My Catholic school made me tell everyone I had mono because I was pregnant

This is my story

Of all the stereotypes people try to avoid in their lifetime, slutty Catholic school girl is definitely at the top of the list. But here we are almost four years later, and I can finally find some humor in what formerly seemed like a pretty bleak situation.

The beginning of the story is pretty standard as far as these situations go — 17-year-old girl ends up pregnant, tells her mom, mom freaks, life as you know it seems like it’s spiraling towards an apocalyptic end and everything is terrible and there’s tons of tears shed by everyone. Classic “Lifetime movie” trope nonsense. What came next was telling the administrators of a small Catholic school in Florida what the situation was.

My reaction at the time was one of shock, fear, and an intense embarrassment at myself. My disbelief was profound, and the moment I saw the test read positive all I could do was cry. I cried for my future, for what I was about to lose, and for what my family would say. My daughter’s father could do nothing other than just sit there and repeat “Chloe, I am so sorry” over and over until the words jumbled together and had no meaning. He didn’t understand the grief that I couldn’t put into words. In all honesty, I don’t think he ever will. Despite being a few years older than me, he was just as unprepared as I was for what our future entailed.

Planning it out

By all accounts I was a great student — I played sports, I belonged to clubs, I helped start new clubs, I did non-mandatory volunteer hours outside of school for that warm fuzzy feeling everyone chases, and I made good grades. I wasn’t wild, I didn’t go out every single weekend and I had a plan for college. School was always the main priority, which is probably why everyone worked so hard to make sure that my education continued when the unexpected happened. In all sincerity, I will never truly be able to express how grateful I am to every single one of my teachers and administrators that worked with me to make college a reality that year. Thank you all.

My mom came with me a few weeks before senior year started to sit down with my guidance counselor and essentially create a plan that would ensure I didn’t need to add “teenage single mom dropout” to the list of statistics I was steadily showing up on. Basically I would do all of my work from home and only come in if I needed to take my AP tests or for the end of the year finals. Math was supplemented entirely online so I could have a teacher talk to me daily and give as much attention as needed, but the rest of my classes were through my high school. If any of my electives became too much to handle I could drop them (lol bye, Latin IV). As for the oh-so-important cover story that needed to be told to the relatively small population of religious (mostly) conservative, moderately judgmental jungle of teenagers I went to school with, my teachers and administrators would just say I had mono.

Sex wasn’t a foreign concept to the kids of this school, and it wasn’t as if anyone who did have sex was branded with a scarlet letter. Girls had gotten pregnant in previous years, but it usually accompanied a quick transfer to a different school, a sudden move with no explanation, or the occasional murmur of a doctor’s appointment that ended the rumors once and for all. In one case my freshman year, another girl (finishing her senior year) graduated and chose adoption. These things happened, they just happened far less than in any of the public schools and it was always a much more serious situation due to the religious background and the fact that we were all expected to go on to college and obviously infants complicate that plan.

But wait — doesn’t mono only knock you down or a month or so? We definitely approached that with a “cross that bridge when we get there” mentality, and it showed as time wore on. Pretty much all year I was messaged asking why I wasn’t in class, since everyone knew I was still enrolled and I was still showing up in the yearbook. All the administrators and teachers were on board, so I just kept up the mono thing for as long as I could until people just outright began to ask if I was pregnant or dying. By then it wasn’t technically a lie when I told them no, I wasn’t pregnant anymore because I had her about a month after senior year started. I just neglected to add that fact in.

People had become mildly suspicious at the end of junior year, most notably because of weight gain and the sudden drop of the lacrosse team right before the season started. I didn’t go to school events, less outgoing, and shied away from all the clubs I was previously active in. The only thing I was really a part of towards the end of that year was prom– and the irony of the “pregnant girl at prom” archetype was not lost on me. I was the only person that really knew, but I fueled the rumors by ending my night at home in bed while my friends went out and had fun. People were talking by the end of the year, and when I didn’t show up for that first day after summer ended the rumors naturally grew.

