Nicole Grech relates her experience of being Catholic, unmarried and pregnant when she was only 20. “I honestly didn’t want kids, I wanted a career. I felt unprepared.”
“When I looked at the pregnancy test, I thought... this is not possible”
I clearly remember looking at the pregnancy test stick. 7 weeks plus. I thought that it wasn’t possible. My boyfriend, Jefflyn, and I were only 20 years old at the time and had everything planned for our future. Jefflyn had just graduated from his degree in Psychology and started his new job as a tutor for children with severe autism. Whilst I was working one full time job as an LSE and a part time job as a Vet assistant. Two jobs and studying at the same time. We never expected to be pregnant! We were not prepared for it. Apart from all this, we were also preparing for our big day, we were planning to get married within a year and a half. In fact, we had just paid the deposit for our reception and were waiting to start building our apartment. I remember looking at the pregnancy test and just feeling numb. What are we going to do with the kid? What will people say? It was hard.
We didn’t believe in providence, we believed in hard work and working to get somewhere. Though we believed in God, we didn’t have the faith we needed to believe it would be ok. It was difficult, but it was in this experience that we learnt to cling to God. We were proved wrong.
“My mother was hurt. I think she felt betrayed”
We decided to tell our parents there and then, to get it over with. His father and mother were happy. My father was surprised but he didn’t mind much, he said we weren’t the first ones. He told us that together we will make it work. My mother was hurt. I think she felt betrayed. We still do not speak about what went through her mind on those first days, even after all these years. It still hurts.
The people: “Why would a “good” girl like you do something like this?”
People outside our family didn’t help either. The following few days before our first hospital appointment, we were burdened with people asking why a “good” girl like me would do something like this. They seemed to think I was infallible. These comments became more pronounced along the pregnancy as people started to stare at the obvious and I couldn’t hide it anymore. There were many people who told us not to say that we were not married in order to hide our pregnancy and our child from being out of wedlock. They felt we did something wrong, even though I don’t think the word wrong can be applied to a pregnancy. We just made choices in the wrong time and you feel stranded because you need to change your plans. Yet others believed that we will make a great couple.
“I honestly didn’t want kids, I wanted a career”
Abortion was never an option for us. Apart from our religious beliefs, we believe that the killing of a preborn child in the womb is one of the saddest, most immoral things there are out there! But before the first appointment, I personally considered for some fleeting moments the possibility of giving our child up for adoption. I honestly didn’t want kids, I wanted a career, I wanted to continue studying and not raise a family; I was quite happy just being me and Jefflyn. I was afraid of how I would face the world as a Catholic and being pregnant before marriage.
“The idea of adoption dissolved as I heard the strong little heartbeat”
The idea of adoption dissolved and never came back to mind when at our first hospital appointment when I heard a steady, strong little heartbeat, and I could clearly see a little body with tiny legs, toes and feet. I cried so much when I heard her. The human shape was very obvious. There and then I fell in love in the most sudden and intimate way possible.
I wish I could say that from then on, things just fell into place, but they didn’t. It turned out that I was 10 weeks pregnant, almost out of my first trimester. Money was tight; medical appointments and baby items are expensive and with a wedding coming up, a new home together with payments to continue my studies we really found ourselves with our backs against the wall.
“She reminded me of how many people had suffered to receive what I had unplanned”
Little did we know that God had been already helping and that His providence was never ending. I had to stop one of my jobs because it was getting too much. Friends and family who knew us well gave us great support. Some gave us words of encouragement; “You’ll be great parents”, “don’t worry you will manage in some way or another”. An ex-colleague of mine had spent years trying to conceive and spent many days bed bound when she finally did become pregnant. One day, she pushed me aside and told me not to hide my pregnancy because what I was carrying was precious and a treasure to the world. She reminded me of how many people had suffered to receive what I had unplanned. “It is a gift from God. Do not be afraid,” this left me contemplating about why was I feeling so angry... Suddenly, providence started pouring in the form of push chairs, a baby bed, diapers.
“As she was born, her grandparents soon forgot all that had come before her birth!”
The biggest blow however was yet to come. This would test our faith and our maturity; our faith in God and even in the persons around us. Our beautiful little girl was born just as summer started and schools closed. Labor was long but easy. We were lucky to have wonderful staff at hospital who helped us, and her devoted grandparents soon forgot all that had come before her birth and were supportive all throughout.
“We were enraged when the priest told us our daughter could not be baptised with others”
We believe in something bigger then ourselves, we wanted to baptise our little girl a month after her birth. So we talked to our parish priest as is the custom in Malta. We were astounded, enraged and unbelieving of what we were about to hear. The priest told us that he would baptise our daughter, however since we were Catholic and had a child out of wedlock we had to baptise her on her own. We were to have a ceremony outside of the common ceremony and Church hours because of the circumstances of her birth.
