When I attended my 50th high school class reunion, I was surprised to find the girl who had gotten pregnant in 9th grade was probably the most successful, certainly the most interesting, woman from our class. She and the husband who “had” to marry her 54 years ago are still together. They are financially successful, and Gretchen has served on the boards of the Utah Symphony and other arts organizations. After raising their three children, Gretchen completed the classes for an art major at the university. She has collected an impressive art collection on their travels to Europe and Africa.
Whenever I’ve mentioned reconnecting with Gretchen, the reaction is always, “Oh. I’m sure she’d had a miserable life.” No one seems willing to believe that Gretchen’s unwise behavior at age 15 hasn’t ruined her life. I wonder—Is it because of a human need to believe that those who avoided youthful temptations are somehow superior to those who succumbed? Or do our notions of conventional morality need reinforcement by wishing lifelong misfortune on those who transgress the code?
Gretchen and her husband would be the first to tell anyone that their path was not easy. Ken gave up his dreams of an engineering career when he dropped out of college at age 18 to support a wife and baby. Her mother cared for the baby so Gretchen could finish high school, but Gretchen spent her out-of-school time being a mom and housewife while her friends were hanging out together, dating, and deciding which college to attend.
Certainly, Gretchen and Ken are the exception to the rule of pregnancy-induced teen marriages. But I find their story uplifting. Missteps make life harder, but they needn’t permanently mar it.