For some light relief – here’s the story of the day I found out I was pregnant at almost-15. An August day in 1993 at the bottom of the world – a lifetime and world away from where I am now. If this story sounds like you – know that no matter what happens, no matter what you choose tomorrow – in 21 years time, you can be looking back on your own life and feel proud of you. From The Girl Who Couldn’t Say No: memoir of a teenage mom.
I knew I was pregnant even before my period was late, in the way you do. When I was about a week or so late, I decided it was time to get real and find out for sure. I rounded up two of my best friends after school and off we went to the local hospital. The waiting room at Casualty was crowded – lots of sick, wounded, tired people. People far worse off than me, most of them through no fault of their own. Unlike me, the foolish clichéd statistic that I was.
I didn’t know where to go, unsure how to go about this whole pregnancy-testing thing. I went up to a harassed and stern-looking nurse (they all looked harassed and stern).
“Excuse me,” I whispered in my best Good Girl voice. No answer. She didn’t even look at me. Perhaps she didn’t hear me, I thought. I tried again. Cleared my throat this time, as it seemed to have become afflicted by a plague of frogs. “Excuse me, can you tell me where I should go for a pregnancy test?”
This time she did look at me and I know what she saw. She saw a kid in a school uniform (with a bright yellow name badge; we hadn’t thought to take them off) playing at being grown-ups with her kiddy friends. She looked bored, irritated, pissed off. With me. Not used to being in trouble, I was a little taken aback. Then I realised that from now on, everybody was going to be looking at me that way – I’d damn well better get used to it.
“A what?” she boomed, louder than I thought necessary. Nothing for it, I’d have to announce it to the entire waiting room.
“A pregnancy test, please.” I was beginning to get pissed off myself, but Good Girls don’t show it, oh no. Especially not when they deserve all the trouble they’re in.
“See the sister down the passage, second door to the right,” she snapped. She turned away, and I imagined that she couldn’t stand to look at me any longer. A little melodramatic perhaps, but that’s how I felt then.
Everyone turned to look at me – I felt the weight of their judgement on my back as I walked down the passage to the sister’s office. Or imagined I did. Same thing, really, when you’re fourteen and high on progesterone.
The same routine played out at the sister’s office: “A what? Really? Ag sies, man. Sister Du Preez! This girlie wants a pregnancy test. Give her the cup, would you?” And so on.
I was sure they were doing the whole scandalised, astonished thing on purpose. They must have seen hundreds of girls like me, many of them dodgier than me – but their job was to let me know what a fuck-up I was. What a failure. What a Bad Girl. As if I didn’t know already.
Sister Du Preez handed me “the cup”, a giant plastic funnel-shaped thing that looked like a tacky picnic wineglass circa 1983. I stared at it dumbstruck, thinking, “Where the hell does she want me to put this?”
“Shame, girlie”, she said, not entirely nasty. “Don’t worry, man. It’s only to wee in. So we can test, you know? The bathroom is next door.”
The blush started somewhere around my knees and crept on up towards my face. This was the first time I’d felt stupid as a mother, but it sure as heck wasn’t the last. I felt tears prickling behind my eyelids, but I kept them in. There’s that, at least. I didn’t cry.
I made my way back past my friends towards the bathroom. I saw them eyeing “the cup” with trepidation and more than a little awe.
“Yes, look at me. Aren’t I clever? I know what this is for. And I’m not a bit scared,” I thought. I tried to convey all of this to them with a knowing and superior look as I passed.
Any sense of superiority I may have felt vanished as soon as I tried to wee in the cup. Only people who have done it would know how tricky this is. That glass was surely too tall for the job. I practically had to stand up to get it to fit under me. I obviously didn’t line it up correctly because somehow hand, sleeve and floor got soaked. Yuck. Nevertheless, after a small yelp and a bit of jiggling I got it right and continued, stoic and resolved.
I was proud of myself, but my pride deflated a bit when I noticed my wet shoes and how little had actually landed in the cup. I spent the next few minutes trying to mop up the floor with six squares of government issue one-ply toilet paper (you just try it sometime). I may have been a disappointment to my family, a tragic example of wobbly morals and elastic virtue – but I’d be damned if I was going to leave a mess on the floor. I was still a Good Girl.
I carried the enormous plastic thing at arm’s length in front of me, as you would the Holy Grail – or a giant cup of wee, for that matter. My future was in there, and I knew it. Quite a bit of my future was also squelching inside my damp school socks.
I handed the sample to the sister and she told me to sit and wait – she’d call me once they’d tested it.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be negative,” twittered Amy, cheerily trying to be helpful. I gave her a look of utter disdain (probably unfairly), and she shut up pretty quick. I knew it would be positive. Of course it would be. My life was different from their’s now. It simply was. The look I gave her was the first sign of the separation to come. I should have felt sorry, I suppose. She was only trying to be nice. I just felt annoyed with her, as the horrible nurse had been with me. Annoyed at a silly child who just doesn’t get it.
We seemed to be sitting around for ages. People were coming and going, being called in to see doctors, getting bandaged up by the sister. New patients arrived and left again, hobbling, oozing, expectorating. And still we sat. Getting a little worried, I could wait no longer. I approached the nurse who’d sent me to the sister.
“Sorry, I know you’re busy. I was here for a pregnancy test and they told me to sit and wait. Are they finished? Where should I go now?” Ever so polite, I was. I should have taped a “kick me” sign to my back right then.
The nurse looked me up and down, her eyes lingering on my name badge, which I now realised I should have taken off. I pictured her phoning the school principal during her tea break. I pictured myself being frogmarched off the school premises carrying a cardboard box of my stuff like fired employees do in the movies, running the gauntlet of jeering schoolmates and tut-tutting teachers, my humiliated parents waiting at the gate with a suitcase and a one-way ticket to a home for unmarried mothers in Klerksdorp…
This was what raced through my head in the time it took for her to look at my badge and say, “Oh yes, you. You’re pregnant.”
Just like that. In front of everyone in the waiting room, and as loudly as she possibly could without shouting. An she was loving every moment of it. Heads snapped around to check me out – this being a government hospital, there was no TV in the waiting room. They had to take their entertainment where they could find it.
Well, then. That’s settled. I was calm, I think. Amy and Abigail were fussing and squeaking and doing those things that girls do. I didn’t hear them. I also didn’t hear Bitch Nurse From Hell when she told me to come back again the following week. Amy nudged me in the ribs and I woke up a little.
“Did you hear me, girlie?” grumbled Gestapo Nurse, now impatient. She’d had enough of me. “Sometimes it’s a false positive. You should come back next week and do the test again to be sure.”
I don’t think I answered her. I was in a daze, more than a little gobsmacked. My friends steered me out of the hospital like an invalid or a drunk. I remember giggling. It’s something I seem to do in times of extreme stress or shock. Giggle. No swooning, no violent tirades or even hysterical tears. Just daft giggles.
We walked back to the library, where my mother was due to fetch me. I’d told her I’d been doing research for a project on geomorphology. Ho-ho! There’s a laugh. We didn’t talk much on the way, we just giggled. Then Amy said, all concerned-like, “Don’t go doing anything stupid now…”
I looked at her puzzled, not sure what she meant. Then I got it. Oh, she thought I was going to jump off a bridge, or OD on Dynajets. Given my history, I suppose I couldn’t blame her. But suicide was the very last thing on my mind. My head was full of a million thoughts all twisted up together, pushing and shoving and fighting to be heard. How am I going to tell my parents-what about David-what about school-what about me-what do I do… What do I do…
Among the confused jumble of panic, one thought was still. Lying curled up tightly underneath all the others was a tiny, quiet pink blossom of a thought, waiting for the fright to subside, waiting until I was ready to hear it.
I did hear it, once my friends had left and I sat waiting on the grass. I wasn’t dazed anymore; everything seemed clearer, more real. The sky was brighter, the grass more prickly, the sounds around me sharper. More there, somehow. Like I was seeing everything for the first time. I watched ants marching up a lamppost for a while, and they were fascinating.
Slowly my head started to empty a little, and that’s when I heard it – just a whisper:
“This is it.”
This was what I’d been waiting to hear all my life. It was real. I hadn’t been crazy all these years. I’d known there was something else and now it seemed to have found me. Later, when everybody knew and there was so much unhappiness and recrimination, I began to doubt myself and nearly gave up. I almost believed that I’d been wrong. But just then, there on the grass, I knew. I remember feeling gratitude: faith that everything would be okay. And I remember strength in me that seemed to come from somewhere else.
“This is it.”