A friend posted an interesting article on Facebook recently about the stigma and sin associated with unwed pregnancy in the Church. I agreed with much of this article (except perhaps the use of “lavish” when describing the baby showers that should be thrown), and when reading it, I realized how much this subject and stigma had unknowingly affected my life. And I thought it would be appropriate and yet daring to share it here.
I remember finding out a girl in my (very tiny) youth group was pregnant. She and her sister were having an emotional argument in the middle of Sunday School one morning when her sister made a comment that stunned the five of us in class into silence as we realized she was insinuating her sister was pregnant. Our Sunday School teacher (a sweet man who felt the intense calling of Jesus and had begun his spiritual journey by taking on our church’s dilapidated youth group) finally gathered his thoughts and tried to mediate between the warring sisters without going into graphic detail. It’s all murky in my memory, but I remember the initial shock and uncomfortable feeling of what to do in the moment.
I’m not sure how I was supposed to react to finding out one of my fellow youth girls was pregnant. The above article gives you some suggestions, although I think they’re more geared towards adults than teens. But the reaction I had was of utter horror. Not for her. But for me. Because what “happened” to her was my worst nightmare. Now granted, I wasn’t having sex. I had a boyfriend who WANTED to have sex, but I was in no way going to do it. Because I was TERRIFIED by it.
Sex to me meant punishment. Babies were definitely a punishment from God for participating in sexual acts outside of marriage. TV shows popular during my teenage years like “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” only strengthened this belief for me as not one but TWO teenagers got pregnant over the course of the series after having sex for the first time.
Once when I was a senior in high school, I convinced myself I was pregnant although I’d never had sex and got to the point of hysterics and hallucinations. I’d made out with my boyfriend in a pool, and even though the logical side of my brain told me that it wasn’t possible I was pregnant, the emotionally driven side overpowered everything and sent me into a dark pit of fear and despair.
Because to me, being pregnant was the worst thing in the entire world. I can vividly remember one of my mother’s “sex talks” consisting of “If you get pregnant, your grandmother will never forgive you.” Which sounds weird, unless you know my grandmother. She’s the most patient and forgiving woman you’ll ever meet. She has time and again amazed me at her quick forgiveness for my brother whose purpose as a child seemed to be to irritate the ever-living daylights out of everyone around him. He once climbed to the top of my great aunt’s holly tree and then couldn’t get back down. My grandmother spent over an hour outside with him trying to coach the terrified and foolhardy five year old down the tree to safety while debating whether or not she’d have to call the fire department and embarrass herself in front of the neighborhood. I had never seen her so mad at anyone before in my life. But once he was down from the tree, she scolded him for a moment and then it was like it never happened. So to imagine my grandmother never being able to forgive me for the shame I would bring on my family if I got pregnant out of wedlock was horrifying. It seemed incomprehensible. But I also believed it. I knew it would be true.
And so began my fear of pregnancy.
At 25, I have zero intention of ever having children. I came to this decision wholeheartedly when I was 20, and the sense of relief I felt was monumental. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized the kind of weight I’d been carrying around. I know that much of that burden came from my traumatizing experiences with unwed pregnancy shaming in my church and community. My decision was ultimately affected by so many more factors than that (as you can read about here), but I know I have a general aversion to pregnancy and babies because of my teenage experiences and the attitudes I encountered from adults on the subject.
Which is why I found this article so moving. It was the first time I’d ever read or encountered anyone standing up and saying that the whispering and shaming and haughty glances were wrong. But not for the “you shouldn’t gossip or judge” reason (which is true), but for the “being pregnant isn’t a sin even if the original sexual act is considered sinful” reason. To me that was unheard of! It’s phenomenal! It’s groundbreaking! It means being pregnant isn’t a punishment. It means babies aren’t a punishment. It means God doesn’t hate you if you’re pregnant! Perhaps you know all these things already. That’s wonderful, but teenaged Kaitlyn didn’t and now adult Kaitlyn has a hard time accepting these as truths. Which makes me believe there are probably other teens who feel the same way and then grow up and perpetuate this same thought process and judgment, and it becomes a never ending cycle of girls and women who may be unwedded but still wish to celebrate in the life of the child they’re bringing into this world being shamed by other women (and men) who’ve grown up seeing unwed pregnancy as a sin.
So let’s break the cycle. Let’s teach our children (well, those of us who have them) not to judge girls in this way. Let’s teach them appropriate sex education because knowledge is power. (For those that think keeping teens in the dark about sex and preaching “abstinence only” is the best way to prevent teen pregnancy, you need a wake-up call. Perhaps watch John Oliver’s thoughts on the subject here). Let’s celebrate pregnancy and the birth of children no matter their circumstances of conception. They’re here now so let’s love them and their birth mothers who braved a hostile climate to bring them into the world.