The Phone Call
It was the phone call that would alter lives forever. We had talked so many times. Well, in reality I had talked—hoping that she was listening. We had talked about drugs and alcohol. She said, "Geez Mom, I'm not stupid, I would never do that."
She joined the SADD group at school. We talked about smoking. She said, "Smoking is stupid. It causes cancer and makes your teeth yellow."
We talked about sex. We talked about contraception. We talked about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. She said, "Mom, I don't even have a boyfriend."
I told her that one day, she would be confronted with some or all of these situations. I told her that a mother can't always protect her children, so she must try to educate them. I told her that I would always be there for her, and that she could come to me with anything. She said, "I know mom. You worry too much." I really thought we were doing ok. Thought SHE was doing ok. Time went by. Life went on, as it does.
I was sitting at my desk at work. The phone rang. I answered, "This is Susan, how may I help you."
"Hi Hon, what's up?"
"Well, ummm. I ahh, ahh , I think I need a doctor appointment."
"Oh, OK. What's the matter? Aren't you feeling well?"
"Well, umm, ahhh, I think I might be ahhh, kinda, ummm, pregnant."
There were several seconds of silence. I know I think I heard her, but this can't possibly be so. I finally say, "I'm sorry, what did you say? "
She repeats herself. "I said, I need an appointment for the doctor."
"Yes, yes, I heard that part. The other part. After that."
Her voice drops. It's barely a whisper.
"Mom, I think I might be pregnant."
Again, I sit silently, looking out the window.
"Mom, are you there?"
"Yes, I'm here."
I was thinking things like, "Did you not ever listen to anything I said? How many times have we discussed this? You are seventeen years old. All of your dreams are gone. All of my dreams for you are gone. Dear God, her life will never be the same."
I didn't say any of those things. I said, "You think you might be pregnant?"
"OK, well, I'm pretty sure I'm pregnant."
"I see." Another few seconds of silence.
"Well, you're right. You need to see a doctor. I'll call and make you an appointment."
I hung up. I put my head down on my desk. I cried. I prayed.
On Thursday, March 23rd I drive my daughter to the clinic. She sees the doctor, and I wait in the waiting room. After awhile, a pretty young nurse comes out. She smiles at me, and asks me to please come back. She takes me into the exam room where my little girl is sitting in a paper gown. I sit in one of the green plastic chairs in the room. I have known Dr Andrle for a very long time. She has been our family doctor since we moved here ten years before. She comes in, shakes my hand, and says, "Hi Susan. How are you doing?"
I smile, tell her I'm doing well, and thanks for asking.
She sits on the little round stool on wheels. She smiles at me, then at Melissa. She says, "Well, Melissa, you're right. You're definitely pregnant. There's a lot we need to talk about. I'm going to give you some prenatal vitamins. It's important that you take them. Some women get nauseous with them. Take them with food, and that should help. If it's too bad, give me a call and we'll try something different. OK?"
Melissa nods her head. "OK", she says.
"Melissa, we need to talk about STD's. You're pregnant, but that doesn't mean that you can have unprotected sex. We'll draw some blood today to test for sexually transmitted diseases. It could be very bad for your baby if you contract anything like that. You need to take care of yourself."
Dr Andrle turns to me. "Susan, Melissa and I have spoken a little bit, and she gave her permission to share what we've talked about. I've recommended that she attend a class for young moms to be. It's an educational class, and a support group. She'll learn about the physical changes she'll be going through. They have an exercise program, too. A nurse practitioner and a social worker run the class and program. Most women find it very helpful."
I nod at Dr Andrle. I don't know what to say. I can't believe I'm having this conversation. This is not my life. It's not what I signed up for. I'm a good mother. I was her girl scout leader. I have attended every school event that she's ever been involved in. My daughter is on the honor roll at school. She plays the flute. She doesn't smoke or use drugs. At least I don't think she does. But what do I know? I didn't know she was sexually active.
Dr Andrle is looking at me, still smiling. She puts her hand on my shoulder, and says, "Susan, I know this is all new, and a lot to process. Do you have any questions?"
I think of something."When is she due?" I ask.
