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Friday
Aug282009

Safe Places

Let's start with the facts: It was a school day. I was in my sophomore year. In general, life was pretty difficult. That's everyone in high school, though. Right?

Thinking back on it now I couldn't possibly tell you what class I was in at the time. I couldn't tell you what I was wearing or what I'd had for breakfast. In fact, all I can tell you is that I was 5 months into my second pregnancy. The baby, a girl who would be born and placed for adoption, who would come along sometime in September. Details of the day are fuzzy including how or when I finally got home from school. But none of this matters now nor did it matter at the time. The only specifics of importance are that I was a sophomore in high school and tried diligently, for the second time mind you, to hide a pregnancy. It was only due to the extra large "Wham! UK" t-shirts and the "Frankie Say Relax!" near-dresses that kept everyone from knowing all my business. This baby was going to be due sometime in September and it was anyone's guess as to when because I wasn't a good record-keeper about such things. How could I be? There was already a 1-year old that I was figuring out how to take care of in my home.

A hall pass appeared at the door from an office assistant. They came, stood quietly, and handed the piece of paper to the teacher who determined whether or not you would be leaving their classroom for an unknown destination. The ultimate power that teachers hold when assessing whether you could leave the brilliance of their teaching and scoot off to some place where they'd never know if you would return from is staggering. You could go immediately or you could wait until the end of the hour. There was no waiting on this one. Before I knew it, the pass was in my hand and I hunched over, as usual, to hide my growing belly in case no one yet noticed or perhaps hadn't heard the whispers of, "She's pregnant AGAIN?" In my mind they were whispers because no one spoke to me about it and very few friends knew I was going to have another baby. If they knew then they certainly didn't speak to me of it. Maybe they were talking about it with one another, but no one ever came up to me directly and spoke of it.

It was a pass to go to the Guidance Office. There could be a million reasons why it came. A message that needed to get to me before I left school for the day. Perhaps it would be a meeting to determine my course selections for the following school year. It could even be ... well, I had no idea what it could be so I willingly made my way there and was directed to a small conference room off to the side where my guidance counselor and a friend of mine awaited me. They looked serious and that terrified me. If I'm honest with myself I will admit that I walked around in a complete haze at that time. No details are clear and, believe it or not, I am becoming withdrawn and wondering just where everything started to fall apart but I keep ignoring all the signs that I'm not making the best choices and I plow right on through. It is, of course, what we all do. I just don't think that my 16-year old brain can make sense of the fact that anyone else ever had to go through this.

Twice.

Because once seemed like enough to learn a lesson. Right?

From there I remember sitting and hearing the voices in the room start to swirl around in my ears. It becomes a cloudy tunnel and this is just like in the movies when sounds are muffled and you leave your body because what you're hearing isn't really happening. My counselor tells me that my friend has called me down there to have a safe place to speak to me because she's been in her office crying all morning and wants to talk to me. Clearly, this counselor is on her side. Where there sides? Who said that there were sides? That lines were drawn and I was on one side and she was on another? WHO MADE THIS DECISION? Is it really possible that someone, an adult, ok'd this Side Making Line? These tunnel thoughts are not the thoughts in my 16-year old mind. They are of my adult brain looking back from a perspective that can't make sense of this.

Time? What time? I don't know how long I sat there. But there was yelling and pointing and disgust and crying. She was doing this. My friend. She was blaming me for getting pregnant and ruining everything. This went on and on and I cannot recall if a bell rang and marked the end of the class period. Maybe everyone else in the office left when they heard her yelling at me. Or perhaps they put their ears up to the door to listen. Words? What words? I don't remember what was said enough to repeat it. Just the yelling. I distinctly remember the yelling. I distinctly recall that the counselor sat close to my friend and comforted her and offered her tissues and I sat on the other side of the table, tunnel sounds swirling around my eardrums, and crumpled in a heap in my chair. Being that pregnant and crumpling into a heap is no small feat, either. I must have been really limber back then. After a while I couldn't even see through the huge, hot tears and I was feeling a mixture of emotions: anger at my friend for letting loose on me and fear at the adult who let her. It was clear: girls who get themselves pregnant and are that stupid do NOT deserve compassion. They deserve shame. That's what this was: an approved shaming in the presence of an adult who gave the go-ahead for this.

