Girl breathe, I say to myself.

I am losing all the color in my face from sucking in my feelings. It feels like the weight of the world is caving in on my chest. Holding in my breath is not soothing this pain away.

I am thirteen and it is finally hitting me that my mother is dead.

She died due to a drug overdose; one of many she has had over the years. She even had one episode that caused her to lose her memory, but this last one was fatal.

It has been two years, but her voice still rings loudly in my ears. I am in foster care now. The instability here feels familiar. Feels like the life I lived with drug-addicted parents. Watching them constantly chase a high even if it meant their child was unsafe or parentless.

I struggle to keep my head above water. Still holding my breath so my feelings don’t flood out. If this grief floods out, it will make it all more real.

The Children’s Services buildings always smell like a generic type of clean with a hint of sanitation lingering in the air. Very similar to the hospitals I sat in most of my childhood because of my mom’s overdoses or other illnesses she had; and even after all that I still have to sit in hospitals now, at least for the next eight months.

I am thirteen and holding an ocean in my belly. She is buoyant with life. For a little while she was my best kept secret.

However at my third and final foster home, my foster mom figures me out by month five. She tells me she is taking me to the doctor. I look into her eyes and she knows. It is written all over her face. I am scared so I just blurt it out. I am pregnant.

She doesn’t blink.

I leave and get dressed to go to the doctor with her. The doctor tells her I am about five months pregnant. I know this already because I have been to see an obstetrician and already have a midwife. My foster mother is crying now. Sad because it was as if she saw my whole world crumble. She remains quiet for the rest of the day. The next morning we talk. She knows I am too far along for an abortion. She doesn’t even bring it up. She just tells me that she had her kids young too and I’ll figure it out.

For the next nine years that has been the game plan. Just figuring it out.

In the nine years following that conversation I would conceive two more children, end a long-term relationship, graduate high school, get arrested, almost lose my life, move out on my own and get engaged… again.

During those nine years, I have figured out how to stand my ground, speak my mind and advocate for others.

I have learned what love is, and the peace that forgiveness can give your spirit.

I am now twenty-two with three children. If anything was to come of this story it is that no matter what cards life has dealt you, no one has ever said you are stuck with them. You can choose to play them, put them down, or trade them to get a better hand. I played some, tossed some, and traded a whole lot to make the best of my situation.

Some have written me off, but many believed in me before I knew to believe in myself.

Community is what has cradled me in all of my shortcomings, giving me the ability to hold someone else up.

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