mind and forget that I was trapped in high school by a system not designed for kids like me.
YOUNG AND PREGNANT
Around me, girls not much older were getting pregnant and dropping like flies. That scared me. I didn’t want to be one of those girls. But my conservative, religious upbringing hadn’t prepared me for how to protect myself from such things. I had no developed sense of sexuality at all. I thought it was stupid when people had sex in high school because I had the rest of my life to figure that out.
Except, turning 18 and being beautiful, you’re sort of thrown to the wolves. Looking back I realize now that people made assumptions about me, ones I could never live up to. I didn’t know that I had a say or a voice, or could demand certain things about physical relationships.
I did know that birth control was important. So I found a way to access that thinking that was good enough.
But sometimes science fails.
Three weeks after my twentieth birthday, only a few weeks from moving to Seattle, I found out I was pregnant. Having come from a conservative, religious home, the only option I believed I had was keeping the cells growing inside of me alive.
You know what’s terrifying at twenty? Pregnancy. I had no life experience. No employable skills. Knew very little about my body. Had angered my mother with this news. Had been ditched by the father. No one had sat me down and asked, “how do you feel about this?” Not one single person.
THE TRAUMA OF PREGNANCY
My pregnancy was a host of emotions that I think have left traces of trauma. People asked invasive and inappropriate questions, and the doctor made me uncomfortable so I opted to see the midwife whenever I could instead. I was working two low-paying restaurant jobs and at some point in July, we discovered I was starting to dilate. So the doc said, I needed to take it easy. Nothing was ordered, just take it easy.
I’m twenty. What does that even mean? Now I think she meant to quit one of my jobs and dial back how much exercise I did, but I was twenty, still incredibly vain (but feigned humility), and did not want to be like those women who waddled down the walking path.
I was due in November. The day before Thanksgiving. My job expected me to work up until my due date. Going into labor at the restaurant the week of Thanksgiving sounded awful, so I calculated when exactly I could quit and still have enough recovery time before needing to go back to work. Since I had little work experience, the disability I would draw while on “maternity leave” was roughly $100 a week. For the first time in months I was grateful I lived with my parents.
THE ISOLATION OF PREGNANCY
Most of my appointments I attended alone. The midwife seemed to understand I was petrified, but she never led on. She was warm and gentle with her language.
By early October, I had entered the phase of pregnancy where appointments went from monthly to every two weeks. At that appointment, the doctor advised the baby was breech but not to worry because we had plenty of time to flip him. And since I was a practitioner of yoga she was confident we could get that boy facing the right direction.
A week and a half later, I fell. Two days later I was leaking fluid so I headed to the hospital with my best friend in tow. In the hospital, they spent hours trying to determine if the fluid was from the water breaking. Finally, it was decided for the safety of the baby and me, that we needed to do an emergency cesarean.
The biggest medical treatment I had by this point in my life was my wisdom teeth extraction. I had never broken a bone or sprained an ankle.
EVERYONE NEEDS THEIR MAMA SOMETIMES
So there I was on a Monday afternoon being told that I was being scheduled for a c-section. I hadn’t seen the father of my child in weeks. He was supposed to be at the appointment where I learned the baby was breech, but never showed. His mother called to make his excuses, and even though I was twenty, I was angry it was her that called and not him. Having a baby wasn’t supposed to be like this.
He eventually turned up at the hospital. This didn’t bring me comfort. When asked who I wanted to come into surgery with me, I said my mom. For all our tension over the last few months, I knew I needed someone who would advocate for me if something went wrong and my mom is one hell of a mama bear when she needs to be.
Later, I had a male friend admonish me for this. Saying the father should have been in the room with me. Now I understand this had nothing to do with me, but at the time I felt attacked. How could a person ditch me for months during pregnancy and I end up the bad guy? This was both foreshadowing and eye-opening. I would be seen as the bad guy a lot over the next decade or so. My struggle to survive as a single mother was never considered in the argument.
Late Tuesday morning in mid-October, my sweet boy was born. He was beautiful. He looked just like the rest of us Washingtons. He was so small, just a little over 6 pounds. He was a happy boy and loved to be held. My heart melted. But I also knew that I already failed because I was ill-equipped to do this.
Everyone tried to tell me that once the baby came, the father would “step up” and “do what’s right” but in my gut, I knew that his disappearing act during my pregnancy was only the beginning.
I often wonder what it would be like to have a child with someone who loves me; someone who actually wants to be a parent with me. If I’m being honest, I really want to find out. To know those feelings of love and support during pregnancy and complete elation when the child is born. What is that like?
In retrospect, having my parents and a godmother who spent years being a labor and delivery nurse was exactly the support I needed as a terrified twenty-year-old in labor, but I don’t think I’ll ever shake that wanting to know the Hollywood love of making a family.
WOMEN ARE SUCH BADASS GODDESSES
As I was reading Juls’ words, I was so struck by her story because it reminded me so much of something my own mother went through. My mother became pregnant with my oldest half-sister, whom I’ve never met, when she was 19 years old (1961). She told me this story just once, and so I don’t know many details. But, she decided to have the baby in secret. And had arranged to give her baby to her boss and his wife at the time, who were struggling to conceive. I recall she had told me that it was the scariest nine months of her life. And that the nurses in the hospital where she delivered the baby were like angels. She kept the entire thing secret from her family and friends, and it must have been so lonely and petrifying.
Juls’ incredibly personal and emotional words tap into these same emotions. And even though I’ve never been pregnant, I think it’s safe to say that going through this process is one of the scariest things a woman can go through, regardless of the miracle that hopefully comes with it.
This article is also beyond timely and coincides (we did not plan this, and Juls submitted this post to me back in February 2022) with the pending, bullshit possibility of the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, a necessary law that gives women a legal right to an abortion.
And let me just express my opinion and say that to me, this overturning-of-this-law-insanity does not have anything to do with pregnancy or abortion. The fuckers or are interested in overturning this law are the same fuckers who hurt (or who allow to be hurt) grown human beings (and children for that matter) in the name of who knows what. They don’t actually care about human life. Rather, this is their emotionally manipulative way to get people on their side.
Instead, the overturning of this law has to do with choice and power. And men (and some women who have been convinced by men) don’t want women to have power or choice. And overturning this law is slapping shackles on a woman’s body and her right to do what she wants with it. So, fuck that.
Thank you to Juls for sharing her emotions, trauma, and courage in the face of being young and pregnant. This is a topic that I don’t believe people speak enough about. Instead, there is so much propaganda and fluff filtered into American culture, about the joy surrounding pregnancy and childbirth. And I’m not saying that doesn’t exist. I love babies and pregnancy and wish I had children! I’m just saying, not every woman’s experience is fantastic, and being young and pregnant especially, can be not only terrifying, but also tragically life-altering.
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Featured photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash
Pregnant woman with rainbow photo by OWUROOLA ADEWALE on Unsplash
Doctor’s photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash