My life as a free-spirited and careless college freshman ended before it even started. I had graduated high school with the notion that I would attend a school far away from home and begin the next chapter of my life. Little did I know at the time that what I thought was a small decision I had made almost 4 years ago, would end up being life-altering. Sometimes it really is the smallest decisions that can change your life forever.
I had been dating my boyfriend Paul* for nearly two years since my junior year of high school. My parents weren’t so keen on the idea of me leaving home right after high school to attend college so far away, but ultimately left the decision up to me. I had gotten into a small college in Pittsburgh, eight hours away from my home in New York and eight hours away from Paul. At the time he was going to a commuter school nearby and still living at home. He told me then that if I decided to attend the school in Pittsburgh he was going to break up with me because he couldn’t handle a long distance relationship. Because I didn’t want to deal with the pain of what it would be like if he broke up with me, I opted to attend the same community college instead of going to school in Pittsburgh. I figured if I went to the community college, it might be a good way to not only continue to stay close with him, but also to raise my GPA and then transfer to an even better school than the one I originally thought I’d attend. It meant putting off my dream of living in a college dorm and having a typical college girl’s lifestyle right away, but I knew in time I would make it there anyway and I didn’t want to disappoint the person I loved.
On October 5, 2007, my life changed forever. Not only was it my second anniversary with Paul, but it was also the day I discovered I was pregnant. I was still seeing a pediatrician at the time when I found out, and I went into the office that day to get a routine Gardasil shot. I had to follow procedure and urinate in a cup. The reason for this was if you happened to be pregnant, the doctor couldn’t administer the shot. I didn’t think much of it, so I did my business and handed the cup to the lab technician in the office. A few minutes later, my doctor walked into the room and slowly closed the door behind her. “I can’t give you your shot. Did you know that you’re pregnant?” Showing absolutely no symptoms at all or even thinking I was, this was the most shocking news I had ever heard and I immediately went numb. “Um, WHAT?!” I said in absolute disbelief. “Yeah, you’re about three weeks along,” she replied.
Paul knew I was planning on going to the doctor that day, but he expected for me to go in and get a Gardasil shot, not to find out I was pregnant. I called Paul right away in utter shock and disbelief as I left the office, my voice shaky. “Paul, I need to tell you something. Can I come over to your house and tell you? I don’t want to say it on the phone.” I said. “No, what is it, Mary? Tell me right now. What’s going on?” he responded. “I’m pregnant,” I answered. It all felt so surreal. I couldn’t believe just one month shy of my 19th birthday, I was pregnant. I never would have thought in a million years that something like this would ever happen to me so young, but it did. Perhaps this is something I guess I should have expected in a weird way to happen, even though I believed it wouldn’t. We hadn’t been using protection and my birth control use had been inconsistent since that summer. I was using YAZ and it was making me nauseous so I decided to take myself off the pill for a few days. I had informed Paul of this decision and he assured me that we would be fine anyway without needing to use a condom as back up.
What was even more of a surprise was how unsupportive Paul turned out to be about the whole situation that we had gotten ourselves into together. “Well, you’re going to go take care of it right?” he had asked me, indicating I would get an abortion. I was so confused about what I should do, I didn’t even know what to think. At that point, it still hadn’t even fully sunk in that I was really pregnant. When I broke the news to my family, my mother cried in disappointment and my father threatened to kick me out of the house. Ultimately, it would be the two of them who would turn out to become my biggest supporters. When it came time to make a final decision on whether or not I wanted to keep the baby, Paul said to me, “Well Mary, you can’t have both. You need to pick one. Your boyfriend of two years or this thing you’ve only known about for a few months.” A statement like that had said it all for me. It was the biggest decision I ever had to make, but I knew deep down that I could live without someone who clearly didn’t love me or support me. I knew I couldn’t live without someone who was physically a part of me. It was the first time I had ever stood up for myself when it came to Paul, and I didn’t back down on my word when I made the decision to keep the baby. I was confident that in my heart, I knew I was doing the right thing. I just knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I had decided to take the abortion route. It’s a decision that, to this day, he still doesn’t fully understand, and it’s certainly one I don’t regret.