I felt so hurt. What was my child’s fault in all of this? She didn’t choose to be born out of wedlock. To us, it felt like an extra burden to our circumstances and a fault being given to our daughter, one that she had no part of. I do not agree with the reasoning of this priest; also and especially for telling us that our daughter was only my responsibility and not of both of us. He wanted my boyfriend to move out of the house. We had moved in together for Jefflyn to help me with our daughter, to help each other out as I was studying. I know this wasn’t the ideal situation but marriage was so close and the child was the reponsibility of both. He was omitting my boyfriend out of the picture, taking away his responsibilities which came with child bearing and rearing, responsibilities that my boyfriend was very keen of carrying with love and sacrifice.
“We knew that God had a merciful approach towards those who did not chose well”
Yet, we refused to believe that what this priest said was the notion carried by the whole Church. We believed instead that this was his personal, and wrong, opinion. We knew that God had a merciful approach towards those who did not chose well. So we decided to go elsewhere. We found refuge with another priest who welcomed us with open arms, who assured us that our daughter, in our case was the product of love and therefore would not be omitted from a normal baptism. He would perform the baptismal ceremony of our daughter together with the other infants. It was left up to us to decide whether we wanted this or not. We ultimately decided in a private ceremony, however, I must specify that this was our choice, and it was not forced on us. We decided we wanted something private and more family oriented, then the usual mass with so many unknown people attending.
I have heard of many people who have moved away from the Church and from God because of such priests as the first one we spoke to. Such comments bring so much hurt and anger when a life, any life, brought forth under any circumstance, is a life given to us by God. One to treasure and rejoice in! I think it was the Holy Spirit who elevated our maturity and helped our stubbornness prevail on those comments. Yet, for years it kept me from fully living my Christian faith. Those words kept creeping like a shadow at the back of my mind.
“Working with the Jesuits gave me a better understanding of the human world”
Fast-forward to some years later and I am currently working in a Jesuit School. And it is here that I finally started to let go of my anger and immerse myself thoroughly in God. I fell in love with their way of thinking. Through the Jesuits I have found myself again and have a better maturity and understanding of this human world. I have spoken openly about being Catholic and pregnant outside marriage, yet, it doesn’t seem the Jesuits care that much about what happened before. To them it matters who I am now. For them what really matters are one’s core values. The Jesuits have taught me to look beyond religion and one’s background, but to somehow look deep within the soul of a person. They work with what there is now, rather than what happened in the past. So much so, that I have been given time and time again opportunities to grow in my career, to learn and mature both as an employee and as a person. I have been asked to help in The Eucharistic Youth Movement at school as a leader to a group of thirteen-year-old boys. I have been asked to travel abroad with the boys and to accompany a Jesuit in a voluntary work experience with 6th formers for two weeks in Ireland. In a few words, I have never been degraded me because of my past choices and circumstances.
“Now I understand why the Church still preaches not to have sex before marriage”
Nowadays, I understand why the Church still preaches couples not to have sex before marriage. Having lived through it myself, I understand the dangers of being left behind as a single parent if the other parent gets cold feet. It is difficult, even though not impossible, to raise a child single handedly and even if the parents remain together like in our case. Also, the change and impact on the relationship is so big that you have to have a foundation in the relationship for it to work. There is also the financial strain. I must admit that six years after our marriage we still have no doors in our house, and our house is still a work in progress.
Yet, at the end of the day, being Catholic and pregnant before marriage has only been a positive experience in our lives. It was not easy, but surely a positive one. Both Jefflyn and I have matured and have kept on working on our marriage, to be stronger as parents and as children of God. We try to respect each other not blurt things out. And when we go astray we help each other focus on the priorities. After two years we planned our second child, this time it was a boy.
“If you are facing an unexpected pregnancy, do not give up!”
This experience made me realise that we are all human, that we are all prone to mistakes. It wasn’t the end of the world in the end, even if some people make it feel like it.
If you are also passing through an unplanned pregnancy, do not give up! Hope! It’s hard not easy, but look beyond the obstacles. We also have friends who are single fathers and single mothers who have still managed. God always offers a helping hand to those who pray or ask for it! If you have found a wall in front of you, turn your gaze somewhere else. The answer may be somewhere else! There are people who are willing to help even if they are not your family. Life finds a way!
Published: May 2019
Podcast: Uyen Vu
Photos of Nicole and Jefflyn Grech: Christina Gatt
Links For Unplanned Pregnancy Support:
- Heart Beat International
- LifeLine Crisis Pregnancy Free Services, Malta
- Support During & After an Unplanned Pregnancy to Mother/Partner/Family, Gużeppa Debono Home, Gozo, Malta
- Hope, Crisis Pregnancy Awareness, Floriana, Malta