It's not that I haven't forgiven them. It's not the forgetting that's the problem. What do I do with these emotions now? Where do I put them? They seem not to have a place. Safe places aren't always easily identifiable nor do they make their presence known to a 16-year old pregnant girl who already has a baby at home to care for every day. But for the 38-year old woman who becomes a counselor at a school in her job many years later?

I assure you. I know just where it goes.
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Reader Comments (47)

Wow, Kell. I love you dearly and I don't *really* know you.

This is brilliant. And it made me cry. And for all the daughters that get to bask in your knowing warmth - thank you thank you. You are doing exactly what you should be doing. Every day.

So few people can say that.

You forgave yourself - with so much more compassion than most people can offer. And that is a feat up there with the college, the graduate school, the giving up a child, raising others - the getting on with things and carving out a life.

Again, thanks.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCatrinkaS

It sounds like it was hard for you to go through so much (ok, like obviously it was), but GOD, those kids at your school are lucky to have someone with so much compassion for them.

I bet they have No Idea, but then again, 16 y.o. don't know much about much anyway, right? Thankfully we mostly grown out of that!

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercat/BadKitty

You are one of very few truly qualified counsellors to many of the teen issues. I'd suggest you get a "Been there, done that" plaque made for your office wall. Mount it alongside an early family shot. A really early shot.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBig Mike In Oz

Unfortunately, there are many inept "counselors" in our school systems. I dealt with a few myself and I didn't have nearly the emotional burdens that you did at 16. One told me in HS that my desire to become a lawyer was unrealistic and based on some career assessment test, I should consider becoming a florist. In her defense, she had no way of knowing that I am highly allergic to pollen. :) Still...the stifling, small-mindedness is staggering to me, even now. I can't imagine having 2 pregnancies by age 16 and your friend probably couldn't handle it either, but the "professional" in that room is the one who should have been ashamed of herself. On the plus side...I can only guess that this event makes you a much more compassionate counselor than she ever was.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCyndi

Oh, wow. Ditto Catrinka. You are exactly where you should be.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMeg Evans

I am dying to work with you in the future. I can't think of many administrators I've known as passionately student-centered as you are. We need more of ya.

Love ya, mean it.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKBO

What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. Hugs.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

You are amazing, Kelly.

On behalf of kids everywhere- and their parents- I'd love to meet you, shake your hand, and say "thank you".

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohann

Wow! This was powerful. I see why you were drawn to your profession... to make sure that kind of thing never happened on your watch. Thanks for sharing this very personal story.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJill

I really don't know what to say. I can't believe any counselor would let the discussion happen, being so one sided and supported.
From what I can tell, what you went through only makes you better at the job you do now. You are the safe place for your students.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Wow. That has to be some of the most powerful writing I have read in a while. I am so touched by your words and your honesty and this makes me love you even more.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLu

Beautiful. Heartfelt (clearly). And, in my opinion, very brave.

The way this played out, I half expected the guidance counselor to pin a scarlet letter to your t-shirt or lead you to the stocks that had been built in the cafeteria.

Still, to me, this speaks volumes about your fortitude and perseverance. If kudos matter from a pseudo-anonymous internet entity, then: Kudos.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMighty Hunter

okay, de-lurking because you are excellent. truly excellent.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfrannie

That is amazing. I have goosebumps and tears for what you've had to go through. But the fact that you have the power and knowledge to help other kids, hopefully never in your situation, but that you are there for them is amazing. They are very lucky to have you.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Soup

you put those emotions into helping your students, kell. you do it every day and you do it beautifully.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermommymae

The most impressive to me is that you had two full term pregnancies in the era when abortion was culturally accepted and expected. And then you gave up the second baby--such a mature decision, especially after this incident.

You are all that. Your students are very fortunate to have you. I am just gushing over myself about how much the bomb you are!

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterangie

I must say, all of this must make you one of the most experience and qualified in your profession.

This story truly amazes me.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNel

Wow, Kelly.

Thank you for sharing this.

Wow.

I knew I loved you.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterslouchy

I'm sort of at a loss for words. It takes my breath away. You are still one of my favorite bloggers ever.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmelia Sprout

This is wonderful. The writing, not the memory. It must have been awful to find that your 'friend' had betrayed you. The fact that you are a counselor rocks even more that I've heard this story. So much awesomeness. The kids at your school are lucky kids.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeadless Mom

Great story that needs to be told, and shared, over and over. Thanks! (and see you in the morning)

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa W

This story made me sad, but also, glad, because, you are that safe place that children do not always have. And the rough place that you were in has allowed you to get here. And that is a blessing for the students at your school.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterinthefastlane

I'm glad you are where you are...if you can help one 16 year old girl from feeling the way you did back then, well, then you are truly amazing and definitely much-needed.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpgoodness

But you WERE still a student in high school with a young child and managed to get pregnant AGAIN. Isn't there even the smallest amount of shame in that? You did the right thing, the noble thing, the best thing, by placing your second child for adoption, but the fact that you even got pregnant a second time is mind-boggling. I'm sorry your friend yelled at you, and I'm truly sorry the idiot adult sat by and watched and ALLOWED it, but it sounds like someone had to let you know how terrible and wrong and sad the situation was. And maybe their intervention was what kept you from getting pregnant yet a third time... I'm glad you're in a good place now and can impart your experience and knowledge to the at-risk girls you see on a daily basis. However, I worry that they'll hear your story, look at you, and decide having a child while still in high school would be a-ok. You are certainly the exception, hardly the rule!

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJane

Hi Jane. You reiterating the very post that I just read above is a piss poor excuse for a thoughtful comment. It is also, as you can see, the longest one as well. But this one will probably be longer. Mocha, who happens to be my sister, did such a beautiful job telling her own story in her own words, don't you think?

And then you pull the brilliant conclusion straight out of your ass ("Maybe their intervention was what kept you from getting pregnant yet a third time") that this experience was her moment of enlightenment. Her Aha! moment! YOU, Jane, came to that conclusion, even though she clearly communicates that it was beyond awful and hurtful and humiliating. In your mind, did she then walk out of the counselor's office and declare to all of her classmates, "I shall never get knocked up again! I have learned from this wonderful shaming!" I'm picturing this set to song and dance maybe?! What else happens? Do tell.

So this leads me to believe that your comment is simply another judgmental shaming. Unnecessary. Pointless. Not adding to the dialogue at all. You had an opinion before you read this and then shat it all over my sister's beautiful blog. Don't you worry your simple little mind about teen girls being exposed to this phenomenal fucking woman. Dammit you have pissed me off.
And I'm outta Pinot!!

August 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertrayday

Ah Trayday, you said it so much better than I. I had to back away from the computer after reading Jane's comment because it was just so damn ugly. AS IF God himself died and appointed Jane in charge! Hmph! How about that!

Anyway, I'm glad I stepped away, because after calming down, I came back and saw your perfect response. And nothing I could ever say would be as good.

Kelly, I know I don't often comment here...(preferring instead to just pop off an e-mail now and then), but this post? Seriously some awesome awesome stuff goin' on!! Thank you for writing it and thank GOD (NOT Jane!) for you being in just the right place when those kids need someone to be their champion!