For the first three and a half months or so of my pregnancy, I was very nauseous all the time and morning sickness felt like it was taking over my life. Around early November, I had decided to take a medical leave of absence from community college. I couldn’t handle going to school on a daily basis anymore knowing that I always needed to run to the bathroom. As much as I was frustrated that I’d be a semester behind the rest of my class, I knew it wasn’t the worst thing in the world and I resumed my studies the following January when the morning sickness cleared up. My spring classes that semester ended in May, and in an attempt to bring myself back up credit-wise, I chose to take a three-week intensive Marketing summer course at SUNY Purchase and finished it just five days before giving birth.
It wasn’t easy telling those around me that I was pregnant, especially my friends. Most were very supportive of me and my decision to keep the baby but others decided to distance themselves. I expected the judgment from people, but when it came time to sharing my news with friends, I learned who my true friends were. However, I’m glad that most people at school didn’t judge me, including my professors. In fact, most I had met were really excited for me.
For the majority of my pregnancy, Paul and I stayed together. I remember a few times when I had morning sickness, he used to stand in the doorway of the bathroom and laugh at me like it was a big joke, but he mainly distanced himself from me. We were attending the same school and he was embarrassed to have me around him with other people while I was pregnant. He told me that I made him feel uneasy when he was with other people and sometimes even ignored me. He was also verbally abusive, so abusive that on multiple occasions he had said things like, “If I pushed you down a flight of stairs, would it kill the baby?” Or, “If I punched you in the stomach, would it kill the baby?” It seemed like the only thing he was worried about was himself. On one occasion he had also said, “Well Mary, what am I supposed to tell the next girl,” in regards to dating other people and telling them that he had a child, while WE were still together. Paul never attended a single doctor’s appointment with me and always had adamantly refused to go whenever I’d ask. Instead, I would either go alone, with a friend, or sometimes my mother. Around late March/early April, when I was about six and a half months pregnant, Paul broke up with me via telephone telling me he didn’t want this and couldn’t be with me anymore. About a month later, he wasted no time finding a new girl to get drunk and make out with, proving how little he cared about me and his own child even if we were no longer together.
On June 11, 2008, I gave birth to a baby girl. Paul was not present for the birth, and had worked out the timing perfectly to go away to the Hamptons in Long Island for a few days around the time he knew I was due. In fact, he wasn’t really there for her much at all after. He wasn’t too thrilled on the name I had chosen for her either; Alexa Rose. “I thought you were going to name her Annie after my grandmother,” he said to me over the phone while I was still in the hospital. I told him that maybe if he had been there for me more and played a more active role during my pregnancy, I would have considered settling on that name instead. So there I had it, Alexa Rose Farucci. Perfect. I also settled on giving her my last name and not his because he said he didn’t want the baby to bear his last name.
Two days later, I brought my baby girl home to my parents’ house from the hospital where I was still living. At this point, my parents had really come around to the idea of me having a baby, and were elated to become grandparents once she arrived. Paul and his mother came by to meet her for the first time and it was quite clear then that he really didn’t know how to handle a baby; he held her like a football. I had hoped that in time Paul would change, especially after seeing his daughter in person, and finally accept the fact that he was a father and start acting like one, but he didn’t. This was an enormous letdown for me but I knew it meant I needed to find the strength within myself to move forward as a mother with or without him. Now it was time to put someone else before myself and do what was best for Alexa.
At the time, I had only one goal in mind: I wanted to prove people wrong about the stereotypes and stigmas of teen pregnancy and I was determined to graduate from college. More specifically, before the age of 30. National statistics show that only 1.5 percent of teen mothers in the United States will earn a college degree by that time. I wanted to make sure I was a part of that 1.5 percent. I wanted to show the people who had expressed pity for me for being a teen mother that I was not going to succumb to being just another statistic who was unable to get through school unlike those who didn’t have a child. I had an undeniably relentless drive to overcome this hurdle about having a baby so young and the negative attitudes of what other people thought. It wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew it wouldn’t be impossible either, if I just set my mind to it and never let go of knowing that I could stay strong and remain positive that I could become just as successful as someone who wasn’t a teen mother.
