Pregnant at 17, Woman Who Chose Life for Her Baby Says She’s the ‘Brightest Thing in My Life’

Pregnant at 17, Woman Who Chose Life for Her Baby Says She’s the ‘Brightest Thing in My Life’
(Courtesy of Gemma Howard)
12/5/2023
Updated:
1/7/2024
0:00

Facing an unplanned pregnancy and an uncertain future, a young woman chose to see past her fears and choose life for her unborn baby.

Colorado-born and raised, Gemma Howard is a legal secretary for a law firm in Idaho and is a mom to 2-year-old Josephine. She became pregnant after getting into a relationship at 16 with a boy she'd met at her church youth group the year before.

“I fell for him super hard,” Ms. Howard told The Epoch Times. “I was the one that said ‘I love you’ first.”

However, from the beginning, her relationship wasn’t healthy.

“He realized he was having some sort of like ‘episodes’ where he would black out, or he’d get really angry,” she said. “He then found out he was bipolar, so things started getting worse and worse.”

‘Panicking Inside’

A year into their relationship, Ms. Howard moved to Colorado to work for a nonprofit, and her boyfriend also moved to join her. However, she decided she wanted a break as she was facing the brunt of his illness and felt the relationship was having a negative influence on her life. But a week later, in October 2020, she discovered she was pregnant.

It was around this time that Ms. Howard’s mother flew to Colorado to lend her support while she navigated the breakup. Soon her mom heard from Ms. Howard’s roommate that her daughter might be pregnant.

“She woke me up at like 3 a.m., in the middle of the night, and said, ‘You need to take a pregnancy test,’” Ms. Howard said. “It was weird because the second she asked me to, it almost was like instant, ‘I don’t want to take this because it’s going to be positive, and I don’t want my mom to know.’”

An ultrasound image of Ms. Howard's fetus. (Courtesy of Gemma Howard)
An ultrasound image of Ms. Howard's fetus. (Courtesy of Gemma Howard)

Out of fear, Ms. Howard dipped her pregnancy test in toilet bowl water, ensuring a negative result to show her mom. Later, when she was by herself, she took two more tests that confirmed her suspicions: she was pregnant. However, she soon realized she couldn’t avoid the truth, and her mom pushed her to visit a clinic for confirmation.

“I was panicking inside,” she said. “It’s like that feeling of your life flashing before your eyes. I just saw all of these things that I would have to do. I‘d felt so relieved when I’d gotten out of my relationship, it felt like this thing was lifted off of me. Then immediately, when that happened, I was like, ‘What do I do?’ I don’t want to get back into this relationship.”

A portrait of Ms. Howard when she was pregnant with her daughter. (Courtesy of Gemma Howard)
A portrait of Ms. Howard when she was pregnant with her daughter. (Courtesy of Gemma Howard)
“Unfortunately, the thought of abortion came into my mind,” she said. “It was in that short period of time where I was like, ‘Everyone thinks I’m not pregnant right now. What do I do?’ Unfortunately, I was like, ‘Well, there is this,’ which, thankfully, then I didn’t choose.”

Choosing Life

The eldest of six siblings, Ms. Howard was raised pro-life but never had a reason to test her belief until this moment. She had the fleeting thought, “If I wasn’t pro-life, I could have such an easy out,” but quickly realized her conviction ran deep.

“I truly do believe life begins at conception,” she said, “... therefore I can’t choose abortion as an option.” Ms. Howard accepted her fear and grieved the loss of the life she thought she'd have, allowing her to choose life for her baby.

Her choice strengthened her relationship with her parents, who supported her through early pregnancy.

“There was a lot of disappointment, but there was also a lot of love, specifically with my father,” she said. “I always had a very rough relationship with my dad, and he was the person I was scared to tell the most. ... But when I told him, he was so calm, and he ended up just being like, ‘Okay, well, this is reality. I’m going to help you support this little person that you’re going to bring to the world.’”

Ms. Howard earned her pilot's license while she was pregnant with Josephine. (Courtesy of Gemma Howard)
Ms. Howard earned her pilot's license while she was pregnant with Josephine. (Courtesy of Gemma Howard)

During this time, Ms. Howard also realized that she couldn’t bear to enter a custody battle with the father of the baby if she decided to keep the baby. She thus began considering adoption, but no potential option of parents felt right until her uncle and aunt—who'd been unable to conceive for 16 years—said they would love to be considered.

