By Tom Quiner
Maya Angelou was a dancer, singer, poet, and civil rights activist. She was a supporter of Hillary
Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign before shifting her support to Barack Obama when he secured the Democratic nomination.
Ms. Angelou was a political liberal. Perhaps that is what makes the story that follows especially powerful. When faced with an unexpected pregnancy as a teenager, she chose life:
“When I was 16, a boy in high school evinced interest in me, so I had sex with him — just once. And after I came out of that room, I thought, Is that all there is to it? My goodness, I’ll never do that again! Then, when I found out I was pregnant, I went to the boy and asked him for help, but he said it wasn’t his baby and he didn’t want any part of it.
I was scared to pieces. Back then, if you had money, there were some girls who got abortions, but I couldn’t deal with that idea. Oh, no. No. I knew there was somebody inside me. So I decided to keep the baby.
My older brother, Bailey, my confidant, told me not to tell my mother or she’d take me out of school. So I hid it the whole time with big blouses! Finally, three weeks before I was due, I left a note on my stepfather’s pillow telling him I was pregnant. He told my mother, and when she came home, she calmly asked me to run her bath.
I’ll never forget what she said: “Now tell me this — do you love the boy?” I said no. “Does he love you?” I said no. “Then there’s no point in ruining three lives. We are going to have our baby!”
What a knockout she was as a mother of teens. Very loving. Very accepting. Not one minute of recrimination. And I never felt any shame.
I’m telling you that the best decision I ever made was keeping that baby! Yes, absolutely. Guy was a delight from the start — so good, so bright, and I can’t imagine my life without him.
At 17 I got a job as a cook and later as a nightclub waitress. I found a room with cooking privileges, because I was a woman with a baby and needed my own place. My mother, who had a 14-room house, looked at me as if I was crazy! She said, “Remember this: You can always come home.” She kept that door open. And every time life kicked me in the belly, I would go home for a few weeks.
I struggled, sure. We lived hand-to-mouth, but it was really heart-to-hand. Guy had love and laughter and a lot of good reading and poetry as a child. Having my son brought out the best in me and enlarged my life. Whatever he missed, he himself is a great father today. He was once asked what it was like growing up in Maya Angelou’s shadow, and he said, “I always thought I was in her light.”
Years later, when I was married, I wanted to have more children, but I couldn’t conceive. Isn’t it wonderful that I had a child at 16? Praise God!”
[Excerpted from Maya Angelou from the essay “The Decision That Changed My Life: Keeping My Baby” in 2001 found in the Family Circle Magazine.]