A lot of it was pretty much like the April 1 Assembly hearing, but the fierce factor was definitely dialed up a notch with testimony from Assemblywoman Lucy This-bill-is-not-about-abortion Flores and Senator Pat Pass-this-bill-for-Tessa Spearman, as well as harrowing, heartbreaking stories of rape from Nevada Women’s Lobby’s Sarah Wainright and Kindergarten teacher Angie Sullivan.
Inspired by the bravery and heart of those like Lucy Flores (#fierceflores), I changed up my prepared testimony this time. (Last time I spoke about being the survivor of sexual abuse and learning about healthy relationships in sex ed.) This time, I decided to come from a place I very rarely talk about — the legacy of being the product of an unwanted teen pregnancy. I know first-hand what a lonely and hard road that is.
Below is my prepared statement. However, I must admit I went a bit off-script somewhere in the middle but the ad-libbed parts are not that far from what I meant to say, so you will get the spirit of what I meant and what I sort-of-mostly said with this:
There’s a theme that has emerged throughout much of the opposition’s testimony to AB230. There have been numerous unmistakable references to morality, family values, and what the “right” path is. I get the sense that what so many folks aren’t saying is that their way is God’s way and only sinners and whores go against God’s plan.
Well, I am a God-loving wife and mother who goes to church every Sunday. I don’t claim to know what God’s plan is. Is strapping motherhood onto a teenager’s back like some kind of scared-straight program God’s plan? I don’t know about that. But I can tell you what it’s like to be the unplanned baby of a teenage mother.
My mother was very pregnant, and already married, in her high school graduation. In fact, she was a good Catholic girl who had, at one time in her childhood, dreamed of becoming a nun. Instead, I was born in a good, old country hospital and got my first bath from my grandmother, the attending nurse. It was a town full of well-intentioned, God-fearing, Christian folk.
And my mother was the third in her family of three girls to become a teen mother. [I think I accidentally said “third generation” here. Nerves.]
When she found herself pregnant with me, my mother believed her life was over. She saw motherhood as a life-sentence. And in my 36 years on earth, she has rarely missed an opportunity to remind me of how I ruined her life.
She made a point to tell me practically every day.
Our poverty was my fault.
Her being a single mother was my fault.
When I was molested, she shrugged it off as another thing that was my fault.
Clearly, my mother isn’t going to win any parenting awards.
But that’s not why I’m telling you this. I’m telling you this because not all parents are good ones. Not every pregnancy results in a life-affirming, transformative experience. Not every mother feels the joy I have for my daughter. Some mothers never wanted to be mothers at all and no matter how much we want them to change, they don’t.
So what about the kids like me? What about the kids who are definitely not going to be learning the things they need to be successful adults from people at home? Are we just garbage, so easily tossed aside? Do we not deserve those same tools of success that good parents are teaching their kids?
But probably the reason I am sitting here today is because of the quality sex education I received in my schools growing up in Wasilla, Alaska. Sure, everybody knows where that is now, but when I was a kid it was an even smaller, more remote place. Before the internet connected us all, I never felt more alone in my house on a hill with no neighbors out in the middle of the country where, quite literally, nobody could hear me scream.
One day in junior high sex ed, I got a hand-out about the roles of children of alcoholics. There I was on this sheet of paper! How did they know? It was like that song — they’d found my letters and read each one out loud.
That was the first time I learned that I was not alone — that there were others out there just like me. And if there were others, then I had hope of finding them and maybe even some help to a better life. The life I was living was so full of darkness. Hope felt dangerous. But without that hope, I am sure I would have eventually hurt myself, or worse.
I was raised by a mother who resented motherhood and who never found any joy in being a mother. I was raised in a household of alcoholism, abuse, and neglect. The sad reality is, I am not alone. [I think this is where I ad-libbed that bit about sex ed opponent Janine Hansen saying her own daughter wrestled with addiction and young motherhood. It’s all around us.]
We need comprehensive sex education because it is the right thing to do. Because it helps give our kids the tools they need to make the best decisions possible. While my daughter is only three now, she’ll be in the education system before I know it. And I want the best possible education for my child. She deserves it. Just like I did.
I think we need to get over this fear we have of teaching sex education because the word “sex” is in the title. It’s so much more than that. It’s life-lesson education. It’s a guiding star in a dark abyss.
And it absolutely saves lives.