Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.
The significance of her daughter’s name is very important to Elizabeth. About 18 years ago, Elizabeth chose the name because she felt it represented the circumstances of her daughter’s conception. Now a teenager, Elizabeth’s daughter is aware of her origin story but has displayed little interest in learning more. Elizabeth describes becoming pregnant as a college student, the assumptions her community made about her pregnancy, the role of shoes in changing her mind about adoption, and what she wishes people knew about children with biological fathers like her daughter’s.
On her first boyfriend. I was just 18. I hadn’t dated in high school — I wasn’t really allowed to — so I didn’t know much about boys. There was one boy … we went to high school together and ended up at the same college. It was very innocent and childlike. I guess it didn’t really count.
Like a lot of college students, I was working to help pay for things. My mom was a single mom, so I was trying to help out. Chad was someone I worked with. He was a few years older than me. We dated for a little while, then we broke up. I was so young and dumb — I thought we could still be friends.
That did work out for a little while: We hung out in a group, with the other people we worked with. We’d end up at parties together, doing things that college kids do. One night, he was driving me home. We were having one of those “I wish things had ended differently” talks. It turned into a conversation about getting back together. I didn’t want to, because the relationship was too much drama. I said no, and he really didn’t like that answer.
Things went from a polite disagreement to an assault in a matter of 30 seconds. I had no idea how it escalated that quickly. I couldn’t wrap my head around what was going on. It didn’t make sense. When it was over he acted like nothing had happened, and dropped me off at home.
On finding out she was pregnant. After missing my period, I actually took a pregnancy test in our town library — I didn’t want to take it at home, where my mom might find it. Our library is across the street from the church I went to growing up. When the test came back positive, I walked over to talk to the priest. I was hysterical — I was 18, and I was Catholic. I’d known this priest most of my life. He looked at me and said, “We have women who will help you.” He so quickly wanted to get me out of his office and pawn me off on someone with a set of ovaries.
The woman he sent me to was the mother of someone I’d known since second grade. Fortunately, she was really nice to me — she patted my hand and told me about a family member of hers who’d had a teen pregnancy. That was something, too: What happened to me very quickly became a teen pregnancy, nothing about a sexual assault. It wasn’t something I was comfortable talking about. Later, I told my mom the whole story. For a while, she was the only one who really knew.
But as I was going through it, I started to wish more people knew. I was this knocked-up 18-year-old — a lot of people assumed I was an idiot kid who got herself in trouble. I wanted to tell them that wasn’t the case at all. There was a lot of judgment. But once I started to think about the reactions, I got angry — even if it had been my choice, so what? People would throw away everything else they knew about me based off one “mistake”?
On deciding what to do. It was a complicated decision. I was pro-life. I’d gone to a Catholic high school. I’d been in pro-life club. This was the time to put my money where my mouth was. That was part of the reason I went to my church first. I thought I would let the baby be adopted.
I thought I could take a year off from college and go back. I thought it would all be okay. It was a very naïve plan, but still — I wanted to have a plan. Adoption and taking a year off was my original plan. It lasted a few months into my pregnancy.
I thought about what it would be like to keep the baby. I was afraid: What if it were a boy, and he looked like him? I don’t have brothers, and my parents divorced when I was very young. I didn’t know what boys did. And I didn’t know if I could handle it, emotionally. At first, adoption really seemed like the best option.
Then, at church one day, I saw a child. I happened to know she’d been adopted. She looked so happy and healthy, like the poster child for adoption. I looked down at her feet and saw her shoes, and for some reason, that was what made me change my mind. She had these ugly red plastic shoes on. And I realized that even if I could choose the big things in an adoption situation — who the parents would be, what kind of life they would give her — I’d never be able to choose the little things. Like shoes.
But whether I’d chosen adoption or not, the baby was always loved. Either choice was because I loved her.
On becoming a mom at 19. While I was pregnant, I was still working. I wasn’t planning on letting any of my co-workers know I was pregnant, but it became obvious very quickly. I didn’t look pregnant — I had what Kate Middleton had, hyperemesis gravidarum, and was vomiting all the time. For a little while, I tried telling people I had an ulcer and that’s why I was puking constantly. That didn’t work for very long.
My boss told me to my face that I should terminate the pregnancy. And there was a surprising amount of gossip about this around town. I didn’t live in a small town with 300 people in it, but still: There were a decent amount of people with opinions about what I should do. One of my mom’s friends overheard people talking about me in a salon.
Once she was born, I felt very young compared to the other moms with children my daughter’s age. In elementary school, my daughter’s best friend’s mom was old enough to be my mom. I went through a phase where I was trying to look older — I wore mom jeans, turtleneck-and-sweater sets, anything I could think of to not look like a young mom. She went to Catholic school, and we lived in a fairly affluent neighborhood. I felt a little out of place and judged at times. I’d do something like take the whole Girl Scout troop somewhere and people would ask if I could handle it.