I returned to Westchester Community College in the fall of 2008 looking forward to a fresh start. I was ready to make some serious changes. I managed to make Dean’s List, become an Admissions Ambassador where I gave tours to prospective students, was a member of the Orientation Committee, a Senator for the Student Media Association, Co-host and News Broadcaster for a popular radio show on campus, and the Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper. To this day, I still can’t fathom how I was able to balance it all. I had a part-time job on the side, and thankfully with the help of babysitters and kind neighbors, I was able to successfully juggle being a full-time student, a part-time worker and a mom. For the first time in a long time, I had actually become proud of myself for being able to manage everything on a daily basis without losing my mind. I even squeezed in an opportunity to date a new guy, something I always knew would be a difficult task. He was able to look past the fact that I am a mom, that it didn’t change the content of my character and was able to like me for me as a person.
However, not all guys I’ve met along the way were like him. I’m prepared for rejection to happen simply based on the fact that I have a child because it’s expected with guys around my age that they might feel uncomfortable and not ready to date someone with a child; but it hurts more when it actually happens. I’m not ever really sure when it’s the “right” time to tell a guy that I have a child, because in my opinion, I’ll tell them when I feel the time is right by my own judgment—whenever that may be, and depending on how serious things become with him. If I have a feeling that if and when I’m dating a guy and I feel that it has the potential to go somewhere other than just casual dating and we end up seeing each other more frequently and having a connection, I will most definitely tell him early on because I believe in honesty and Alexa is a major part of me and my life, so I want him to know that I come in two. I’ve faced the rejection already. I’ve met men who have found me to be attractive, smart, funny, ambitious, independent, you name it… but the moment they find out I have a daughter, their entire attitude and perspective changes and they’re gone. The best line I’ve heard from a guy that I had been out on a date with once was, “You’re a mom? But you don’t look like a mom!” To that I responded with, “Well, what does a mom look like then?” He didn’t have an answer.
When school had ended for the year, I also managed to successfully take on summer internships; my first one being at a major local area newspaper called The Journal News, where I worked under an editor in their Marketing and Advertising Department. I got to help with the creation of placing graphic design images on layout pages, conduct multiple interviews with different people from local businesses and wrote stories for their quarterly publications. At this point, my mother had unfortunately lost her job, so she stepped in and decided to help take care of Alexa on days when I needed to go to my internship. When I would come home or had days off, I would resume full responsibilities. The support almost became routine; my mom and dad would switch off watching her when they were home if I wasn’t, and sometimes my younger brother even stepped in to help as well. When days got particularly stressful, I was lucky to have a solid group of friends who had my back. They were more than happy to be there for me when I needed someone to be a shoulder to cry on. As much as my life was busy, at times I felt like much of a failure. I was afraid that there was going to be a day that came where I cracked and gave up. I kept trying to push myself forward, but receiving constant disrespect from Paul and his mother didn’t help either. The problems with them only escalated and Paul remained to only come around at his convenience or when his mother would ask to see Alexa, not him.
I eventually took what I learned from my summer internship that year and implemented my new skills at my school newspaper when I returned to Westchester Community College the following fall semester. In between that, when my parents weren’t helping me take care of Alexa due to their own obligations, I continued to hold the reigns on my own while still living under their roof. I think if I had been living alone with her at the time, doing all that I did with school and work would have been impossible, not to mention, I was nowhere near being financially stable enough to do so.
Eventually, the worst happened when it came to finances. Paul was paying me $200 per month not too long after Alexa was born to help supply her needs. I didn’t have enough money on my own to support her, and it would be really unfair to rely on my parents for money. However, when he transferred to another school in Potsdam, N.Y. in January of 2009, the checks stopped coming. He told me that since he would be away at college finishing up his degree, that I should call his mother whenever I needed something for the baby, such as diapers, formula or other necessities. On occasions, I would have to turn to his mother and ask her for these things that I needed for Alexa, but one time on the phone she said to me, “You know Mary, you can’t always expect me to go out and buy you these things whenever you need it.” That sparked the decision to go to family court and put in a request for child support. It’s been a horrific battle ever since over money, and the process of having to go back to court to modify support payments is nowhere near over.
In the meantime, I was bringing Alexa to weekly Mommy and Me music classes at no charge, doctor’s appointments, playdates and a plethora of other activities, just to name a few. While my schedule was always very busy, it also taught me how to thoroughly manage my time better so I’d be able to split my time between being a student and being an attentive mother.