"Around mid-November. I'm going to say the 14th, but you know, babies have a mind of their own. They come when they want to."
"Yes, I suppose that's true."
Dr Andrle turns back to Melissa, and speaks quietly."Melissa, I hope that you know that you're a very lucky girl. Not all mothers are as supportive as yours."
Melissa says, "I know, my mom's the greatest." I look down. I don't feel like I'm the greatest, and I don't feel one bit supportive.
Dr Andrle instructs Melissa to get dressed, and go to the lab. Then we are free to go.
I go to the car and wait for my daughter. When she comes out, she gets in, shuts the door, and says nothing. I drive through the streets, the windshield wipers on intermittent. Snow is falling, and sticking to the wiper blades. As I pull onto Hwy 34, Melissa finally speaks. "Mom, are you going to tell Daddy?"
I keep my eyes on the road. I tell her, "No. I'm not. You are."
"But mom. He's going to be so mad. He's going to hate me." She starts to cry.
I drive, afraid to speak, because I am still unsure how to proceed with this situation. Finally I pull off the highway and into our neighborhood. I see Jim, the guy on the corner out shoveling his sidewalk. He waves at us, a big grin on his face. I wave back. Smile like it's just a normal day. I pull into the driveway, and open the garage door with the electronic opener. I pull in, and get out. Melissa says, "I'll shovel the driveway if you want."
I am her mother, and I have known her since before she was born. The only time Melissa volunteers for outside chores is when she has done something that she feels bad about. I know that what she is saying is, "I'm sorry, Mom." But I don't care that she feels bad, and I don't care if she's sorry.
I don't look at her, I turn and walk into the house and say over my shoulder, "That's a good idea. Why don't you shovel the driveway? That should make everything better." I shut the door behind me.
Melissa has had a reprieve from telling her father. He doesn't have to travel a lot for his work, but now and then, it happens. He is in DC for a conference this week. He will be back on Saturday. She asked me again if I could please, please tell him. On this, I stand firm. I will not be the one to tell him this. He will be shattered. She has always been daddy's little girl. She is his pride and joy. He believes she is the smartest, most talented, and most beautiful girl that has ever graced this earth. He has plans for her. We have plans for her. She has plans for herself. She scored 2345 on her SAT's. I don't know a lot about these scores, but as I understand it, that's an exceptional score. She applied to UCLA, and was accepted. She wants to major in marine biology. She will graduate from high school in June, and will probably be showing by then. At least her graduation gown will cover that. I think about these things as I fold a load of towels.
It is Friday evening, and Melissa has not gone out. She always goes out on Friday nights. She goes to the mall, or the movies, or to a friend's house. I have never doubted her. She always makes her curfew, and calls us if she's running a little late. We trust her. There were a few years of what I would call normal teenage rebellion. Some attitude, a slammed door now and then, and at the age of fourteen she had mastered the eye roll. I guess we were lucky. I've had friends tell me horror stories about their kids. Shouting matches, and staying out all night, even run-ins with the law. Melissa has always been a good kid. I guess that's why this whole thing just blows me away. She interrupts my thoughts, as she walks into the hallway where I'm stacking the towels in the linen closet.
"Mom? Are you mad at me?" she asks.
I close the closet door, and turn to her. I take her by the hand and we walk into the living room and sit next to each other on the sofa.
"Melissa, I love you. More than you will ever know. Yes, I'm a little mad at you. But more than that I am sad, and disappointed. You simply have no concept of how seriously this is going to affect your life. Do you have any idea of how you're going to deal with all of this? What about college? How will you support a child? What has David said? Have you told him?" I realize that with each question, I have gotten louder and louder. The last question I ask is a full blown scream. Nasty and accusatory, I ask her, "Do you even know who the father is?!!?"
Too late, I hear myself, and immediately am ashamed. The look on my daughter's face is difficult to describe. It pains me to remember it. I have never knowingly hurt her, and with one angry outburst, I have crushed her. The color drains from her face, and she crumples into a mass of uncontrollable sobs. She covers her face with her hands.
