As a young child I thought turning 16 meant I was becoming an “almost adult.” Almost, meaning I could confidently give my two cents about my future, and meaning I was ready to face whatever teenage struggles would come my way, like in the 2005 sitcom, Zoey 101. But boy… was I naïve. My many years of intense research, aka hours of TV watching Nickelodeon, would have never prepared me for the day my roommate started bawling out of the blue, in our cinder block of a dorm room.
The year was 2015. I had made a big girl decision and decided to leave my home country to attend an American boarding school. I thought, I’ve visited America for vacation multiple times, it’s not like English wasn’t my first language, I could adapt easily! However, being raised in a Catholic, Chinese, Jamaican household and with the brief sex education covered in my previous high school, I was unexpectedly faced with what no one prepared me for – teen pregnancy.
Besides the culture shock I never expected to experience, little did I know that the two years spent studying abroad would have thrown me into a whirlwind and spun me out more equipped mentally and emotionally to tackle a less PG and more R rated version of life.
“I was a teenager whose life revolved solely around me, what I wanted, and what made me feel good,” said Kayla Grote, my roommate. “I had just moved from the Middle East where I had lived for 10 years. I left Qatar because the lifestyle there was very much a ‘partying’ lifestyle, and at only 16, I was getting blackout drunk at least a couple times a week and it, understandably, worried my parents so they sent me to [boarding school].”
I remember meeting Kayla during orientation. I don’t think we really spoke all that much at first, but within the first few hours of our introductory session, I kept thinking to myself, we would either get along and be great roommates, or we would absolutely hate each other. Prior to this, I had never shared a room before. So, with our beds only at least 7 feet apart I always wondered, what if my roommate decided to kill me in my sleep and my death becomes a Lifetime movie?! – I know, dramatic.
But, before I knew it, Kayla and I went everywhere together, well for the first couple of days at least. Moving from information session to workshops, we became quite quick allies. Despite coming from different backgrounds, Kayla and I learned to live together pretty well. It wasn’t until
a couple weeks into our junior year that Kayla found out she was pregnant. She recalled, “I had found a pregnancy test in my unpacked things and something told me to take it.”
Even though Dan Schneider wasn’t directing my life nor was I the Jamie Lynn Spears of the short production of my teenage years, I was not equipped with the right scripted lines to comfort Kayla and comfort her for what would follow after her discovery. “I did not seek any sort of counseling for the abortion. After it was completed and the embryo had passed, it was never spoken about again. I was expected to resume life as normal, and that is what I did,” she said.
Before Kayla’s brief absence in school, we had a roomie to roomie session, talking about her views on abortion and what her options were. I knew deep down she never wanted to go through with it. “I consented to the abortion, but it was not at all what I wanted to do. I put myself on auto-pilot and tried my best to numb myself from the situation, because I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do for myself and for the sake of the unborn child,” revealed Kayla.
I didn’t hear from Kayla after she had left, and I always wondered what had happened and whether or not she would come back. For most of my first semester abroad, I was alone. Some people may have liked that, but I was by myself, in a completely unfamiliar part of the US, going through culture shock for the first time. And, Kayla and I were supposed to figure out our new normal together.
When Kayla returned, she didn’t seem off or different. She wasn’t reclusive, she didn’t ice me out. In fact, she was the same old Kayla. I had never gone through such an experience with someone before, so to be honest looking back, I wasn’t sure how I expected her to behave.
Kayla was never shy to share details. If you asked her a question, she would be open and honest and give you her opinion straightforward. Trying to understand what she went through I did ask her how it went. She told me she had a chemical abortion. “The first pill I took was mifepristone, which blocked my body’s creation of progesterone and killed the embryo. The second pill, misoprostol, was to be taken the second day and caused the contents of my uterus to empty and my cervix to dilate so the embryo could pass,” she explained. “I took the pill as fast as I could as soon as it was handed to me, fighting every urge to hand it back to the doctor or throw it on the floor.”
At the age of 16 I didn’t know how to process what she had told me. I was struggling over how
I should comfort her — at the time all I knew was that I could be there for her by just listening.
“The mifepristone doesn’t cause any pain or discomfort. The misoprostol was the painful one.
A few hours after taking it I felt the most intense menstrual-like cramps I had ever felt, overwhelming nausea, and gas cramps,” Kayla explained. “I remember sitting on the toilet, bleeding and bleeding, having painful diarrhea, crying, and clinging to a trashcan that I was violently vomiting into.”
If I hadn’t known she had gotten the abortion, it would have been like nothing had happened.
But I didn’t know the extent of emotional pain she was going through until she broke down in tears that one night.
“My coping mechanism for losing my child, because I never ‘talked it out’, was drugs. Painkillers, marijuana, alcohol, hallucinogens, anything my teenage hands could get ahold of. It was my escape from reality,” admitted Grote. “And while my drug usage was harmful in basically every way imaginable, it was helpful in forgetting the trauma I had just been through.”
Believe it or not, Kayla was my first introduction to “drugs.” She had a habit of smoking cigarettes and would sometimes opt for vaping instead. I never had an issue with her doing it, just that if she got caught and I got caught knowing she did it, I would have been suspended and possibly kicked out and had my student visa revoked. But Kayla never jeopardized my stay. She had dismissed all accusations of me knowing when a staff member found out.
So, while my relationship with Kayla evolved into boarding-school-rule-breakers-accomplices, Kayla faced problems with other relationships in her life. Her mother seemed less maternal and her father withdrawn, but visibly upset. Kayla did have a falling out with a best friend of 8 years though. “After I told her about the abortion, she stopped talking to me. I still miss her sometimes, even though it has been over half a decade, but I quickly remember how cold she was to me and how someone wasn’t truly my friend if they decided to abandon me when I needed them most, and instead ignored and judged me.”
I didn’t judge Kayla for her decision. Despite my religious beliefs I understood why she found
it necessary to get the abortion, but I couldn’t help but think, was I wrong to agree with the justification? “I fully believe that the experience changed my life for the better. Had I kept
my son; our lives would have been a constant struggle. We would probably be living in government housing right now, no support from family, and I would likely only have a GED,”
To this day, I am happy to report that Kayla now has two beautiful children who I hope someday
to meet. “I think the ordeal also changed me for the better because I now have an understanding of abortion (something 1 in 4 women in the US have gone through) and its effect better than anyone. If someone in my life is faced with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, I am able to help them more than most people can,” she stated.
Although Kayla and I aren’t besties, we still remain friends. In thinking about writing this reflection I had asked Kayla if there was anything she wanted to say to her unborn child. Kayla and her then boyfriend had named their unborn child Charlie. So... to Charlie, your mom told me, “I would say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that my lack of education created your life, only for it to be taken away. I hope that your soul found a woman who smiled when she got her positive pregnancy test, who was prepared and excited to care for you, who cried joyful tears when you were placed in her arms, who loves you unconditionally and above everything else. I’m sorry I couldn’t be that woman for you.”
So, to Kayla, I would like to say I’m sorry I was not educated on how to better support you through that time. I wish there was more that I could have done to be there for you. However, I thank you for protecting me the way you did back in high school, for being an example of a strong woman. You are unequivocally a loving mother and your candidness is what makes you an extraordinary individual who is a big inspiration in my life; I hope one day to be half as good as a woman you are. And, by the way thanks for teaching me how to use a tampon! It was a much-needed life lesson, especially during the start of my swim season.