prego at summer camp….and what my mother taught me.


Summer camp. Isn’t that where every girl wants to learn that she is prego? There is nothing like peeing on a stick in the infirmary next to homesick kids. You can make a god’s eye in the craft cabin and dry heave all in the same day. Learn to tie a sailors knot and vomit off the side of the sailboat. Really, there is nothing more a college student wants to happen on her summer vacation.  It’s every teenager’s dream of how to have her life completely turned upside down. A broken heart and an expanding belly is how you want your summer to end. You want to return to your senior year sporting maternity jeans. It’s hot.

I was working at a camp that I had attended as a child. I had learned to sail, ride a horse, drink bug juice and perfect the act of doing devious pranks .  When I was asked to return to the camp as a counselor, I couldn’t wait. The previous month I had said goodbye to my on-again/off-again boyfriend at college. Maybe not so much boyfriend as much as hook-up friend. Anyways, we had parted our ways as he had left to travel overseas to play soccer in Europe for the summer.  It was my chance to have a break. Clear my head. And get a kickin’ tan.

I spent the summer teaching swimming lessons, eating s’mores, singing songs with curious hand motions and perfecting the art of skinny dipping. It turns out when you return to camp as a college student, camp looks a little different.  You no longer care what cabin you are in or what activities you get to go to first thing in the morning. It is no longer  a concern whether you get a letter in the mail or how much money you have in the canteen. It did matter however how hot the new male counselor was.  He studied English literature and wanted to work in the Peace Corps.  For this hippie-loving girl he was my dream. While I was spending my summer falling smitten with those around me, apparently the soccer player was still thinking about me. He came to visit two months into the summer, one thing led to another and I ended up with morning sickness. Fairytale, right? I don’t quite remember reading this love story in any book. The love stories that I had grown up reading always involved some sort of fictional dwarfs and white horse. Since neither of those seemed to be in my future I was left with a “lock me in the tower and throw away the key, the prince will never come now” kind of ending.

When camp was over it was time that I leave and return home to tell my parents that not only had I gotten  poison ivy that summer….I was coming home with a baby! Teenage pregnancy is probably on the top five things you want to avoid in your house as a parent. I knew that walking into the house that afternoon would disrupt who we were as a family forever. To say that I was scared was an understatement. I had lived my entire life trying to be good enough. Trying to please those around me — that I was pretty enough, smart enough, good enough to be enough. I had gone to a private school.  I believed that God was already done with me.  God had given me too many chances to be enough. Yet I had made choices as a high school student that would solidify that I was looking in the mirror at an otiose girl. I had failed. As a daughter, as a child, as a human being. I would lie in the bunk at camp at night praying to God that I wouldn’t wake up. Trying to come up with scenarios where I could run away and join some sort of hippie village where I would be safe. And in the darkest moments I would beg Jesus to take my child. To know that a life was growing inside of me didn’t fill me enough to know that I was the loneliest, broken child. My soul was vacant and I saw no way out. So as I packed up the cabin at the end of the summer and cleaned the bug spray off the bunks I felt as if I would never feel anything but this pit of darkness over me.

I think now as a mom you don’t know what you are really capable of until faced with certain situations.  I am sure as she walked into the house that afternoon my mother never thought she would be hearing the words from my mouth. She and I had your typical mother daughter relationship then. She would give me advice and I would do the polar opposite. She would ask me to help around the house and I would complain and ask to live with another family. She would wait up nights for me to come in and I would think that curfew was really just a suggestion. She would spend hours making food, cleaning, doing laundry, driving all of us to our make-me-a-better-person activities without even a thank you. I remember distinctly her always, always, always being the last one at the table to take food. And with five children, three who played high school sports, she was lucky to get any food at all. Yet she never complained. She just gave. I used to get so mad at her. Never thinking of herself. Never sticking up for herself. Although none of us did that for her either.

The afternoon I sat at the dining room table. The same table that my mom selflessly gave her time, portions and advice, and  I told my mom I was pregnant. I was expecting tears. I was expecting yelling. I was expecting brokenness. I wasn’t expecting love.  Yet as I faced my mom with more disappointment  she reacted in a way I never played out. I knew that her dreams of me finishing college and getting married were just destroyed and I had been the cause of it. I fell to the floor and sobbed. Repeating through the snot running down my face that I was so sorry. I was sorry I had failed her again. I was sorry I wasn’t good enough. I was sorry I wasn’t ever going to be a college graduate. I was sorry I had brought so much shame to our family again.

And then loved. She fell on the floor next to me and loved. Wrapping her arms around me…strong…safe…and silent. She held me. She didn’t scream. She didn’t remind me of how expensive college was. She didn’t tell me I had brought shame to her. She didn’t walk away. She stayed. And she gently reminded me. Reminded me that I was loved. That we would figure this out. That she once again would take care of me. She just took me. Took me where I was at. Sobbing. Lonely. Broken. Empty. And loved me.

This is how we love. We lead with grace.

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  1. I just can’t even tell you how much I love this story of your amazing life. keep writing. keep praying. keep writing.

  2. Elizabeth Eshbach says:

    I wept. Because I have a teenage daughter and because I was a teenage daughter. Because I was THAT teenage daughter and because, so far, by the grace of God, my daughter is not me, and yet in so many ways she is. Because if this did happen, I want to be THAT mom, the one who loves with grace, as my parents did with me.

  3. I love this post. Thank you for sharing. I, too, am a Michigan girl who was recently transported to Illinois. Only I am a baby who was born to an unwed mom. ( I truly appreciate your perspective. Thank you for sharing. I pray I would respond the way your mother responded.

  4. Beautiful picture of how God and receives us. Brave, and bold. Thank you for opening your heart and soul, Shelli.

  5. momentswithlove says:

    i’m sitting here just a sobbing mess. again, i’m so, so blessed by you. and you’re mom? i know i don’t ‘know’ either one of you, but i’m thanking God for her right now. what a treasure and blessing she is. i want to be like her. and like you, too. you BOTH just ooze Jesus. thank you for sharing.

  6. I appreciate this very much. I became pregnant just out of High school as well. I can’t say I got the same response as you. But I did learn to give my own children unconditional love.

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