I reach for her. Pull her to me, even as she tries to move away. I wrap myself around her, and hold her tight. I do not let her go. I hang on. We are both crying now.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," I say. "I didn't mean it. Not any of it. I love you. I'm just so scared for you. Melissa, I love you."
She kept crying, but instead of pulling away, she hugged me back. "I know Mama, I know. I'm scared too. I don't know what to do. I want to go to college. I do. I didn't tell David yet. I only told Deb. She swears she won't tell anyone. Mama, what should I do?"
I went to the kitchen and made us each a cup of chamomile tea. We lit a fire in the fireplace, and talked. She fell asleep with her head in my lap. I sat there, looking at her and remembering.
I remembered the day we brought her home from the hospital. She was a tiny bundle of pink fluff. So much has happened since then. Her first steps, when she finally let go of the coffee table and took three steps into her daddy's arms. Her first outing to the zoo was so much fun. We have a picture of her on the mantel, her pink dress covered in chocolate ice cream. We bought her an ice cream cone, and the three of us shared it on the bench in front of the giraffes. She loves giraffes, always has. I remembered her first day of kindergarten, and how she was so brave. Some of the kids were clinging to their parents' legs, and crying. Not Melissa, she walked up to the teacher and said, "I'm Melissa Jane McKinley and I came to color." She turned and waved at us, said "Bye", and walked away. We sat in the car in front of the school and laughed. We had been so worried about how she'd handle us leaving her there.
There were so many memories. The ceremony where she became a brownie. She practiced, saying the lines over and over in front of the bathroom mirror. "Twist me and turn me and show me the elf, I looked in the water and saw—myself." She was so proud of herself when she got her uniform. There are so many things that get lost in the fabric of time. Things that we don't think about, maybe don't even remember, and then in an instant—there they are. It's as if they were just sitting on a shelf, behind your favorite book. You take it down, look for the poem you were thinking about, and there—some long lost memory just pops right out at you.
I sat with Melissa until late in the night. When I couldn't stay awake any longer, I covered her with a throw, kissed her forehead, and went to bed.
Patrick came home from his business trip on Saturday. He burst in through the front door in his usual jovial fashion.
"Helllooooooo! Any beautiful women at home?"
"In the kitchen," I called. He came in, set his briefcase on the floor, picked up the mail on the counter, and kissed me—all in one smooth move.
Every time I look at this man, I fall in love all over again. He stands six foot three in his stocking feet, and works out four days a week. He has sandy blond hair, and the most beautiful blue eyes. When I say they look like a pond on a summer's day, I'm not being corny. They really do. Inside of that fine specimen of a man, beats the kindest, most gentle heart I've ever known.
"Dinner is almost ready. Are you hungry?" I asked.
"Starved. Is Lissa out?"
I turned back to the stove, and gave the sauce a stir. "Yes, but she said she'd be home early." Melissa and I had talked about it, and decided that she would tell him this evening. It was a hell of a homecoming, that's for sure. My heart was already breaking for him. We sat down, joined hands, and said grace. He always says grace when he's home, and I always love hearing him say it. He is so sincere when he prays, unlike some people who just say the same old thing by rote.
True to her word, Melissa was home by seven. Patrick and I were sitting in the living room, catching up with each other. It was fairly easy to keep the conversation on what had been going on with him. His trip had gone well, and he was excited about it. He looked up when Melissa came in, and smiled at her. "How's my girl?"
She came to his side, and kissed his cheek. "I'm good daddy. How was your trip?"
"Great, really great. How about you? What have you two girls been up to?"
Melissa sat on the ottoman. She folded her hands in her lap. "Daddy. I have something to tell you. Something important. I know you're going to be really upset, but please, please don't yell at me."
He looked at her, and looked at me. His smile vanished, and he leaned forward. Little lines formed in his forehead. "What's wrong? What do you have to tell me? How bad can it be? Did you get a B on a test? Princess, It's OK. You've always been an over achiever. I can live with a B."
He smiled a little, but it was forced. Melissa looked at me, pleading with her eyes. I shook my head no, and went and sat next to Patrick. I took my husbands hand in mine, and said, "Patrick, it's not a bad grade. You need to listen to what Melissa is trying to say."
