Having my baby
Pro-choice and facing the most difficult decision of her young life, Jenna Maggard did the unexpected
On a cold, rainy night four years ago in Rio Vista, Jenna Maggard—17 and certain she was pregnant—faced a life-altering decision that would put her staunch pro-choice beliefs to the test.
“It did cross my mind to have an abortion in the beginning,” Maggard says in her soft, calm voice. “I knew that I wasn’t going to be with the father, and I knew that it was going to be really hard.”
Her voice trails off before regaining strength.
“But it just didn’t feel right to me, to terminate the pregnancy,” she says.
Social suicide. Financial devastation. And, perhaps worst of all, a life reduced to a troubling statistic. Jenna Maggard was leaning toward becoming one of the roughly 60,000 pregnant teenagers in California that year.
Yes, abortion crossed her mind, but on that rainy night four years ago, listening to Modest Mouse in a car outside her mother’s home, the words that came out of Maggard’s mouth as she spoke to the future father of her child were unequivocal: She would have the child, she hoped it was a boy and she wanted to give him the first name of Modest Mouse lead singer, Isaac Brock.
Maggard’s suspicions about her pregnancy and hopes for her child’s gender were spot on. Yet, despite having decided to keep now 4-year-old Isaac, who motions toward a box of Sugar Smacks resting on a counter while her mom speaks with a visitor, Maggard says she still strongly supports a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. When faced with the decision that most sexually active women fear, Maggard made her the choice that was right for her, at that particular time, under those particular circumstances. She viewed her pregnancy as an opportunity to change her life from that of a self-indulgent teenager to a responsible parent.
“The thing that troubles me the most about making abortion illegal is that everyone has a different background and a different story,” says Maggard, now 22 and dressed in turquoise pants and a black hoodie. “What about the girls who are homeless or who don’t have the support system or safety net that I had?”
Unlike many young women facing pregnancy, Maggard had the full support of her mother, Karen Maggard.
“It was OK that she was pregnant, but I knew how much she wanted to do and how much this was going to set her back,” said Karen, who recognized exceptional maturity in her youngest daughter. “I really knew that Jenna could do this. I knew that she made the right decision.”
The idea of single motherhood did not deter Maggard. Her father had committed suicide when she was only 3. Most of Maggard’s life was spent watching Karen care for three children alone.
“I wasn’t raised in a traditional family,” said Maggard as she sipped green tea and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “I didn’t really have a dad around, so I didn’t know what the use of one was.”
However, being pregnant brought its own complications which were worsened by living in a small town.
“I was sort of embarrassed to go around town and hear what people had to say to me,” Maggard explained. “A lot of my friends ditched me when they found out I was pregnant. It was hard for them to see me as the same person.”
After nine months of struggling to maintain her self-esteem and stay positive, Maggard gave birth to Isaac on November 4, 2003.
“Getting through the pregnancy was the hardest part. Once he was born I knew that all that hard work was worth it,” Maggard said with a smile. “I knew that financially, I was probably not ready for him, but emotionally, I felt great.”
For the first two years of Isaac’s life, Maggard lived in her mother’s small Rio Vista home. To make ends meet, she worked mornings at a pre-school where she could bring Isaac along and afternoons teaching ballet and yoga at an after-school program.
Maggard insisted that she could not have become the mother she is without the financial and emotional support of her family. However, at times her mother’s small house became claustrophobic.
“Jenna didn’t have a lot of experience with children, and I really tried to tell her what to do. I couldn’t help it. This was my baby having a baby,” Karen said.
Eventually, Maggard moved into an apartment just down the street with Isaac’s father.
“I had a very whacked view of how we were going to raise Isaac. I just knew that he would be loved by both of us and that was all that should matter,” Maggard explained as she gazed into her teacup.
Unfortunately, living with Isaac’s father did not work out and Maggard ended up briefly moving back in with her mother. It was about this time that Jenna met Wes Eaton, her current partner.
“I never really had the drive to have my own children, but I absolutely fell in love with Isaac,” Eaton said. “I very much affect two people’s lives now, and I am very much a big part of them.”
Five years after that cold, confusing night in Rio Vista, Maggard is reaching into a cereal box to fish out the well-marketed plastic toy Isaac can’t wait to have. Placing the Sugar Smacks on one of her home’s mosaic-tiled counters, Maggard hands the toy to Isaac. His big blue eyes grow wider.
Maggard and Eaton purchased a house boat on the Delta outside Locke to live minimally and avoid high-rent costs while putting themselves through school. The house boat will also one day help pay off the student loans Maggard is incurring while pursuing a master’s degree in psychology.
Between making another cup of tea, preparing dinner for her family and occasionally reminding Isaac not to press his nose against the television, Maggard mentions that while she accepts the sacrifices of parenthood, it has been difficult to balance an attentive parenthood with the social and romantic life of a typical 22-year-old.
To cope, however, Maggard still manages to engage in such passions as poetry and art. Last summer, she recited one of her poems at a Planned Parenthood art benefit in a gallery in Locke, reading aloud the words she wrote as a nervous, soon-to-be teenage mother.
“Someday you’ll know it was time well-spent,” she read as she began to cry.
Running around the gallery, as rambunctious as ever, Isaac stopped when he noticed his mother’s tears and asked in the middle of her recital why she was sad, evoking a unanimous sigh from the audience.
“I was just full of emotion thinking about how much I had been through and how much I had really conquered. It was something I felt faithless about in the beginning,” she says now about that day.
“One thing I would like to do with my situation is encourage other teens to make the right choice for themselves. If a woman feels like she is not in a position to be a mother, then I support it. It seems so backward to not want people to choose if they can be parents.”
She has learned the simplest lessons from parenthood, lessons she says are what make it all worth while.
“Isaac has opened my eyes to what it means to be a family. He has also opened my eyes to what it means to be a child again, to obsess over rocks or dirt or flowers, and to slow down and appreciate the smaller things.”