Wednesday, April 30, 2008

City Life

An Unexpected Graduation Present
By Amber Gray

For most 18 to 21 year-olds, their daily world is all about the pursuit of fun. Weekends are filled with keg parties, flip cupping, beer pong’ing and bar hopping, and they often carry an attitude that they are entitled to these activities.

The right to wake up Monday morning still hung over from Saturday night, able to fulfill their aspirations and goals because they led the traditional high school life of applying for college, because they are told it is the only way to make it in the real world, graduating and going to that perfect school so they can get a diploma and that great job they “deserve.”

What makes these young people even luckier is that many of them have amazing parents who pay for the path to these dreams, and sometimes even slip a few $20s bills in their bank accounts to help contribute to their crazy weekends, just so they can have the best college experience ever.

But not all young adults take the conventional route. Christine Lewis, commonly known as “Chrissy,” is a 20-year-old Wethersfield, Connecticut native. I hadn’t seen her in nearly a year so when she walked into the local Starbucks for our interview, we ended up talking for hours. Dressed in a frilly pink skirt and a button up top, and sporting new chic blonde tresses, her face was glowing and she looked utterly happy.

Christine Lewis

When she was 17, and a senior in high school, she had similar dreams that many of us are working to fulfill now. She was a proud honor society member, varsity cheerleader, manager for the women’s treble choir and working a part-time job. With the world at her fingertips, she really felt the desire to take on college and continue her success.

“Chrissy was extremely well rounded and had, and still has so many goals she wants to accomplish,” says her sister, Claire Lewis.

However, these aspirations needed to be put on hold. Days before her graduation, Chrissy woke up with pains in her stomach, cramps and morning sickness. “I literally wanted to die. I didn’t know what was happening to me. It was nothing like anything I’ve experienced before,” says Lewis of her experience.

Lewis reflected on a night that happened just about a month previously when she regrettably spent a night with an old flame, Kyle, and found him lying next to her in bed the next morning.

Alarmed about her morning sickness, she immediately took a pregnancy test and when the two pink plus signs showed up, a calm and collected Lewis took responsibility. “I learn from my mistakes, I don’t just make them disappear,” said Lewis, who commonly could be found with a bible in her backpack at school, and morally, knew what she needed to decide. “Abortion was never an option for me. It works for others, but it’s just not in my faith. I attend church, I knew that God had this planned for me and I just knew my parents would be supportive,” she said.

According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, some 560,000 teenage girls give birth each year. Almost one-sixth of all U.S. births are to teenage women. The costs of teen pregnancy are staggering. Teen mothers are less likely to complete high school, less likely to get married, and more likely to go on welfare than their peers and be dependent on their parents.

Lewis’s relationship with her mother was quite different. “The day I told my mom I was pregnant was so nerve racking because she can be very rigid but very loving and understanding.” Lewis’s mother, Marie, said her daughter’s confession was “mature.”

“She told me she was pregnant and at first I was disappointed,” said Marie Lewis. “But we brought Chrissy up as a strong Catholic and when she said she wanted to take full responsibility and love this child, I was relieved she wanted to keep it because my daughter, to me, had made the right choice and would be a great mother.”

The only question that needed an answer was what would be the father’s role in the child’s life. “Kyle was back together with another ex-girlfriend when I found out I was pregnant,” said Lewis. “When I told him, he said when the baby was closer to being born, he would take full responsibility for it but wanted to concentrate on his girlfriend for now. Although it was selfish, I was just concerned about having the father be a part of the baby’s life and didn’t want to fight,” she said.

Finally, Lewis could rest knowing that all she could do now was be healthy and take care of herself. She followed the typical pregnant woman’s nine month journey, attending child birth classes (with her mom), many nights of McDonald’s Oreo McFlurry cravings combined with readings from, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” and shopping sprees at Kids R’ US for the best items for her bundle of joy.

It seemed Lewis wasn’t a kid anymore and she didn’t take it lightly. ”At my baby shower is when I realized I was losing my childhood. I had tons of my high school friends come and when they were leaving they started talking about their plans for the evening, to go out to a party with some new guys they had just met. I got really upset. I knew it wasn’t intentional of them, but I thought that I may never have that life back.”

But Lewis didn’t dwell on what might have been, and instead she regained her motivation. She finally entered into the final stretch of her pregnancy, eight months and three weeks, with a belly bigger than ever. “I hated being that fat. So gross,” she joked.

On January 31, 2006, she felt whopping pains down her back so bad that she couldn’t stand up. “I knew it was it,” she said. “Mother’s intuition I guess.” Her mother took her into the emergency room and almost immediately, her water broke. She was going into labor, at 17, so young and so strong.

“She was a champ. She fought off that epidural until she saw Kyle walk into the room. She knew she was going to slap him because he was late so she gave in,” Claire Lewis laughed.

Marie Lewis, with “Chrissy” and her son, Noah

After seven hours of labor, her son Noah James was born at 4:52 pm. “When he came out I was speechless. I couldn’t stop crying. He was so beautiful. We joked and said he was our future underwear model and he would make mommy lots of money.”

Noah, now 2-1/2, is a big, handsome boy for his age. Lewis and he are inseparable and all of her friends take care of him as if he is their own. “Everyone loves Noah. Often I will bring him to my work at the grocery story and just spend hours there. He is so popular and I always have a baby sitter.” Lewis says.

Lewis and son, Noah

Lewis is now back at school at a community college, working part time and still finding time to be with friends. “I’m 20 years old, there’s no way I’m letting these years get away from me. I still go out and party every now and then. But I keep Noah as the biggest priority in my life,” she said.

Lewis is truly lucky, and has overcome obstacles that many teenage mothers face. “I don’t regret a thing and I couldn’t imagine not having Noah in my life,” Lewis said. “Of course I couldn’t do it without the people in my life who give me the willpower to do so.”

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