He nodded, swallowed, and said, "OK, what is it? Just tell me."
Melissa clasped her hands in front of her, and looked at them. She couldn't look at her father. She whispered, "Daddy, I'm pregnant."
I watched his face. He blinked twice. His mouth opened as if he were trying to speak, but no sound came out. He turned and looked at me, and looked back at his little girl. "Pregnant? Melissa, did you say you're pregnant?"
Tears were streaming down her face. She wiped at them with the back of her hands. She nodded, and whispered again, "Yes daddy. I'm so sorry."
He reached out his hand and put it on top of her head, traced a finger down her cheek. Then he stood, turned and walked out of the room, down the hall and into the bedroom. I heard the door close behind him. Melissa got up and ran to her own room. I sat, staring into the fireplace. I would like to help them both, but I haven't yet figured out how to help myself to deal with all of this. Late that night, I shut off the lights, and join my husband in our room. He is in bed, but not asleep. I climb in beside him, and we lay there in the dark. Finally he speaks. "How long have you known?", he asks me.
"About a week."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"I didn't want to worry you if it wasn't true. I wanted her to see Dr Andrle. Her appointment was Thursday, and you were in DC. I didn't think you should hear it over the phone."
"I guess there's no good way to hear it. What has David said?"
"She said she hasn't told him yet. She asked me what she should do. She's scared, and she's confused."
He sat up in bed and turned on the lamp. The look on his face is one of anger. "What do you mean she doesn't know what to do? She's pregnant. I think the decision is made."
"Pat, please, just try and calm down. It isn't going to help anything if you fly off the handle."
"Susan, have you given this any thought? Our daughter is pregnant! She's supposed to be going to college in the fall! What's she supposed to do? Stick a baby in her backpack? Do you have any idea what people are going to say?!"
I responded, in as calm a voice as I could muster, considering how angry his last comment had made me. "What are people going to say? This isn't about people, or what they think or say! It's about your daughter."
He walked into the bathroom, and slammed the door behind him. I knew this was going to be hard for him, but what he didn't seem to realize was that it was just as hard for me as it was for him. I had just had a few more days to process the information than he did. I waited for him to come back in, and finally he did. He blew his nose, and sat on the edge of the bed. With his head down, and his shoulders sagging, he whispered my name.
"Susan, how did this happen? I always thought she was a good kid. Now she's gone and screwed up her whole life. A baby for God's sake. What a nightmare."
I got up on my knees, and wrapped my arms around his shoulders, holding him as close to me as I could. "She is a good kid. She made a mistake. She really needs you right now. She needs to know that you still love her. She's afraid you'll never forgive her."
His shoulders shook, and he wiped at the tears on his face. His voice trembled as he spoke. "Of course I love her. She can't doubt that. She's my little girl. God, my little girl." He dropped his head in his hands, and cried. It broke my heart to see him, and took every ounce of will power I had not to break down right there with him. But one of us had to be strong, and I knew that at least for that one night, it had to be me.
The next few weeks were stressful for all of us. Melissa went to school as usual. Mercifully, she didn't suffer too much from morning sickness. When she came home, she went straight to her room. She joined us for dinner, but conversation was almost nonexistent. I tried to keep things on an even keel, but it was hard. We'd talk about the weather, or about the headlines in the news. Dinner time used to be when we talked about college plans, and what Melissa and David had planned for the weekend. Pat had always had a ritual of telling us his "joke of the day" at the evening meal. It was a fun thing that he had started years before, and we always enjoyed it. Even when his joke was lame, it gave us something to laugh about. Laughter was the ingredient missing from our evenings now, and it was an absence felt sorely by all. The other thing missing was David. He had joined us once or twice a week for dinner for the past several months. Melissa hadn't brought up his name, and although we were wondering what the situation was, we didn't ask.