August 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterelembee123

[...] Mocha Momma » Safe Places www.mochamomma.com/2009/08/27/safe-places – view page – cached #RSS 2.0 RSS .92 Atom 0.3 Mocha Momma » Safe Places Comments Feed Mocha Momma Hello world! (500) Days of Love & Haiku — From the page [...]

Kelly,
your post was beautiful powerful and so important to read. We are honored that you chose to share this with us and anyone who 'can't grasp' what you did and what you are doing for your students, for others, for the world! Is an ass!!!!!!
Hugs,
Anita

August 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnita Tedaldi

Very moving and beautifully written, Kelly.

August 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLEEBEY

Ahhh...unless you've been there you just don't know. I was not quite as young as you but young enough. You don't need anyone to tell you how disappointed they are in you but, they do. You loved ones, your friends, your church members, your neighbors, strangers...all of them judging with their eyes and maybe they weren't but that's how you felt (but they probably were). Like you didn't even want to walk outside, go to school because "they" would be looking at you. Fact: teenage pregnancy happens. It sucks but, it does and you and I are supreme examples that no your life is not over. Does a young girl, confused, scared maybe feeling abandoned, need someone yelling at them? Some things are just fucking common sense but, judgmental assholes don't see that do they? A young girl needs to know she has options, that her life isn't over, that there are people out there that have lived through to tell their story (and beautifully I might add). It is noone's plight in life to shame another person into doing the "right" thing...well unless you're southern baptist.

August 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

Jane,

You must never, ever have done anything stupid as a teenager. I applaud you for that, because that would make you the first and only teenager in the history of the world not to have done something stupid. Making stupid choices is the hallmark of the teenage years.

Fortunately, for most stupid teenagers, the ill-thought choices they make do not have life-long consequences. For the few that do end up having altered their life forever, many are fortunate to have adults in their life to help navigate them through the wreckage of their choices and they come out through the other side unscathed, or if not unscathed, smarter for the experience. Some don't have that kind of support and have to sort it all out on their own with their not-quite-yet-fully-formed-hormone-laced brains. Some don't make it through at all.

The benefit of making stupid choices when you are young is that you end up smarter for the experience. Jane, maybe it's because you were so smart as a teenager that you are so stupid now.

MochaMomma, I am so glad you are there for the students in your charge. I know from first hand experience that an administrator that cares just a little bit more, looks just a little closer, can mean the difference between not making it through at all, and coming out the other end smarter for the experience.

August 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentershari

Jane, perhaps you should pick up a copy of "Jesus Loves You, this I know." A book that will tell you that Jesus loves you no matter who you are, right where you are, despite anything that you do or have done. You have no right to judge Kelly. You don't even know her. Jesus loves you too. He doesn't want us to judge anyone lest we be judged by the same measure.

It was very brave of Kelly to share her story and the fact that you have so little respect for the magnitude of her story (which, by the way, is the lesson of "Adults make mistakes and are just as likely, if not more so, to betray a child in need, and DAMMIT I won't do that, because I KNOW.") just makes you like the counselor who never offered comfort to a hurting, pregnant girl.

But what makes me so sad and so disturbed by your comment was your implication that she is setting the example to her students to follow in her teenage footsteps. Holy CRAP! What on EARTH brings you to that conclusion? Is Kelly completely incapable of telling a student that that's not the smartest thing to do? Hardly. As you can clearly read, she is an eloquent, caring woman.

Oustanding.

August 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSHA

You warm my heart. Trials are what make us. I only wish my kids run into to you one day. Your students are lucky.

August 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfina

Once again, I'm blubbering in a coffee shop. Hell, Kelly, my heart breaks for the little girl you were, and for all little girls (young and old) who don't have the guidance and support and unconditional love that they need and deserve. What a gift, that you can turn your pain into healing for someone else (in addition to healing yourself). And thank you for the indirect reminder of a) the destructive nature of judgement and b) how the trajectory of one's life can never be understood looking forward, but only in hindsight so it is never too late to change directions to make it better and make it fall in line with your dreams.