“Immediately, I was like, ‘If anyone’s going to adopt my baby, it’s going to be someone like this, that I trust,’” Ms. Howard said. “About three months into my pregnancy, I made that decision. ... But I also felt so incredibly crushed because I did feel this maternal bond already with my baby that I wasn’t expecting.”

‘He Has a Plan’

However, things changed again when Ms. Howard was five months pregnant. She received a text message from a friend that read, “The dad is gone.” Her baby’s father had taken his own life.

“There was lots of emotions,” Ms. Howard said. “I was confused and heartbroken, and then I had many people who were angry with me and were blaming me. Through all of that, I ended up moving home to Idaho so I could be there for the funeral and then deliver my baby.”

(Courtesy of Gemma Howard)
(Courtesy of Gemma Howard)

Ms. Howard’s faith during her pregnancy was “the strongest it’s ever been.” She'd been praying to God for a resolution with the father and a chance to keep her baby.

“I don’t believe that Jesus kills anyone,” she said. “I think He has a plan, and everything works in it for good. ... when I heard, it was like this incredible heartbreak but also me being like, ‘I’m going to keep my baby now.’”

Back in Idaho, Ms. Howard continued with her pregnancy, moving into full gear in her third trimester by fulfilling a long-held dream of getting her pilot’s license, and she successfully received her certificate at 38 weeks pregnant.

Josephine was born on July 15, 2021, at a local birth center after a six-hour labor.

“It was like the most perfect birth I could have asked for,” Ms. Howard said. “When I first held her ... I was like, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I just felt like I didn’t ever want to let go.”

(Courtesy of Gemma Howard)
(Courtesy of Gemma Howard)

‘We Can Do Hard Things’

Stepping into the role of motherhood, her life became a rollercoaster as she had to assume the role of both parents by being an attentive mother and a breadwinner all at once. But she soon found she had capacities far beyond her expectations.

“I think a lot of moms, once you have a kid, you just have these automatic superpowers,” she said. “You can do multiple things at once. You know, I would breastfeed my daughter and practice my cello somehow, and I always look back and I’m like, I don’t know how I did the things that I did, both hard and good.”

Despite being a single, teen mother she pursued her dreams.

“It’s not easy, and I constantly run into walls, whether they be mental or financial, but I’m getting closer day by day, and that’s what matters,” she said. “My life looks different than the normal 20-year-old, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still pursue my dreams.”

When Josephine was 6 months old, Ms. Howard said a tough goodbye to her parents and siblings and moved to Denver, Colorado, to work for a nonprofit, The Avodah Collective, working with survivors of sex trafficking and their children. Ms. Howard spent a year as a missionary, received a small salary from donations, and felt “blessed” to grow close to the women.

Today, Ms. Howard is back in Idaho working as a legal secretary, while her daughter attends nursery.

Ms. Howard with her daughter, Josephine. (Courtesy of Gemma Howard)
Ms. Howard with her daughter, Josephine. (Courtesy of Gemma Howard)

“She is the spunkiest little girl. She’s precious and incredibly smart,” Ms. Howard said. “She has her own opinions now, and she knows what she doesn’t like and what she does like. ... She’s very independent, she’s very strong-willed, but she’s the sweetest little girl, and she’s very polite.”

With balancing work, Ms. Howard admits that she misses her daughter sometimes, feeling like a bad mom as she’s not always there for her.

“I look at her, and she is, like, the brightest thing in my life,” the mom said. “She makes me so happy.”

Reflecting on the life she could have had, Ms. Howard knows there are things she would have loved to do, but she remains “just so thankful” that she kept her baby girl.

“[I]f I let the fear and all of the angry voices be my determining factor ... I would have had so much more pain and regret than any of the pain or hardship I feel now,” she said. “When I weigh the balances, I can deal with the hardships I have now, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t have her.”

Over the last few years, she’s also been able to let go of the anger she felt toward Josephine’s father.

(Courtesy of Gemma Howard)
(Courtesy of Gemma Howard)
(Courtesy of Gemma Howard)
(Courtesy of Gemma Howard)

When Josephine is older, Ms. Howard plans to tell her the story, but insists that she will never let her daughter feel “any less loved, or that she wasn’t wanted.” To any other expectant mom fearing an uncertain future, she advises, “Don’t let the fear scare you into making a choice that you could later regret.”

She said, “I’ve been able to hear different people’s stories, and a lot of them, in the beginning, they were all like, ‘It’s the fear that completely takes over, and that’s what made me contemplate abortion.’”

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