Pregnant and Married at Fifteen

I was just reading an article on Jezebel about David Bowie and Lori Maddox, the teen groupie who gave her virginity to the iconic rock star back in the Seventies, and my knee jerk response was coming to the realization that when I was only fifteen years old myself, I was not at all prepared to consent to a sexual relationship, let alone get married and become a mother, but I did. I hadn’t taken a good hard look at the fact that I had been a mostly unprotected young woman growing up in an overly permissive rape culture. These were questions not being asked at the time.

Being the oldest of five children and secondary caretaker for all, at one point led me to become the sole breadwinner of the family for about a month when I first turned fifteen – washing dishes at a local restaurant. This was a couple of years following her divorce from my first step dad and rapid remarriage to a man I never thought of as a father. I thought of him as an intruder. My mom soon found work again, and my career was halted by the fracture of my tailbone. Sliding down a short concrete waterfall near the fish hatchery, a bit of metal piping was sticking out about two inches, and the sliding over of this caused immediate debilitating pain. My friends had to help me hobble home. My mom didn’t take me to the hospital, so I sat on pillows for a couple of months and toughed it out. The injury showed up on x-rays in later years.

At this point my mother’s alcoholism had become quite severe. She and my new step dad drank about three cases of Coors beer daily, beginning with their first two before ever even getting out of bed. In addition to that, my new step dad was spending his weeks in jail for his second DUI, being released on weekends since he was a “family man.” During a few of these weekends he ended up beating my mother, something I vowed to never let happen to me. This also made me feel protective of my younger siblings. My bio-dad had been out of the picture since I was nine years old and there were some serious communication problems going on with my mom and first step dad, who had been a father to me for ten years. Life was hard at our big house in the country, but it made us strong, and being so close to Nature also fed that wildish nature deep inside all of us, and that was one of the greatest gifts our mom gave us. She taught us how to forage. When we first moved to New Mexico she sewed up a tipi which our family of five plus a cat and a dog lived in for three months out in the Santa Fe National Forest. She made kitchen cabinets out of willow tree branches and dug a Dutch oven for baking bread. Those were the magical memories which sustained all of us when things got rough on the little ranch we lived on. When the issue of survival became a real and ongoing quest which I had to help with, my whole world turned upside down.

I suppose I began dating a man six years older than I was in an attempt to get my mother’s attention. Perhaps it was a call for help. We lived in a small town in the high desert mountains of New Mexico, on one hundred acres of orchard and pasture leading to a beautiful river. I became quite tough and strong at the time by gardening, chopping wood, hiking the two and a half miles to the little store where my mom had credit to buy a few groceries for my brothers and sisters, and many other chores. There were a few times I had to wash the entire family’s laundry in the bathtub, so going to the laundromat was a luxury, and a job I volunteered for every week. I enjoyed the peace and quiet away from home and would always bring reading material. I also gave thanks I didn’t have to hand wash the laundry all the time, since so many women and girls around the world still had to do that. I knew from experience how rough that can be on the hands.

We had lots of perks too. There was a swimming hole across the road and down the mountain from our home. It had a wonderfully large and about twelve foot smooth boulder on the side of the water which we would all climb up on and dive into the ice cold river water. And there were lots of outdoor parties. My mom was fluent in Spanish and extremely friendly, so soon people from around town were stopping by our home to drink some beer with my parents. Our place became known as a party place.

I was only fourteen when I first met the moody, handsome, dark eyed man at a party. He had sent out verbal invitations to everyone in town, including our family, so my mom and step dad took me and left the younger children at home with my little sister in charge. He was drawn to me and my parents almost immediately, and quite soon I was drawn to him, although now I see that I was more in need of a reliable father figure than a romantic partner. It didn’t take long for me to let him make all the decisions, though, and within about three months he was living with me in my mother’s house. My mother was loving and very open although quite spaced out, so her allowing him to live with us seemed like a blessing at the time. I felt safer when he was with me.

It was an old ranch house, most likely begun back in the eighteenth century, with an additional built on every fifty years or so. By the time our family lived there, it consisted of three bedrooms, a large kitchen, good sized bathroom, and a huge living room which was settling over the basement, and sloped downwards by about a 30 degree angle. Every doorway pointed in a different position, and each room has its own style – two adobe rooms, one concrete brick room, one stone and wooden room which boasted windows to the south, west and north, overlooking a tree lined creek which ran behind the house and provided shade in the summer and wind break in the winter. The river was down the hill and across the pasture from the house, and the sounds of the river and babbling of the creek provided a sense of constant comfort, the life giving water always there to remind us of the true nature of life, something which I was already questioning. I was fifteen now and felt like a grown up, not like a child in any way.