August 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteremma

Hey Mocha.

I like this post because it is from the heart. I remember that tunnel feeling when something bad is happening so clearly, you expressed that very well. I wonder if this is Jane's first reading of your blog because she clearly does not get you.

Love ya, Nora

August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWhite Hot Magik

I also remember that tunnel feeling! Oy.
So maybe you don't know where to put those hurt feelings, that anger, that sadness, but i think you know you were meant to walk this path - because look where you are now, doing better than they did to you, knowing well how the girls (and boys) you work with need you in a more empathetic position.
I love you.

August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Sugarpants

oy indeed.
type, erase, re-write, erase.
try again.
hello beautiful.
you did great.
you are the personification of bravery and givingness.
yeah, that's a word.
kiss X

August 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkatie

You are right where you need to be. Bless you heart! :o)

August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKeyona

I've been there, I was you, I was that pregnant girl. Whom was told I couldn't participate in the Senior night ritual because I was a bad mark on the school.

I am comforted to know that you know exactly where to put those feelings now that you are in the position you are in.

From our first few conversations on Twitter, to the chats about my step daughter on facebook I knew I felt connected to you. Thank you for writing this.

August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

You know, dear readers, that when I write like this I have to take some time and step away from the computer for a bit. Must clear my head for whatever words come. You did not disappoint and I am, as always, blown away by the support and kindness of anyone who reads this here blog.

I applaud you for taking care of Jane for me because I said what I needed to say. I cannot control how anyone hears it no matter how little.

I especially thank my sister who got right to the heart of the matter in defending my words. I love you, Trayday. I love you for always showing me the example of love.

Humbly, I thank the rest of you.

August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

You're so good with words that I feel inadequate to express myself to you. You are such a pillar of strength and brave for sharing yourself with the rest of us. You give hope to others who find themselves in difficult situations that you CAN move ahead and be successful. The trying times form you for who you are meant to be and that is one amazing mocha momma! Thank you for inspiring ; )

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

sorry i'm late in commenting. i found your site a month or so ago and have been hooked ever since!

i am very glad that you're in a position to compassionately guide teens today. like others have said, you are definitely in the right place!

i had kind of an opposite situation as you. in 8th grade [this was before sex education in schools], my school had an outside group come in to teach our home ec class how to "control our horniness" or something to that effect. in order to participate, you had to have your parents sign a permission slip since it wasn't a school-affiliated program. i told my mom i wasn't comfortable with taking that. i didn't even have my period yet and was a late-bloomer sexually anyway. my mom told my home ec teacher why she wasn't signing it and my home ec teacher told mom that i would be pregnant by my sophomore year in high school b/c i wasn't taking the course. well, i safely made it through my soph year without a pregnancy, but i still remember that teacher's comments. at 13, i was strong enough to choose for myself and knew i wasn't ready to deal with sex on any level yet. i honestly feel that teachers & guidance counselors are there to support children, not tell them how they're going to end up.

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commentershe

After that horrible experience, how you didn't switch to "all anal, all the time", I just don't know.

(hug)

September 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAvitable

Beautiful writing. So glad I came over from Schmutzie. People make the oddest comments sometimes: "I just KNOW I would never [insert judgeable thing here, like having a baby in high school, or giving up custody of one's children]" but of course, they don't know. No one knows what it's like being inside the brain and body of someone else. But our experiences, especially the life-altering ones, give us compassion toward someone else's choices. I'm glad you are finding some semblance of a closing to this particular circle in your life. Again, beautiful.

September 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Murphy

"It was clear: girls who get themselves pregnant and are that stupid do NOT deserve compassion. They deserve shame."

My God, I know this well. And I want so badly to throttle people who perpetuate that fear and belief system.

September 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

I am late on this great read. Scratching my head---trying to figure out why the counselor thought the child who was not pregnant needed consoling.

September 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAfrican American Mom

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