A 20-Year-Old Mom
By Alisa Gonzalez
It was June 4, 2001, I was 20 years old, and I had been a mother for three months. I remember so much more clearly than most because up until that day, I had felt I had already been so many things: a hated child, a terrible student, a lover (to many), an abused girl to an abused woman, homeless, a drug addict, a recovering drug addict, a waitress.
It seemed like time had passed so quickly when I think about it now. It was right after the new year, and I was assessing my life, something I had come to do regularly. I had been dating my baby’s father for a few months now, and I remember thinking, “This is my life. I’m 20-years-old, and I found a man that will love me enough.” So, I became a friend who turned into a girlfriend, to a man who I thought that I could probably love but still hadn’t. And now I was a mother.
I lived in ignorant bliss with a man that liked me enough to be happy when I told him I was pregnant after only a few months dating. That buzz sustained me for a whole year, but at 20, you haven’t achieved much success yet in life, and having a baby with a stranger isn’t the best idea.
Everything changed that June morning.
I hadn’t really met her, my daughter, at that point. I mean, I would hold her when she came out of my body and I breastfed her so she could eat, but I didn’t know her. When I was pregnant, I heard someone say that when you get pregnant you immediately feel like a mother, but I didn’t feel like a mother when I got pregnant. I felt sick and scared, and those seemed to be the only feelings I could focus on.
I assumed once the nausea passed, I would feel something, but with life continuing the same around me, I didn’t notice something inside me was growing until closer to my baby shower. And even that day, I remember my huge family so happy but also clearly disappointed. One of my aunts, while recalling her own husband’s leaving, said, “Well, at least she met a guy that will stick around.” My other aunt said, “Shit, Lisa don’t care.”
My mom fulfilled her duty of throwing me a shower, but she never told me there might be a possibility I wouldn’t like my baby. They all told me I would feel that moment, that warmth, and I just didn’t. Even after my baby shower, when I was positive the feeling would hit me, it just didn’t. I don’t even remember the gifts.
That feeling lasted longer. Even after I gently pulled her from my body onto my chest, it was there. And so, for those first three months, I felt like I ignored her. You’re probably calling me a terrible mom under your breath right now, or hey, maybe you’re yelling it at the screen.
But those feelings were real. And feeling that way, during that time, gave me a real understanding of what carrying and birthing a baby does to us, our bodies, our minds, our psyche.
I did all the things. I changed the diapers. I gave the bottles. I eventually made the choice to switch to formula without even telling her father who, by that point, I had not only realized that I didn’t love but I didn’t really even like.
I did most things except pick her up. That day though, her father decided he was going to leave her in her crib instead of putting her in our bed next to me, before leaving for work. One thing I’ve always felt is that I’m not necessarily religious, but I am faithful. When I woke up that day, I carried on like normal. I stepped out of my bedroom to the sounds of her making baby sounds. The little noises when they’re happy. Her room was in between my bedroom and the bathroom, so I had to walk past her in her crib to get to the bathroom, and as I did that I looked in and I saw her little feet in the air.
I didn’t immediately feel the desire to hold her yet, but I looked harder and next to her crib I saw someone standing there. It only took an instant to lose the panic feeling because I realized I had recognized who it was, it was my grandpa – he was the sweetest most amazing man in the world. He loved me but died when I was 14, but I was seeing him and feeling him there in the room.
I casually said, “Hey,” as if he’d only been a few houses away this whole time in my life. “What are doing?” I asked. He looked at me and smiled, and said, “Hey, come here, look.”
I walked into my baby daughter’s room. I looked at her laying there, still with her feet in the air and her tiny hands searching for them. I felt sick. I felt heavy and annoyed. I knew I didn’t belong there. But then he said, while we were both just staring down at her, “Look what you did, Mija. I can take her for you if you want me too.”
It was like it was a real conversation. I said in a half-laugh, “What? You can’t take her, you’re –” I couldn’t even get the rest out. I just felt it. The fear I was supposed to feel seeing my dead grandfather standing over my infant daughter, I felt it but not fear of him. That panic turned to protectiveness, it wasn’t a warmth like they said it would be, it was a fire.
I knew what I was supposed to do. I wasn’t just a mother I was HER MOTHER. I wasn’t just me – I was us. If her father was gone forever, she and I would be us.
That is my purpose.
Because one day, I will grow old, and I’ll die, and she’ll have to fend for herself. If I don’t do this who will she become? Me? All the worthless things I have already been?
I wasn’t going to let that happen. She would be happy, successful, never hurt, never violated, never broken. I spent the rest of that day with her in my arms and tears in my eyes.
That was only the beginning.