Hallelujah Highway

Celebrating the Journey

Jesus’ Birth and My Scarlet Letter ~ Kristi

on December 20, 2012

blessed-virgin-mary-madonna-of-the-streets

I remember a book I read in high school.  The Scarlet Letter.  Nathaniel Hawthorne.  It is a book about a woman, Hester Prynn, who has a child from an affair.  A deplorable act in Puritan society.  As a way of publicly shaming her, she is required to wear a scarlet letter “A” for adulterer.  The image of a woman being shamed for having a child out of marriage stuck with me.  Her lover is a minister in the town—Arthur Dimmesdale.  Dimmesdale’s health begins to wane and the source of his ailing health is unknown.  But one could imply that The Guilt and The Shame that Dimmesdale feels for fathering this child and watching Hester Prynn punished makes him sick.  The idea that shame and guilt can harm a person’s health stuck with me as well.

Then.  At age twenty-five. I became Hester Prynn.  I remember the day I took my first three pregnancy tests.  Even after that, I had to go to Target to buy a digital pregnancy test because the “pregnant” lines on the first three were too faded to fully confirm The News—I was expecting.

I can still feel the depth and breadth of overwhelming emotions in the months following The News.

The Fear: I remember The Fear of “What have I done?” that sat in my stomach right alongside the morning sickness.  I have always wanted to be a mother and I had told myself that if I was not married by age thirty, I would look into adopting a child or becoming a foster mother.  Six months after that declaration to the Universe, I became pregnant (despite my attempts to prevent it).  I knew the commitment and sacrifice motherhood would require.  I knew the amount of work it was going to take.  I knew I could do it, but I would have to change everythingabout my life.  I feared the changes.  I feared the consequences of my actions.  I feared that I might fail at being a good mother.

The Terror: I remember The Terror that I could not support the child on my own.  I had my education.  I had my career.  I had bought my house.  Money was tight.  How would I afford diapers?  Childcare?  Formula?  Baby food?  A crib?

The Terror was enough for me to contemplate terminating the pregnancy—a choice I knew I would regret.  At the time, I felt very strongly that if I could not provide for a child, then I had no right bringing one into the world.  Lord, please forgive me for letting The Terror be so great that I almost ended my baby’s life out of The Fear that I could not provide. Thank you, Lord for my mother assuring me that my family would help me if I couldn’t do it alone.  At that moment, I knew I was having the baby and that I could support this baby because my family was supporting me.

The Shame:  Mostly, I felt The Shame.  By nature, I am a rule follower.  When I break a rule, I am ashamed.  If you tell me how I should do things, I will.  Getting knocked up was not in the “how things should be done” rule book and I was ashamed.

I was raised in a two-parent, traditional nuclear family.  My dad worked and my mom stayed home.  When I was growing up, I pictured getting my college education, establishing my career, finding my husband, getting married, and then having kids.  My husband and I would buy the perfect house together.  We would be sports parents together.  We would save for college tuition together.  Getting knocked up was not my plan.  I was ashamed that I didn’t follow my plan.

I am the oldest in my immediate and extended family.  I have always been raised to consider that I am setting an example.  What kind of example was I setting?  Shame.  Additionally, I am a high school teacher.  As a teacher, I knowingly accept the role model spotlight.  Young impressionable students are looking to me and looking at me.  I was having a child out of wedlock.  Shame—because I was not what society said was a good role model.

I was also raised in the Christian church and I know what the Bible says about premarital relations.  I believed that in order to live in the blessing of the Heavenly Father, you must live the path of Righteousness.  If my daughter was conceived out of sin, then how would we be punished?  Like Hester Prynn?  More of The Shame!