Finally, one Thursday evening, Melissa asked if she could talk to us. We sat in the living room, and Pat lit a fire in the fireplace. It was April, and evenings were still quite chilly. Pat sat in his recliner, I in my rocker, and Melissa sat cross-legged on the sofa. She reached out and put some brochures on the coffee table. She took a deep breath, and started talking. "I went to the family planning clinic a few days ago, and they gave me this stuff", she said. I picked up one off the stack. "PREGNANCY—THE FACTS AND THE OPTIONS" I opened it up. I didn't hand it to Pat, until he finally asked for it. The blood drained from his face, and he threw the brochure on the table.
"Options? I don't see any options here. You are pregnant. You are having a baby. You and David are responsible for that baby. How can you even consider anything else?"
Melissa fought back tears. I watched her beautiful blue eyes fill up, and watched her blink them away. She swallowed, took a deep breath, and spoke to her father. "Daddy, David doesn't want the baby. He broke up with me."
I have never seen my husband more angry in my life. He stood, grabbed the brochure he had just thrown on the table, and crushed it in his hand. He tossed it into the fireplace, and screamed, "Doesn't want the baby!? How convenient! He should have thought of that a little bit sooner, don't you think?! Well, I'll tell you one thing. It doesn't matter what he wants! He is responsible for that baby, and there are laws that will remind him of that. I might just remind him myself!"
Melissa sat very still, and waited for him to stop. When he finally sat back in the chair, she spoke again. "Daddy. I know that you want everything to be ok for me. But it's not ok. Things will never be the same. I haven't decided what I want to do. I only know I'm afraid. I always said I could never have an abortion. I could never understand when I heard about other girls doing it, but I've never been pregnant before either. I can understand how some people might need to make that choice. I also don't know if I could give my baby away. I know people want to adopt babies all the time, and my baby could go to someone who really wants one. Someone who's finished with college. Someone who's established, and could give it a good life. But I don't know if I can do that either. I know that if I decide to have this baby, I will be a single mother. I wanted to talk to you and Mom, and get your opinions, but the decision has to be mine. You've always taught me to follow my heart, and use my head. No matter what I decide, I love you both."
She spoke clearly, and thoughtfully, and looked her dad in the eye. Then she broke down and sobbed. We both went to her, and sat one on each side on the sofa. We held her, and we cried together. When we were able to gather our wits about us, I took Melissa's hand, looked into Patrick's eyes, and said, "Melissa. You're right. This is your decision, and yours alone. It doesn't matter what David wants, or Daddy wants, or I want. We love you, and we will support you in whatever you choose to do."
She looked at her father, and asked a one word question. "Daddy?"
He nodded, put his forehead against hers, and said, "Yes, whatever you decide. Whatever you need."
We have discussed the options. This is America. She has choices. She says for her, there is no choice. I am proud of her, and I am scared for her. Her room has become part nursery, part teen-age girl domain. The contrasts astound me as we assemble the crib and hang the mobile. Melissa graduated as valedictorian of her high school class. She will postpone college for a year. David is still not happy about the baby, but his mother is supportive of Melissa. She has been calling twice a week to see how she's feeling, and to offer any help that she can. She is a homemaker, and has offered to watch the baby whenever Melissa need a break. She has also generously volunteered to help out when Melissa goes to college. The cruise that Patrick and I had scheduled for the fall had to be cancelled. It was to be our twentieth anniversary celebration. Instead, we will become grandparents. This isn't exactly what I had planned to be doing in my forties, but it's working out. We have been attending childbirth classes. She has been uncomfortable, and finally calls me at work one morning to tell me she feels "funny".
At four-thirty the next morning, my daughter gives birth to her own daughter. She cries. I cry. The baby cries. The nurse wraps her in a tiny pink blanket and asks me if I would like to hold my granddaughter. I take her in my arms and fall in love.
Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if she had made a different choice. I like to think that we would have been supportive of her, no matter what. I know that Patrick would have had a much more difficult time, if she had decided not to have this baby. I guess we'll never know what path our life might have taken. That's the thing about the road of life. There are bumps, and curves, wrong turns and detours. It's a road that leads you to places you never dreamed you would end up. You never know. You could be going about your day, making plans and dreaming of tomorrow. The phone might ring, interrupting you from some important task. In an instant your plans fly away, like a bluebird on a summer day. One simple phone call could alter the course of your life forever.