When the time came to transfer schools and begin the next phase to receiving a Bachelor’s Degree, my parents were supportive from the beginning, doing their part in ensuring that I was able to continue to do what I needed. I decided to embark on the four-hour trip from our Westchester County home to Boston to look at schools so I could complete my degree.
Journalism had always been something I wanted to pursue from a very early age and my goal was to one day become a journalist. My only setback was having to leave Alexa behind at home knowing I couldn’t take her with me to school. My parents stepped in and offered to temporarily become her primary caretakers while I went away and finished college. They knew it would ultimately be very difficult for me to properly provide for her without a college education. It was extremely hard to leave her, knowing that it meant I’d be missing out on witnessing some of her milestones, but I knew she would be in good hands. I knew I wasn’t just going away to college for me anymore, I was going for her. I went in with the intent of making sure my daughter would get to live a comfortable and financially stable life like I knew she deserved to have. In return, I wanted to be the proud mother who could give that to her, and perhaps one day, she’ll be able to look back and be proud of me for making that sacrifice. No parent wants to watch their child struggle through life, but more than anything, I want Alexa to be happy—and happy to have me as her mother.
When I transferred to my 4-year school in Boston, it was a so different from the environment I was used to being in at the community college. People at the community college actually seemed more mature because many were older, and more accepting of the fact that I had a child. It wasn’t unusual for a student there to have a child, because many did. At my Boston school, this was not the case at all. At first when I arrived, I was very honest and open about the fact that I had a child. Mainly, I was proud to announce that I had a child because I felt it was an accomplishment that I was able to be accepted to such a reputable institution despite that fact. Being accepted and attending a 4-year college was my next step to achieving the goal I originally set out to conquer. I knew I was really on my way now. A few weeks in, I decided to really immerse myself in the college girl’s lifestyle like I had originally wanted before becoming pregnant, and rush for one of the sororities on campus. During the rush process, I was so brutally honest with the sisters about how I was a mom because I didn’t think it would be right to hold anything back if the point of a sisterhood was like a support group, but I really think to this day that it ended up working negatively against me. Since then, those young women have remembered me as, “the girl with the kid,” instead of my name. It was embarrassing because I felt I had lost my identity, and something that I was proud about being was being used like it was something to be ashamed of. I realized what kind of environment I was in, different from what I was used to at home, and advised myself that maybe it might be a better idea to not tell everyone I meet that I’m a mother. Since then, I’ve joined a different sorority that has embraced me for being a mother rather than scorning me for it. I have only told those at school who I know I can trust. More than anything, I didn’t want to feel like I was any different from any other typical student there just because I had a child, it didn’t make me any less of a student than they were. I took the same classes, did the same homework, was graded the same way, got involved with the same activities on campus, and went out on a typical Friday or Saturday night to let loose just like they all did. I was still the same age and looked no different than them.
My way of staying in touch with Alexa during my time at school was by telephone. My parents aren’t the most tech-savvy people around, so they don’t really know how to use Skype, but I called everyday to check up on her and ask how her day was. My mom has also sent me cute little drawings that she made, a card with her signature in it, or an arts and crafts project she made at school. It’s always a great way to put a smile on my face when I’m missing her, but I know she’s doing well. I’m always trying to make sure I’m updated on any new things she’s learned or picked up on. I used to get sad when she was younger and my mom would tell me about certain milestones she had that I unfortunately wasn’t there to see. I wasn’t there the first time she learned to peel an orange, the first time she learned to write her own name, or when she took an interest in learning how to sew just by watching my mom do so. In those instances, I wish I had a time machine!
This month, I am proud to say that I will be fulfilling the promise I made to myself when I was a pregnant teen: I will be graduating from college at age 23 with an almost 4-year-old in tow, and beating a statistic I knew I didn’t want to become. It hasn’t been an easy road; in fact, it’s been quite a battle, but it was all worthwhile knowing that the struggle has made the achievement that much more important and valuable to me. I’d like to pass on a word of hope to anyone else out there who may be in the same position as I am. I consider myself very lucky to have such a strong, supportive family who went the extra mile to help me out and watch me succeed in such an immeasurable way when they absolutely were not obligated to. To the other young women, like myself, nothing is impossible, chase your dreams and achieve your goals. Adversity can be overcome.
*Name of the baby’s father has been changed to protect his privacy