I was 17 the first time I stared down at two pink lines. Old enough to know they were the result of my own choices, but too young to understand how powerful each and every choice I made from that moment on was going to be.
I was a kid, and I was scared. I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing. Well, nothing I needed to. I don’t know what I thought ignoring things would do . . . I had to know I couldn’t wish a baby away. But nonetheless, I tried.
I tried until one day I couldn’t button my jeans, and then I cried. I cried because I didn’t know what else to do. I cried because I didn’t know how to be a mother. It was never something I thought I wanted or dreamed of.
So, I made a choice not to.
I scheduled an abortion, but I couldn’t follow through. People assume this was a selfless decision, but it wasn’t. I was in no place to be a parent. I hadn’t even managed to care for a fetus properly. But I couldn’t see living with myself if I took a life. So I spared one, for my own sake.
I was anorexic. I partied hard. I make no excuses. I was selfish and wrong.
And it wasn’t until eight pounds of sweetness swaddled in pink stared up at me that I understood that. And I hated myself for it.
I wanted to forget it all. The choices I’d made and the baby girl I’d chosen not to protect. And for those reasons, I moved forward with an adoption plan. Again, not selflessly. But because it was a choice I could live with.
Looking back, no matter the reason—it was the one thing I did right. I didn’t deserve my baby girl. But losing her, even to the parents she was meant for, destroyed me.
It turned my world upside down. I partied more, studied less, and stayed steadily unemployed. I wouldn’t say I was suicidal, but I was reckless without concern for outcomes. And sure enough, just two years later, still hungover from the night before, I was again looking down at two pink lines.
This time it was different.
Life changed the moment I knew I was responsible for someone else’s. I sobered up, studied hard, got a job, and did everything I wasn’t strong enough to do before. And this time when I looked down at seven pounds of perfection swaddled in pink, I could promise her the world.
And I did.
I nursed her for two years. She slept atop my chest. We took mom-and-me classes, sat through library storytimes together, and attended playgroups (so being an only child did not set her back).
I poured all I had into her. But still, I swore I was coming up short. I had this notion I could never be enough, and it had control of me.
I got married when she was three. I dragged her into a turbulent relationship with the noble intention of trying to give her the perfect family. There are a thousand reasons I could tell you why I did that, or why it didn’t work, but the only one that matters is my heart held too much hate.
As focused as I was on my past, I couldn’t see the present. I was so angry at myself for letting my firstborn go, I lost time with the girl I had. I was there, going through the motions, but in my mind, I could never be enough. And because I couldn’t be enough for me, I couldn’t be enough for her. And that was a toxic place to be.
I describe getting married as playing house. A game that pushed me further into despair. In response to past mistakes, I tried so hard to be the mom and wife I thought I needed to be that I never honored who I was or thought about what I was meant to be. The hatred I felt for myself was reflected in the energy I drew from others.
Just as it is said a person can’t love you more than you love yourself, a person can’t hate you more than you hate yourself, either. And because of that, you won’t allow someone to treat you worse than you treat yourself. But that line can be dangerous when your heart is hateful.
For seven years, I lived just below that line.
First, I was cut down with words. But nothing he could say could be more painful than the things I told myself. So, I accepted them. Eventually, things turned physical. In a strange way, it was a relief. All the anger I felt toward myself took a tangible form. I didn’t feel like I deserved the perfect life I fought so hard for, so sickeningly, the abuse kept things in balance. The less respect I had for me, the more he took. It came to a head when he hurt someone else. And when I stood up for my girl, I realized long ago, I should have been standing up for me.
The night I decided to leave, my daughter fell asleep in my arms. I will never forget looking down at her and the trust in her eyes as she looked up at me. In those eyes and through mine filled with tears, I saw the grace of God. I saw my own worth and value and found forgiveness.
I came to understand I never had to be perfect—I only had to do my best. And the best I was capable of the day I learned I was going to be a mama was very different than the best I was capable of the day I held my firstborn. Though it was a tough pill to swallow, I had to accept that my higher power wouldn’t punish me for that. Then I had to stop punishing myself.
For years, I’d run scared. I convinced myself my actions were unforgivable. And on a human level, maybe they were. But scaled against the universe, it was akin to a learning curve. I wasn’t who I needed to be when I wanted to be. But it didn’t mean I couldn’t grow into that person. I just first had to break free of the self-imposed judgment that kept me captive.
I make no excuses. Not for me, or the experiences, or the man I let beat me down. I don’t claim wisdom or worthiness. Rather, I forgive my own imperfection, freeing me from impossible standards. And I celebrate that through the eyes of my child, and in those of a higher power, I am enough.
Their grace, His grace, is all I need.
And I am so thankful that when I am weak, he is strong.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).