But my daughter’s best friend’s mom — she also felt out of place, as the oldest mom. It reminded me that I wasn’t the only one who felt like she didn’t belong.
Now, there are some benefits: I have an 18-year-old. Some of my friends have kindergartners. Unlike them, I can leave my child home alone.
On her daughter’s biological father. I didn’t press charges against Chad. It was just too much for me, at the time. And I didn’t talk to him again in any meaningful way, until I filed for child support. It’s the only time he’s ever seen my daughter.
The experience was hell. Complete and utter hell. He denied paternity. He tried to blame his brother, who denied the accusation. This was a trick his lawyer was trying because Chad’s brother was stationed overseas at the time and wasn’t really subject to coming to family court. But his brother submitted an affidavit to the court saying that he never slept with me. The judge wasn’t very pleased with Chad for trying that.
Originally, I wasn’t going to file for child support, but a friend pointed out that it wasn’t for me. It was for my daughter. Once it was settled, it got easier for me to navigate. She didn’t have to come back to court with me, after the paternity test. Chad never expressed any interest in visitation, thank god. I would have fought him tooth and nail. Horrifyingly, some states don’t have any protections for women who’ve been sexually assaulted and have children. Rapists can fight for custody. It wouldn’t have mattered, even, in this case, because I hadn’t filed charges. But in some states, even when women do file charges that result in convictions, it doesn’t make a difference. Rapists have custody rights.
Chad never acknowledged what happened as an assault. This is something I’ve thought a lot about: I don’t think he’s some serial rapist. I think he’s a product of a more general rape culture. I think he’s a product of where he grew up and the education he received, and this laissez-faire attitude we tend to have toward sexual assault. I don’t know if he really thinks he did anything wrong. It’s not like he kidnapped some random woman, tied her up, and held her hostage. He hurt an ex-girlfriend.
Sometimes I want to find him and say: Do you know what you did? I know that you know we have a kid together, but do you know what you did to me? There are so many people I know who think he’s this good guy. He volunteers in his community. He has other kids. His wife must know he pays child support to this other kid. They think he’s a good person, and I have this completely opposite view of him. It’s hard to reconcile that. He probably isn’t this 100 percent bad guy. But he is to me.
On explaining her daughter’s origin to her. You know those stupid family-tree projects kids do in school? They’ve got to stop doing those. There are enough people who don’t have traditional nuclear families — the family trees need to just go away. Whenever she had to do one, I’d ask her how she wanted to do it. I figured that if she wanted to try to piece it together, I could find some photos of him online. I’d always wonder if it was going to be the moment when we had that discussion. But she was never interested in having a long discussion about it.
She does know what happened. She knows what sexual assault is. She knows how she was conceived. I think she knows factually and abstractly what that means, but that it hasn’t all clicked into place. I don’t know if it’s some kind of self-preservation, but I think there’s still some piece missing for her.
She was about 14 when I told her. I don’t remember exactly how or why. I’d been talking to her, very slowly, as she hit puberty, about sexual assault in general — the way you would as any responsible parent. In those kinds of conversations — about drugs, drinking, sex — sexual assault was maybe something I talked to her about a bit more. I wanted to lay a foundation to explain her biological father.
To be honest, the initial conversation probably happened because of television. It might have even been Law & Order: SVU, with Olivia’s background as someone conceived out of rape. I know it might sound weird to not have one big moment, but for us, it’s been a slow, gradual process. She’s been surprisingly uncurious about how she was conceived. She has a fairly good life with her mom, and maybe that’s good enough for her.
On her path to parenthood. I know many women who are in the situation I was choose to terminate. I think one reason might be because there’s not a lot of information about what it’s like to parent a child born of rape. For me, termination just wasn’t an option, and I think it’s too bad there’s not much support when that’s the case. While abortion isn’t a decision I would personally make, it’s hard to condemn a woman who has already had one of her most important choices in life taken away from her.
Over the years, the few people I’ve told about what happened have told me I was brave. But when I look at it, I think if I could do it, anyone could. I don’t think it’s a particularly amazing decision. But I’m also not saying it’s something everyone could do. I went and saw a therapist after my daughter was born — I’d been in an autopilot mode while I was pregnant, and figured I could deal with my issues afterward. That, and the support I did have, helped a lot. I just wish a little bit more of a voice was given to the women who make my choice and our children. Children born of rape don’t turn out to be horrible little murderers. They turn out to be strong students and good artists and — I don’t know what else they turn out to be because I just know what my kid turned out to be.
It bothers me tremendously when people assume women like me can’t love our children because of how they were conceived. Children like her hear assumptions like that, internalize them, and have to live with them. My daughter has made my life. She’s the thing I love most in this world.