I was shamed by a member of a church I had attended, too.  I learned of a Christian-based organization that offered support to unwed expecting mothers.  There were weekly meetings where speakers would offer parenting advice, Lamaze classes were free of charge, and a community of supportive women offered encouragement.  I decided to go.  I remember pulling into the church parking lot and saying a prayer for strength because it took every ounce of courage to step through The Shame and to walk into the meeting.  The first person I saw was my old bible study leader.  She politely greeted me.  And, as she gave me a hug, she said, “So, you leave the church and come back pregnant, huh?”  I tried to laugh to hide the hurt.  I pulled away and I walked into the meeting a little more filled with The Shame.  During the meeting, we made a hot pack to use on our back pain, ate some spaghetti, and watched some movies about “re-virginizing” after our babies were born.  After the videos, the women, who were there to offer encouragement, decided to discuss with us how to talk to our babies about “being a mistake.”  I tried to listen, but I’d had enough.  Finally, I raised my hand and explained that my daughter’s name and mistake will NEVER be in the same sentence.  Yes, I made a decision to conceive her, but I do not feel any less “blessed” than before.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.  People were offering me everything I needed to have this beautifully blessed child.  There was an older woman in the back of the room listening to the discussion.  She had a stately presence—a presence that commanded respect and offered wisdom.  She looked me in my eyes and told me I was right.  God knew everything about my child, including the number of hairs upon her head, and He loved her.  That was the glimmer of Hope, in the midst of this horrifying experience that magnified The Shame.

I am not the only single mother who has experienced The Shame.  Recently, I spoke with another single mother and we had a bonding moment as we were discussed our experiences with The Shame.

The Guilt:  In another single-mother-bonding moment on Facebook, a woman I played basketball with in high school described another deep emotion I felt—The Guilt.

She wrote, “IEP Paperwork Hell: How are you supposed to sum up all of your child’s relationships in two & half lines each? Also very frustrated & angry that all I can fill out is ONE parent’s perspective. I shouldn’t have to do this alone. Moments like this it’s hard to forgive myself for my past poor judgment!!!!”

The Guilt for choosing a less than desirable father for my daughter.  He and I were not going to work out due to circumstances beyond my control.  The Guilt for my poor decisions to have him father my child will affect my daughter for the rest of her life.  The Guilt for raising her in a non-traditional, two parent home.  The Guilt—my tool of choice for self-punishment.

The Worry:  I worried that my love and support would not be enough to counterbalance the lack of presence of the other parent.  I worried that my career could not support us.  I worried that bad things would happen to my baby.  I worried that my daughter would feel different.  I worried that I couldn’t raise a biracial child.  I worried that my wounds would wound her. I worried!

The Fear, The Terror, The Shame, The Guilt, and The Worry were my scarlet letters.  Yes, society forced me to wear a scarlet letter like Hester Prynn.  More significantly, my inability to forgive myself allowed the scarlet letters to make me ill like Dimmesdale.  I let the scarlet letters eat away at the acceptance of the blessings of this situation.  I let them suck the joy for life from me.

Despite my depression, I continuously prayed to find a way to lift these scarlet letters.  I wanted to stop punishing myself for my God-given, beautiful miracle—my daughter.

One day, I received the message I needed to remove my scarlet letters and start the process of forgiving myself.  I was pondering the story of Jesus’ birth and it dawned on me.  Jesus was born into a non-traditional family by society’s standards.  Mary and Joseph were betrothed, but not married at the time of the Immaculate Conception.  God, the magnificent creator of the Universe, didn’t create the “perfect” or “ideal” circumstances by society’s standards for the birth of his son.  Instead, Jesus was born into a family that was willing to walk through The Fear, The Terror, The Shame, The Guilt, and The Worry and still keep their hearts on the Will of the Heavenly Father.  He was born into a family that saw God’s blessings although it did not match what society deemed as ideal.  Jesus’ birth was humble.  It was free from the pomp and circumstance of perfection.  It was authentic.  It was real.  So was the birth of my daughter.  It was humble, authentic, and real.  What I know for sure is God doesn’t want perfect.  God wants willingness to walk through the dark, all consuming emotions.  God wants humble.  God wants authentic.  God wants real.  Which is good because that is all I know!  The Grace of this realization transformed me.

While Jesus has been my personal Savior for as long as I can remember, on that day he saved me from my scarlet letters.  He saved me from my Hell on Earth– The Fear, The Terror, The Shame, The Guilt, and The Worry.  He made it acceptable for my daughter not to be defined by my decisions.  He gave me the redemption I needed to quit judging myself, to finally forgive myself for my “transgressions,” and to move forward to be who I am meant to be through Him.  A good mother.  A good woman.  A good servant of the Lord.

So, as I move into the Christmas season, I celebrate Jesus’ birth and the freedom it gave me.

Hallelujah for my Savior!  I rejoice in him!


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