How my unplanned pregnancy in college motivated me to become a better filmmaker
It was my second year of film school at DePaul University. The second line on that stick was so faint, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. But there I was, pregnant only a week after turning 21.
Filmmaking has been my passion for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I was the kid writing scripts after homework, and organizing shoots during recess. At home, some of my favorite childhood memories were making stop-motion animation movies with my toys, coordinating entire war scenes in my bathroom (complete with an aircraft carrier in the high tides of my bathtub), and getting my brother to star in James Bond-style action flicks.
By the time I made it to middle school, I had read every book at the library about filmmaking and screenwriting. These aspirations weren’t going to just fall into my lap, and I knew it.
So how was a baby going to play into all of this? For the longest time, I believed that it couldn’t. Marriage and children were not part of the plan.
As far as the guy who got me pregnant, I did not see myself with him long-term (even though he is a good and kind-hearted person), so a shotgun wedding was out of the question. And I didn’t want to get an abortion — not because I wouldn’t consider it, but because I’d known for a very long time that it wasn’t for me.
That’s when I decided to plan for an open adoption.
For those who don’t know, this usually means that your baby goes to a family that you handpick through an adoption agency. As the baby grows up, you remain in varying degrees of connection with that family and your biological child.
It was a good plan, and having it in my back pocket allowed me to stay focused on the projects I had going on at the time. But I still wasn’t certain. What would happen if I regretted the decision? An adoption is final; there would be no going back.
Amid a great deal of stress and self-doubt, I pushed myself hard to overcome the negative stereotypes of a pregnant student.
I turned my fear of judgment into relentless determination, churning out five short films over the course of those nine months. I’m proud to say that one was even funded by a grant from my university.
During that time, I also sought the advice of counselors, friends, and friends of friends who’d either been openly adopted or had their baby adopted in this kind of set-up themselves.
Towards the end, I faced two favorable choices: 1) A family who I’d found through an agency called The Cradle was ready to adopt my baby. They’d stay in close contact with me like extended family. Then, I also had my child’s paternal grandparents who were ready to give the world to help us raise him.
The hardest decisions are always between two options of the same nature.
It became increasingly clear that I was less intimidated by the responsibility of motherhood than I was by the inevitable vulnerability.
No matter the route I chose for him, I would love this baby inherently and unconditionally, which meant my heart could break at any moment — an accident, a bad decision… there were too many unknown possibilities for tragedy, and they could happen no matter what I chose.
This also made me realize that there were good possibilities, too. I began to think that, just maybe, he would turn out fine under my care, even in spite of our untraditional circumstances.
Then he showed up 10 days early on the 4th of July. And I simply wasn’t prepared to give him up.
Since then, there have been days of exhaustion, anxiety, and even guilt. But there has also been laughter, growth, and perseverance that makes it all worthwhile.
I’m amazed at how becoming a mom has pushed me to pursue my goals even more. That’s something I hadn’t expected at all.
You see, one of my greatest fears was that as soon as I became a mom, I would lose my sense of identity, and eventually the stamina to keep up with my ambitions. I’d seen so many women who had made their whole world their children and nothing else. This isn’t a bad thing, either — I just knew that it wouldn’t make me happy.
My son is a tremendous source of joy in my life, but what makes my blood run is creativity, storytelling, and my desire to be self-accomplished. These are my passions, and to lay them aside would’ve made me restless — even resentful.
Raising a child is an incredible opportunity and responsibility, but it’s irrational to assume that motherhood can altogether replace a woman’s personal aspirations.
These desires co-exist, fluctuating in priority depending on moment by moment circumstances. To the outside, it often looks like a competition. But it only looks that way because society hasn’t been too helpful in providing working women the resources we need for balance.
The first year after my son’s birth, I was especially aware of this. I took a full-time position with a company I’d been working with already, all while I was still a new mother, full-time student, and regularly taking on side projects. It didn’t take long for me to burn out.
I directed the Kerosene Stars’ music video for “Talk Talk” when my son was 9 months old — one of the side projects I took on while balancing full-time school and work.
Reevaluating my priorities, I decided to leave my job to focus on completing school and working on personal projects. It felt like a loss — but really, it was a wake up call reminding me that I’m just a human and can only do so much at once. Awareness to my time constraints gave me a razor sharp focus on my goals. I learned to see each commitment as an investment. If it was unlikely to bring me closer to my ambitions, I cut it out.
Since my pregnancy, the source of my determination has shifted from being fearful of other people’s judgment to wanting to provide a strong foundation for my son’s future.
In this way, my sense of motivation is so much deeper than before. The stakes are far higher, but my achievements are felt in double because of it.
My son’s father and I have what we call a co-parenting friendship. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: We’re buddies with a kid.
On top of that, we have extremely generous families who have pitched in so much to help us until we find footing in this unforgivingly oversaturated industry. Not everyone has this kind of help.
Up until now, I’ve been pretty private about this aspect of my life, mostly because I’ve carried around a lot of self-inflicted shame. But I’m beginning to care less about what people think, and I’m learning that transparency is key to helping other people in similar situations.
Plus, seeing a child grow is just too great of an adventure to keep all to myself.
The moral of the story is that my son has pushed me to work harder than I ever have before. This is not to say that everyone should go and get pregnant in college to reap a similar motivation.
After all, my circumstances are so unique given all the help I have in my life, and I recognize how privileged I am for this. Still, my story is proof to any woman balancing career goals and a family that it is possible to pursue both — but it requires asking for assistance. So in that sense, motherhood has been a great lesson in humility.
For anyone facing an unplanned pregnancy, I want to say that I know what it’s like to face that vast uncertainty. I know how it feels to have a million opinions forced upon you and to feel ashamed. At the end of the day, though, the most important thing is to take care of yourself and know what you want from life. Anything less would be a disservice not only to you, but to any children you may potentially have in the future.