After my boyfriend secretly moved in my mom bought me a can of contraceptive foam once, which I was too embarrassed to ask how to properly use. Even though my mom had been very much a part of the sexual revolution, she also had been raised in the Bible belt, and despite her efforts to transcend the hegemony she was raised in, she still passed on some hang ups to me, albeit unconsciously. I know my mother loved me very much. She was an amazing woman filled with love and passion. She was extremely gifted both intellectually, a wounded healer herself, but her judgment was cloudy because of so much drinking. Perhaps she thought that since she had told me about the facts of life as a young girl and had told me about the Pill, that I would also know how to get it, yet I found it impossible to communicate my need because there just never seemed to be the time r space for that. How is it that people ever find it hard to communicate something they need which is so essential? And even when the parent would not condemn this request, but the only problem is her unfortunate disease has distracted her completely, so how could she be reached? I didn’t know how.

And perhaps because I worked so hard to please her, she relied on me more than most parents rely on their teenagers. This also may have been a reason for the permissive attitude, because of our frequent role reversal. I often felt responsible for helping keep her happy, keep her from having blackout rages, and for doing a large portion of the cooking and cleaning for all eight of us (our step dad’s daughter was living with us at the time).

It actually took many months of us living together before I got pregnant. The first two months I just figured my cycle must have been off, since it had only recently begun to regulate itself. I think I was waiting for my mom to notice the change my body was going through. By the time I was four months along, and had gained at least twenty pounds, one day I began asking her questions about her pregnancy with my little brother and all of a sudden she really looked at me, and asked if I was pregnant. So I told her the truth.

I didn’t realize at the time that upon consulting other family members charges of statutory rape against my boyfriend were considered. He had already proposed, and my mother asked me what I wanted to do. At this point her own abusive marriage had deteriorated to the point of complete chaos, and it seemed like taking care of my own husband and my own baby would be easier than living at home anymore. So I chose marriage and we all went to a judge to get signed permission. And four weeks later I was married for the first time, by a justice of the peace in the backyard of my new in-laws.

At first I was in heaven – even with my new husband’s modest salary as a construction worker, we were able to plenty of groceries and having enough food every single day fulfilled many of my immediate needs. And it was easier to cook and clean for the two of us in our tiny little house than it had been living with my own family. I even gained too much weight, with food becoming my main source of comfort. And at the same time, my wildly fluctuating hormones brought on emotions I had never dreamt dwelt within me. It was a case of jumping from the fat into the fire, for sure. Then we moved back into the big ranch home my family had lived in as my mom divorced my step dad and moved closer to Santa Fe. The place apparently called us back. And the rent was quite affordable.

For several years I worked hard at being the perfect wife and mother while also taking in one or another of my siblings for a month or two during another of my mom’s rough patches. We had lots of wonderful times. Some friends have us a Shetland Pony whom we named Flicka. I was able to ride her gently bare backed with my two year old daughter on my lap. She was a wonderful pony and we eventually sold her to some friends who lived way up on a nearby mountain and could give her even more space. I loved her and missed her sorely after she was gone.

When I was eighteen, I single handedly corn bred three pigs wearing my daughter on my back. We raised them for about five months before slaying. These became the main course for a three day feast we held. My ex and his brothers dug three pits which they roasted the pigs in. It was so delicious even our vegetarian friends had some. A few small bands and about four kegs of beer, and a couple hundred people in and out over this time out of time event added to the reason it was talked about for years, as our home and land were the perfect lush setting for that type of celebration. There was a lovely meadow below the creek overlooking the pasture which had some big rocks and extended into crabapple trees on one side and plum and apricot trees on the other. About fifty cattle lived in the pasture, owned by our landlord and adding to the ranch like feel of the place, but it had fallen in disrepair, and the carcasses of abandoned automobiles were left in a few spots about the property, but it was mostly quite pleasant, lots of willow trees along the river and oak trees surrounding the house.

