There are our plans, and then there are the plans life hands us. In the best of circumstances, we enjoy our childhoods, graduate college, enter the workforce, and begin to figure out how to adult in this world. But sometimes, our carefully mapped out lives take turns and detours that we never planned or imagined. We stumble and bump our heads. Our hearts get broken. Our spirits suffer some nasty bruises. Yet, when we emerge from those challenging times, we are stronger and better from all of it.
For this ‘Feature Friday,’ I am super excited to talk a young woman whom I have gotten to know and love over the past few years. Her story is one of resilience. Pregnant at 19 years old, and now the mother of a beautiful year and a half old girl, she has forged her own path of self-reliance and womanhood. Her grit and determination are remarkable. It is my hope that other teens and young women (who are mothers or soon to be mothers) find inspiration in her journey. Let the take-away be that while young motherhood is no easy road, it does not have to be a dream-killer; rather, it can be a dream-builder. With unwavering faith, vision, and an unstoppable grind, you can still be everything you aspire to be.
It is my pleasure to shine a light on a young woman who is not only beating the odds, but is making them obsolete one by one. Meet Coral Vega.
So let’s jump right in. How old were you when you discovered that you were pregnant and what was your immediate reaction?
I was 19. And to be honest, I did not have much of a reaction at all. When I was told that I was pregnant, I was not too surprised. My body had already been going through changes that told me that I could be pregnant, so the Planned Parenthood nurse pretty much confirmed what I already knew. I was not afraid then, but I did become more scared towards the end of my pregnancy.
Did you know from the very beginning that you were going to have the baby?
I had so many emotions. I was a college student living on campus. I was working part-time and only made a hundred a something dollars a week. Because I came to New York from Puerto Rico, I did not know anything about New York outside of the city in which I go to college. I was alone and had no family here. Friends were telling me not to have the baby because they felt I was not ready. Part of the reason I was also so conflicted was because where I come from, it is not religiously acceptable to end a pregnancy. I also went forward with my pregnancy because I did not want to get rid of my child. I am definitely pro-choice. I believe that a woman should be able to get an abortion if she is not ready to be a mother. But I just could not do it.
What were your biggest concerns about becoming a mother?
What my next steps would be. I did not know whether I would get kicked out of the dorm I was living in. I was having problems with the father of my child. I wondered would he be around, and would my child be healthy. Taking care of a child is one thing, but caring for a sick child is a whole other responsibility. So many things concerned me.
What was the biggest adjustment you had to make to motherhood?
Everything really. When you become a mother, you stop being who you used to be in order to be everything for someone else. When things get hard, you have to keep going. I had to switch to part-time at school so that I could work full-time. Before, I only had to worry about my phone bill, but now I have much bigger bills to pay.
How involved and supportive is your child’s father?
Zero percent. When I was about three months pregnant, he asked me if I ‘was having the baby or nah’ because he had a new girlfriend. And after finding out that my baby was a girl, I remember showing him the sonogram picture. He looked at it and stuck it right back in my pocket.
What were your feelings about that?
I had so many mixed emotions. I was so disgusted. I did not understand how someone could know they have a child on the way and not care. But when your relationship is rocky and you’re pregnant, you risk being a single parent one day. And once you do become a single parent, whatever the situation, you have to go forward and do what you have to do for your child because you can’t count on the other person to be there.
Have you thought about how you will explain his absence to your daughter in the future?
I think about that all the time. I have to see what her questions are. I don’t want to bash her father, or have her think that he is a bad man. But I do want to be honest without causing her too much damage.
Did you overestimate or underestimate the amount of support you would need as a mother?
I was not focused on who would help or be on this road with me. I just focused on doing everything by myself. But I am surprised at how many people have helped and supported me along the way.
What is your biggest challenge as a mother?
Definitely the level of responsibility would be one thing. And also learning to manage and divide my time. I have to spend time with my daughter, work, and study.
Did you ever feel stigmatized for being a young mother?
I never cared enough to notice or worry about it. I’m sure that people have talked about me behind my back, especially those who know my child’s father. When people have said things to me, they ask if my daughter is my little sister. And when I tell them that she is my daughter, they say, ‘but you’re so young.’ I don’t worry about any of that though because she is here and I have to take care of her.
Would you say there are any benefits to having a child early in life?
Yes. When you are a young mother, you know that there are things you have to do to improve your life. I had to choose my friends more wisely, get a better job, take my studies more seriously, and get an apartment. Before, I could date a guy just because he looked good. But now, I consider whether he is working and a good person to have in my daughter’s life. Being a young mother, grew me up quickly. I’m 21, but I feel like I’m 50 (we laugh).
I’ve told you before that when I was your age, if I was in your same shoes, I would not have had the maturity, strength, or determination to do all that you do. Please give a run-down of a typical week for you, and share your motivation for getting it all done.
I work from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday. I take two classes at my college on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6:30-9:30 p.m. I work from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at a second job on Saturdays and Sundays. Fridays are my only days off.
What is your motivation? How do you do it?
I just know that if I don’t do it, I’m going to end up in a bad place. I don’t want to be in a shelter, or be supported by the government. I don’t receive food stamps or Section 8, so if I don’t do what needs to be done, how is my daughter going to eat? And while I have people who are supportive of me, I cannot expect them to take care of us.
What are your career aspirations?
I still want to be a lawyer. I don’t know if ultimately that is what I will be doing, but that is still the goal.
What are you most proud of as a mother?
I am most proud that my daughter is healthy. She’s not hurt or in a dangerous environment. She smiles, is smart, and is happy. I am also happy that I am able to provide for her.
What lessons will you teach your daughter?
To be independent and to always have faith. Faith has gotten me to where I am now. I know that God is there and is helping me. If I didn’t have faith, I would have gone crazy. I want her to know that God is there. I want her to know him and be grateful.
What would you say as the woman you are now to your pregnant self?
Everything is going to fall into place. Everything is like a puzzle. You just have to find the pieces and put them in the right place. And pray and have faith.
What words would you share with another teen or young woman who is embarking on motherhood?
Never underestimate yourself. Pray and believe in God. That is the only thing that will keep you sane. Stay focused on what you want to do. And whatever it is that you want your child to do, make sure that they see you do it first.
What does the future look like for you and your baby girl?
I see me with a career. I see my daughter in school and involved in many activities. I don’t know what state we will be living in, or whether we will even be living in this country, but wherever we are, we will be a success.
I commend you for breaking through the obstacles, and doing all that you have to better your and your daughter’s lives. And I have no doubt that you two will be just fine. Thank you Coral.