When I tell people I have a 19-year-old daughter, their standard reaction is disbelief. “Did you have her when you were 10?!” (For the record I was 19.) While I certainly appreciate the flattery, it also makes me sad that many of my friends weren’t even aware I had a daughter. Then I had to explain that she lived in another state with her father. Then I had to explain why I wasn’t a horrible mother, since why else would I not have custody of my child?
The truth is I made a mistake. Well, a few mistakes that led to a really BIG mistake.
Growing up in South Carolina, my junior year of high school I got pregnant. Oops. I chose to give him up for adoption (NOT one of my mistakes, by the way). I personally chose the couple who adopted him, and it was one of the hardest most beautiful things I have ever had the chance to be part of.
Following my untimely pregnancy, I graduated high school a year early and entered the workforce at my first job at a movie theater. I loved it. Free movies, free popcorn- pretty sure I made like $4.25 an hour. Super awesome. And all my co-workers liked to paaaarrrtaaay! So I gladly hopped on board for many a good time. Until the time I threw a party at my mom’s house when she was out of town. I thought I had cleaned up all the evidence, but apparently I missed a pile of puke behind the toilet (not mine) and I wasn’t smart enough to throw all the empty beer cans away somewhere other than our own trash can. Oops. That was a mistake.
My mom kicked me out and I moved in with a friend for a few months. Right about this time my older sister was coming home for the holiday break after her first semester at BYU. She kept begging me to come home; she wanted us all to be together for Christmas. I was too stubborn, but also had no clue where I was going to go. She had this bright idea that I should move to Utah and take over a former roommate’s lease. I figured I was 18 and I had nothing else going on, so we packed up my Nissan Sentra and headed west.
We got to Provo and headed to her apartment, just to find out someone else had taken over the lease. So now I was stuck in UT in the middle of winter with no place to go and all my earthly belongings in my car. I ended up finding an apartment down the street from her with five girls who all knew each other. Imagine how fun that was for me.
Also, I should add that Provo, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the Capital of Mormonville. And while I had been raised in the Mormon church, I hadn’t had anything to do with it for quite some time. Trying to fit in was not easy. One of my roommates lived by the mantra: “Fake it ’til you make it.” I faked it A LOT.
I got a job at Sears and ended up meeting (wait for it) a returned missionary!! Lucky me! He was an angel sent from God to help redeem me on my path of repentance to eternal salvation. I was so lucky that he wanted to have anything to do with my tarnished soul that I let him berate, belittle, humiliate and otherwise be unkind to me. We had occasional awkward sex (always my fault, since I was the one who had sinned most recently. And yes, he did say those words to me). And what do you know? I got knocked up again. Possibly the only person in history to move to UT to “get their act together” just to get pregnant. AGAIN. At 18. Oops.
We planned a wedding in SC in the summer of 1995. The night before the nuptials, I went to my mom and sobbed my guts out, begging her not to make me marry him. She never liked his pompous ass, so she was more than supportive in my decision. The returned missionary left the next day back to UT. I stayed in SC, enrolled at the local community college, and started my new journey.
On February 9, 1996, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter. I named her Mia (pronounced ‘papaya’- she hates that I ‘misspelled’ her name) because it means “mine.” I figured it was fitting since she had a “dad” who wanted nothing to do with her. I married and divorced my high school sweetheart by the time she was two. I decided maybe I should head back out to UT to live with my older sister and her husband. In the meantime I was trying to get child support from Mia’s dad. I got a notification that he was contesting paternity so I had to take her and spit on some cotton swabs to prove an indisputable fact.
I moved back to UT in 1998. One day Mia and I went to Sears looking for shoes. It never dawned on me the returned missionary would still be working there. So that was the first time he laid eyes on her. I found out he had gotten married (in the temple- not sure how that works when you have an illegitimate child, but who am I to question?). I am still curious how that conversation went with his wife, explaining a two and a half year old who appeared out of the blue.
He finally received the paternity results and called me at work one day to let me know: “I guess she’s mine.”
What a grade A D-bag.
Once he knew he was indeed her father, he and his wife wanted to have her when I worked. Then they wanted her every other weekend. Then every weekend. Then two weeks on, two weeks off. Then she was turning five and we had to decide where she was going to go to kindergarten. We got into a heated debate and he said these words that I will never forget:
“I am going to do everything in my power to make sure she grows up to be nothing like you.”
Ouch. I wasn’t a saint by any means, but those were some harsh words. I allowed him to steamroll over me for years. His father was an attorney and I, like an idiot, signed papers giving up half of my parental rights. Then he got a job in Washington state and wanted to take her with him. So here’s where my BIG BIG mistake was made:
I let him. I didn’t fight hard enough for my daughter because to me, she wasn’t an object to battle over. She was a person who needed to be loved and cared for. His wife was a stay-at-home mom; I was working and going to school full time. So I made the decision to let her go. The pain was similar to that of giving my baby up for adoption years before. I felt like I made the best decision for her at that time. Somewhere in my mind I stupidly thought it wouldn’t be forever. But it was. Until something wonderful happened.
Mia graduated high school last June, as well as a program called Running Start which earned her an Associates degree. I begged her to come live with us and attend Weber State, but her father insisted she go to BYU Idaho. While I didn’t think it was the school for her, I was definitely glad to have her closer to us. She could ride the bus down and stay with us on the weekends. It was great to start making up for all the years I had lost with her.
She hated BYUI, but she lived in constant fear of disappointing her father and stepmom. On top of the normal stresses of college, she felt the heavy burden of having to live her life under her father’s thumb. He financially blackmailed her, and she was too scared to make a decision that would get her cut off from his monetary assistance. She felt trapped staying at BYUI, but obligated since her dad was paying for it. (On a side note: we recently went back over old custody papers. He is supposed to have a trust account for her to use for college. ANY college. The fact that he insisted it be a Mormon school is dirty, dirty, dirty.)
Even though she was miserable, Mia began her second semester at BYUI. After the first week, she called and asked me to come pick her up. I was full of emotions: relief, pride, happiness, love. I know it took a lot of bravery for her to make the decision to leave that school.
Her father has since cut her off from pretty much everything- we have helped her get a new car, a job, a phone plan and a place to stay. She is with my mom who is equally elated to have her back in our fold. In the past two weeks we have been able to spend each others’ birthdays together- something we haven’t done in 13 years.
It’s like that saying about loving something and letting it go and it coming back to you. My girl came back to me. She came back. He took her away to ensure she wouldn’t “be like me.” And she’s here. I see a lot of myself in her- the parts of her that I’m sure her father wanted to suppress and control. Those are the parts I love the most. Despite my mistakes, I must have done something right. My baby is back!