*Nicole called me near the end of my hotline shift. I remember how well spoken and scared she sounded as she whispered into the phone. In just a few sentences she explained that she was 17, about six weeks pregnant, and her mother would beat her and disown her if she found out. When I asked her if she had ever talked to her mom about sex or birth control, she scoffed and said she came from a “strict Asian family.” She could hardly even talk to her mom about making a B in school without getting hit or punished. When I asked her what she thought would happen if her mother found out about her pregnancy, she started to cry. She was convinced that her mother would disown her and that she would not have the means to finish high school or go to college.
At first, I could hear my younger self in her.
I had also come from, what I thought was, a strict family and had dreams of attending college when I became pregnant at 19. So my heart ached a little extra for Nicole, and we talked for a long time. I could hear defeat and hopelessness in her voice as she cried about what her mother might do and how she would not be able to attend college as she had dreamed. Throughout the conversation she kept repeating, “I don’t know what to do. I cannot believe this is happening to me. My mother will kill me.”
As we continued to talk, I realized Nicole and I were not as similar as I had initially thought. First of all, I was older and I could make my own decisions about my body. Sure I was scared, but I knew that I was ultimately in control of my future. I could make any decision I needed in order to do what was right for me. Until she called Jane’s Due Process, Nicole only had one option: tell her mother and possibly face abuse and abandonment. I’m sure she had thought about hiding it or running away, but the result would always be the same.
Second, my pregnancy brought hope and direction to my life. My daughter gave me momentum to move forward. In the end, I also had the loving support of my family, which enabled me to provide for my daughter as well as attend college and law school. For Nicole, her pregnancy was a dead end, an insurmountable roadblock with no way around. It was loneliness and shame. To her it signaled an end to her dreams, not the beginning. There was no light in Nicole’s view of the future. When I heard the despair in her voice, my heart broke. Every 17 year-old deserves to see hope in her future. To know that life is still her own to shape and explore. She should not have to fear abuse, abandonment, or loss of opportunity.
After about twenty-five minutes on the phone with Nicole, I could hear the tension in her voice lessen. Together we were able to plan a path forward. When we hung up the phone she was still scared and had so many difficult challenges before her, but now she had two options. I could tell in the way that she said thank you that I had helped her find at least some hope in her future.
Thank you to the lovely Anna Phillips for volunteering her time on our hotline and for writing this account. Our work would not be possible without the generosity and compassion of people like you!
Emily Rooke-Ley is our hotline coordinator and the director of this project. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or inquiries.
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