I was 24 and had never introduced my mum to “boys”. In my family, relationships were never a topic of discussion, and if you come from a strict African household like me, you know exactly what kind of environment I’m talking about! But here I was unable to hide this pregnancy which was going to expose me whether I wanted it to or not.
I was also in the church, not just warming the seats, but leading a ministry. I attended church every Sunday, and during the week. I played an active role, and everyone knew who I was.
As for my friends… they knew I was in a relationship, but having unprotected sex? They would have cussed me out! (I'll discuss this more in a separate post). So I hid it from everyone until the choice was taken away from me.
I remember the day I plucked up the courage to tell my Pastor. I was exactly 12 weeks gone, so I was in the 'safe zone' and had no more excuses not to tell him. He'd always been a father figure to me, especially where my biological father was absent, he played that role, and always stepped up to the plate, loving me like I was his own.
I dropped him a text and said I needed to speak to him urgently. He called me straight away, and after some general chit chat…
“Ami, what is it you have to tell me, you know you can talk to me”
“Pastor… I’m pregnant”
“Thank you for telling me, you didn’t have to but you did. You know, It’s going to be ok. You’re not the first, and you certainly won’t be the last. It will be ok”
It was a brief conversation. He had me on handsfree whilst in the car, so he suggested we meet in the week to talk things through.
Done. The hardest phone call of my life. I hadn’t even told my mum at this point. But as I broke the news to family and friends, it didn’t get easier.
I felt like my whole life was strung out for everyone to see. Everyone was about to know what I had been doing. There was nowhere to escape. Absolutely nowhere to hide. It was horrible!
I remember constantly crying day after day feeling so much shame, partly because I was in the church, but also because I was my mums eldest, and the eldest grandchild on her side. I had always been the older cousin that everyone looked up to. I was the exemplary child who went to University, did a Masters Degree, started up my own business and carried myself well. I was the name they used when giving a real-life example of how you should be.
My family was always so proud of me, and now this had happened.
Alongside my Pastor, my Grandma was the only other person I was super scared to tell. I begged my mum to do it for me because I just couldn’t face it, but she was adamant I do this myself. She knew how my grandma felt towards me, but also it was my responsibility. So I drove down from Leicester, I sat in front of my nan, and before I said anything she said to me “you are pregnant”. She just knew.
Growing up my mum worked a lot, so my grandma raised us. She was the one who would sit us down, make sure we completed our homework, and punish us when we got the tiniest thing wrong. She was not someone to mess about with. But she loved us.
Now, this may alarm you but my first name is Mary (a story for another day), and growing up my grandma would sing to me “Mary Mary quite contrary how does your garden grow…” She was always singing, but this was my song, a song she would sing right up until she took her last breath. So telling my grandma was hard.
( A few days before my grandma passed she sang to me one final time, a moment I will cherish forever)
Pregnancy was HARD! There was nowhere to hide, especially when that’s all I wanted to do. I hadn’t planned this, so I was faced with a choice: Either I own it, or I continue to live in fear and shame.
I never wanted my baby to feel unwanted or rejected (feelings I have personally battled with for years), so I started counselling with my Pastor’s wife, a trained counsellor who also loved me like a mum and held my hand through it all. I shared with her my fears of getting postnatal depression, not being sure if I could love my baby, feeling like I had already failed as a mum, and just worrying that everything I hoped to achieve with my life would no longer come to pass.
(The downstairs hall at church, Mayah's second favourite place because she gets to run riot and receives biscuits on on-demand)
The thing with being brave is that sometimes you choose it, but most times it chooses you. I had committed to having this baby so I couldn’t turn back.
In hindsight what I've learnt is this:
- When bravery doesn’t feel like a choice, choose it.
- When bravery is your only choice run into it and embrace it.
For me, that meant never missing a day of church. I carried my big belly to every Sunday service without fail and I held my head high, even though most days I still felt the shame. And sometimes shame is just that: a feeling. A feeling only we project onto ourselves, and if we're not careful it will allow our perceptions of a situation to dictate how we react to it.
I see this every day, but when it comes to shame you almost have to zap yourself outside of it and ask yourself:
“What is the opposite to the shame I’m feeling right now?”
“What feeling would I rather feel instead of this?”.
It all boils down to choice, because on the other side of shame is the potential to experience joy, peace, love and acceptance. In my case that also meant one day finally meeting the beautiful baby girl who would change mine and my families lives for the better, and make me one of the bravest, unashamed women you see today.
(From left: My grandma, younger sister, my mum, Mayah and me.)
Fear will seriously rob you of a lot of things. It will taint your perception of how your life can be, and actually take you further away from where you should be. So if there's one thing you take away from this, no matter the circumstance you find yourself in: always chose bravery over fear. Always choose courage over comfort.
There is no formula, you either choose it or you don’t, one will bring you peace, and the other internal distress, so which would you rather it be?