These were the times when many things were changing. Everybody was experimenting with sex, drugs and rock and roll. Getting married may have actually protected me in a way. I was smack dab in the middle of the counter culture and my mom had been a flower child. So the party scene was right in front of mine and my siblings, in our home, not hidden in any way. Luckily, the scene didn’t descend into the world of hard drugs. I never even saw anyone using needles or anything like that. It was mainly booze and a little pot that everyone was doing back then.

At least I didn’t run away and become a prostitute like many young women did at the time. The best-selling book “Go Ask Alice” was made into a movie not long before my family moved up to the country. The horrors described in detail by the unfortunate young girl who wrote this served as a grim reminder of the dangers of the world I was growing up in. Becoming a parent at such a tender age was not easy, but to me it seemed it was my salvation. And looking back on the culture I was living in, I see how I didn’t consciously choose this for myself, but I did go along with it. I didn’t see any safe alternatives. And I definitely chose to become pregnant. And even though my situation was no where as glamorous as the setting Lori Maddox found herself during the same era, it was the same type of cultural acceptance that contributed to our experiences (in my case we kept my relationship secret from school teachers but some found out as it was such a small town).

Lori Maddox still doesn’t think of her experience with David Bowie as rape, and I didn’t think of my early introduction to a serious intimate relationship resulting in pregnancy and marriage as wrong, or that I was coerced into it in any way. I followed my feelings and was allowed to do whatever I wanted, as long as I did my chores and got good grades. I played the family hero at the time, and learned to take care of others long before learning more about myself. I thought of myself as a mountain woman. And I loved reading books about young women long ago who married even younger than I had, along with many other books. This was a huge source of comfort. I always loved reading, another blessing my mom did help encourage in many ways.

My marriage fell apart as I neared 20 and wished to return to school. I had a spiritual awakening in northern California at Campbell Hot Springs, which was run by Leonard Orr at the time, and is not far from Mt. Shasta. My mom and I were working at a New Age bookstore in Madrid at the time, and brought some books and music CDs with us for our booth. My mom and sisters and daughter and I were then blessed to hang out with healers from around the world. We sang songs of love and peace for humanity. We even met Sandra Orr. We were rebirthed many times in the wonderful natural hot mineral springs there. My kundalini rose and I felt my connection to all of humanity. Felt like I was walking about six inches above the ground. A Navajo Medicine Man taught us a rain dance. We all danced together before our departure and it began to rain. It rained and rained (there had been a serious drought) and the rain followed our car across the Mojave Desert all the way back to New Mexico. It seems our car itself was shining, but it was probably just that I was overflowing with bliss, so my perception changed. This was during one of the many times my mom found sobriety and was doing quite well, a shining beacon in the community and quite hard working single mom. There were many times she found the program and those are the memories I cherish to this day.

It was after my second trip up to this sacred place that I realized I did need to get out of that marriage, that I hadn’t had a chance to ever even know myself, let alone the man I married. And his moodiness had increased to the point where he wouldn’t speak for days. He had explosive outbursts also, the main type of experience I wanted to get away from. I didn’t have the freedom to be myself, and although I did love him, we had grown in different directions. I think it was about this time that I realized I had an actual identity and had the right to make my own decisions about my life.

I write this now because my oldest grandson is the age I was when I became pregnant with his mom, my firstborn, my daughter and best friend. And he is talking about getting married to his fourteen year old girlfriend and we are shaking our heads and saying, “No way!” I can’t even imagine him handling that kind of relationship – he is so young! They grow up way too fast! I worry but am relieved that there is at least a more progressive attitude about teen pregnancies and marriage, and birth control is more obtainable in my community than the one I lived in at that age.

My mom died young just a little over seventeen years ago, but I still feel her presence in my heart, looking over her progeny, shining light on us, helping us through the rough times. My first step dad still keeps in touch and got married to his partner of over thirty years shortly after gay marriage was legalized in his state.

Incidentally, none of my kids became parents as teens, and none have become parents except my firstborn. And of my younger siblings, only two have children, which they waited for until their forties. I set a great example of how to not get in the family way too early. I don’t have regrets, but I am thankful my loved ones have learned by watching me.

After my first baby and divorce I thought I didn’t want anymore kids
But the love but struck me many more times, yet it took me twenty years to complete those years of making babies. And that’s another story. Actually, there are many stories. One thing is for sure, my life has been filled with experience. I am rich with experience. And so grateful.

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