I dreamed a dream | Rachel Vanoven Blog

I dreamed a dream

Many of you know that I was a single mom. The mom part was an amazing time of growth for me. As soon as Brynn was placed at my breast seconds after her birth, a switch was flipped. The 9 months before that moment, though, were some of the darkest of my life. In high school, our show choir had sang songs from Les Miserables and Fantine’s solo, “I Dreamed and Dream” had been one of the songs that I had a small solo part in and the words of the song stuck with me. When I was 17 and a carefree high school student, Fantine’s grief was alien to me. I had a few non-serious boyfriends, I was active with my church’s youth group and busy with Drama Club and silly 17 year old shenanigans.

Two years later, after a downward spiral of bad choices and disrespecting myself and my body time and time again, I found myself at home, friendless, pregnant and suddenly Fantine’s grief became something I felt all to well in my soul. Even now, nearly 10 years after seeing those two pink lines, listening to that song takes me right back. Anne Hathaway’s gut wrenching rendition of it captures how *I* felt those dark months.

There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

Like so many young girls out there, I had a fairy tale idea of romance and marriage. My own parents wed extremely young (20 and 21) and I grew up in a loving, Christian home. My mom was up to greet us every morning with breakfast, was home after school to read books in the hammock and cooked dinner every night except Sundays. Growing up, being a mom was all that I wanted. And of course you needed Prince Charming (like my dad) to marry and have that white picket fence with.

Where it “all went wrong” for me was Jr. High. I was teased mercilessly by boys and my spirit was crushed. I stopped believing I was pretty. I stopped believing I was worthy to be treated good by boys/men in general and this lasted through college.

I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung
No wine untasted.

My freshman and sophomore years of college were crazy. And fake. Looking back at the pictures truly gives me no joy. As I was a shell of myself. Plastering on a smile when every second I was alone was spent holding my arms and shaking with sobs trying to hold myself together. Spending time around my parents as I felt like I was letting them down, and if they only knew how my weekends were spent, they wouldn’t want anything to do with me. Of course, this was a lie meant to keep me in the dark and only sent me spiraling faster down a path that eventually I wasn’t able to find my way out of.

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame

Everything was turned upside down when I came down with shingles in February of 2003. The doctors were baffled that a seemingly healthy 19 year old woman would break out in such a way that typically only comes from a weakened immune system. Elderly people, AIDS patients, pregnant women, etc. I obviously wasn’t 80 years old, so they ordered a blood test to get to the bottom of it.

I was watching Jennifer Lopez’s movie “Enough” when the phone rang with the test results.

“I’ve got good news and bad news”

“The good news is, you don’t have any immunity lowering illnesses.”

oh, God.

oh, God.

“Miss Murphy? You’re pregnant.”

“Congratulations.”

I whispered thank you and hung up the phone. Standing dumbfounded in my parents’ basement. My hand went to my abdomen in disbelief. This happened to other people. Not me. How do I tell my parents? Oh, Lord…how do I look my dad in the eyes? Who will want to marry me? Do I want to abort this baby? …..I’ve always been such a Pro-Life advocate, but oh my GOSH this is ME that’s pregnant. Is the heart beating? Is it a boy? A girl? What will he or she look like? Oh, God I’m PREGNANT. I could miscarry. Please let me miscarry. Don’t make me decide, God. Oh, God. Oh, God. I can’t abort this baby. Can I raise this baby? I want to be a mom—but not now.

 “Rachel? Who was on the phone?”

I was shaking and told my mom. She just said, “Oh, Rachel” and held me and we cried. As a parent now, I cannot imagine how her heart was breaking in that moment.

As they tear your hope apart

Everything my parents hoped I would turn out to be. The Scarlet Letter they knew would be coming soon in the shape of a bulging tummy and a ringless finger on their teenage daughter.

He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came

I won’t talk much about Brynn’s biological dad, just that he was young, and in hindsight, I see that he was just as scared as I was. And today he does play a small (but important) role in her life. But the result of our conversation when I told him about the pregnancy was him deciding to wipe me from his life and keep me and his future baby a secret from everyone around him. I was devastated.

And still I dream he’ll come to me
That we’ll live the years together

I waited 9 long months for a phone call. I watched sappy movies that involved single moms getting their happily ever afters. I watched expectant moms and dads come into doctor appointments with huge smiles and clutched hands and designer maternity clothes. I bought a fake engagement ring to make me feel like I was “worthy” to go to appointments but it made my finger turn green, exposing my sham and only making me feel worse.

But I kept hoping.

But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather

The only way I survived those 9 months was my mom. All those months where I kept my double life a secret because I was scared of her reaction were for nothing as she was completely forgiving and accepting of me, flaws and all. I *did* weather that storm in my life, but all I did was float on a rescue raft as she pulled me through the raging sea that was the life of a pregnant teen.

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed

I was 9 months pregnant. Working at a Wal-Mart in north west Indiana. I had no friends. I had gained nearly 80 pounds. I was on medicaid. I was taking college classes at a local college, surrounded  by carefree young adults meeting up for drinks and planning road trips. I remember playing this song and every time Fantine sings “I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I’m living”–I would just lose it.

We’ve all been there. At least most of us have been. Life seldom ends up like our 7 year old selves imagine it would be.

You wouldn’t believe how many messages I get a week from single moms, military wives, struggling college students, etc. who are reaching out and looking for encouragement. I wish I could personally help each and every person who contacts me. I have such a heart for struggling moms, teens who maybe aren’t from the right side of the tracks and are trying to start up a photography business with limited funds. I feel and *get* each and every one of you–the pain that you have because you feel like there is no *up* from where your at.

I can tell you, it’s one day at a time. One foot in front of the other.

Instead of focusing on my pain, I choose to remember that moment when I first saw Brynn’s sweet face, and a different Les Mis song comes to mind…

Suddenly the world
Seems a different place
Somehow full of grace
And delight.
How was I to know
That so much love
Was held inside me?
Something fresh and young
Something still unsung
Fills the night.
How was I to know at last
That happiness can come so fast?
Trusting me the way you do
I’m so afraid of failing you.You have warmed my heart
Like the sun.
You have brought the gift of life
And love so long denied me.
Suddenly I see
What I could not see
Something suddenly
Has begun.
 
 

I don’t think that God has put me on this earth just to take pretty pictures. Every day, I’m feeling a nudge to share this story of mine. For now, it will be on my blog, in bits and pieces. I hope so bad that my words come as a comfort to anyone out there who feels alone. I hope so bad that some day, my story can be used on a bigger scale as a tool to help other young women who feel they don’t have worth. I truly feel at peace with my past, and all the pain that I went through has only made me a stronger person today–I am constantly grateful for the blessings that have rained down on me. But there has to be a reason. Like I said, while I love photography…every day I’m feeling a tug on my heart to take another path. One that can coexist with my teaching newborn photography and shooting client work, for now. Thank you for letting me open up my heart on this blog.

  1. Megan says:

    I think everyone has given you all of the compliments that there are words for…inspirational, amazing, strong. I could tell you my story, but I fear it would get lost among everyone. I find myself writing, and then backing up…over and over, because I simply don’t have the words to let you know how much I look up to you, your work, your faith, etc…Hopefully you just “know” how you touch and affect people’s lives with all that you do.

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