Daily tasks became near-impossible

It was an isolating experience even then, but by senior year I honestly felt entirely alone. I couldn’t confide in most of my friends for fear of the entire school finding out, and the couple that found out couldn’t relate for obvious reasons, and we obviously drifted. While everyone was celebrating the senior perks of our school (you could wear different uniforms and had different availability for classes, for example) and running off to the homecoming game, to homecoming, to prom, etc. I was home working my ass off around the clock to graduate on time and to raise a baby. I lived in an entirely different world than everyone else, and while I felt alone I also felt like the spotlight was on me with the slew of unrelenting questions I was hit with on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  It became exhausting to dodge questions or lie, and every time I left the house I had this creeping anxiety that a classmate or their parent would see me doing something mundane like shopping at target and the secret would be exposed and I’d be “asked to leave” my school because of how it made them look.

I was dealing with all of this while also trying to navigate the road of teenage motherhood, and my own personal problems including my mother leaving and moving away about three months after my daughter was born. There were so many times that year I truly feared my dreams of going to med school were now a joke, that a college education would be impossible to attain, that I’d fail all of my classes, and an unrelenting and crippling fear of amounting to nothing and being a failure as a mother. That’s a hell of a lot to take on at 18.

In the end, I chose not to walk with my graduating class for these fears and more. I hadn’t been there all year, so no need to see everyone who had been speculating on my secret and sending me messages. It was a difficult decision, and I felt like I had missed the biggest moment of my academic career to date. Everyone was celebrating with their families, beaming with pride, and I was left behind internally feeling like I had somehow failed.

After graduation, I decided that there was no reason for me to hold the truth back anymore. I had my diploma, who cared? To my surprise, the people I told really did not blink an eye. I got mixed reactions from people telling me anything from they had figured it out earlier in the year or that they were just relieved I wasn’t dying. The underlying factor was of course that they loved and supported me, and they couldn’t wait to meet Gianna. Sure enough, after a few people found out the news spread to everyone. Sure, some people who really weren’t important in my life decided to make comments and I lost a lot of friends who didn’t find the new responsible version of me to be as exciting as I once was, but the great thing was that college was right around the corner and I started everything over again from the beginning.

Me at junior prom, complete with baby bump

Of course as I sit here now three years into my education at Florida State, some people may laugh and tell me I was being overly anxious or that my former fears were misplaced, but the fact is that the odds were stacked against me. Only forty percent of teen mothers finish high school, and under two percent finish college by age 30. 

The odds were, and still are, stacked against teen mothers. The anxiety that plagued my last year of high school surrounding my success still lingers, and rears its ugly head every now and then, but these days it’s used as inspiration to beat the statistics.

This time four years ago I was lying to my friends and teachers. I was scared and isolated, I didn’t want to leave the house or for anyone to see me for fear of being shamed for my choices. I didn’t think anything was going how it was supposed to go.

Flash forward to today — I’m on track to graduate in 2018, all of my friends from high school as well as the many I have made at FSU love my daughter Gianna like part of their own family, I am back to my active and outgoing self, and my sassy, beautiful, sweet little three-year old is right next to me in Tallahassee. All of the fears and shame I had in high school are gone, and I am not only proud to speak on all of my choices, but have come to a deep and important realization: no one cares.

The shame and fear I felt in my senior year was based around the fact I went to a religious school, not because the entire world actually cared that I was a mom. Sure it’s not ideal, but I am doing everything that I should be doing and more, and I don’t need to cover up my kid. She’s not a secret, she’s a blessing. Whether or not the school made the right decision by asking me to lie is not a question I dwell on, I just remain thankful that I graduated from the school filled with people that genuinely cared about my success, and that I went to college.

Every teen mom should have that kind of support behind them. Every single one of them should be reminded of how capable they are, how strong they are, and how accidents-turned-blessings do not define them. The fact that only two percent of young mothers graduate college should shock and appall everyone, and should not be the norm that we accept. I do not feel unique, I do not feel exceptional in my choices, I feel like I did what was normal and what was expected of me. This should be a resounding sentiment among society, we need to empower young women to pursue their ambitions regardless of circumstance. Not only for them, but for their children. The idea that women don’t (or shouldn’t) pursue their education because they happened to make their life difficult by getting pregnant is only going to lead to a generation of children who lack strong role models.

To any young moms out there thinking that they shouldn’t pursue their college dreams, or no one will support you, that’s just not true. You will find friends, your professors will understand, you will find time to work and also see your kid. It will be the hardest thing you ever do, but you will come out on top. The world needs strong women, and children need strong mothers.

Florida State University