What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by Michelle Botkin.

I never ever thought I was going to get pregnant in high school.

High school was a carefree life. I was pretty, had friends, and had fun. I dated a boy off and on – luckily more “on” than “off” towards the end. 

My own mom was worried about me. She’d ask if I was pregnant periodically during my junior year of dating this guy steadily. I didn’t have to say we were having sex. She knew. 

In November of my senior year, days after my 18th birthday, I took a pregnancy test. The boy and I looked at the results together. Positive.

I was in shock. I knew my life was about to change forever. Shock stayed with me through the next few months I think. My head and heart were overwhelmed with everything that was happening. Through the fog, the boy and I decided to get married. We got married right at the beginning of our second semester in high school and lived with my family. Being married so young was a whole trial itself. Apparently being a Mormon pregnant teen was something to see too. The looks hurt. I was now a sideshow to see between classes in the hall. All I wanted to do was yell at them “This could be you!”. Not being able to take the stares at school any longer, I switched to night school to get away. I graduated and walked with my graduating class 7 months pregnant. Fun right? 

I gave up future plans after school to have my baby and stay home with him. And I loved it. 

Since then I have raised my little boy (now 5 1/2 years old) and added 2 more over the years (by choice, might I add). They are sweet, loving, well-behaved, smart and creative little children. I am completely happy with life and have found myself in those years. I am confident again. I have learned so much that one can only learn through this experience.

My baby boy was the biggest blessing I have received. Someone knew I needed him. He was meant for me and I was meant for him.

I am 24 years old with 3 kids.

I want you to know that I am not stupid.

I know that becoming pregnant was resulting to my own poor choices.

Yes I know I’m young.

When you look at me, and comment that I’m too young to have 3 kids, it not only hurt me, I completely lost myself to the judgements of being a teen mom. All the stares, the comments, the judgements stole my identity. And it has taken 5 years to find me again. And figure out my place in this world and be confident with my life.

Being a teen mom was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through.

It was an ongoing journey.

I want you to know that I am more than a teen mom. I know I’m no longer a teen. But I will forever own that label. 

And I am not ashamed.

When you find out how many kids I have, then come back with shock and rude comments and THEN ask how old I am, its disrespectful. I know you are doing the math in your head how old I was when I had my first. I can see it on your face. I can see the path your mind is taking and when you get to the results.

So don’t be surprised when I say “Yup, I got pregnant in high school.” You might think I now sound insensitive or immature. But guess what? I’m just sick and tired of your reactions.

I want you to know that I am proud of being a teen mom. I beat the odds. That boy all those years ago is still my husband. And it has not been easy. In fact, the marriage has been the hardest thing, not the babies. So I am proud.

We are in a strong, loving, relationship and it is due to our hard work and commitment to each other and our kids. We know the magnitude our actions have on our kids.

I want you to know I am a good mom. In fact, I’m a great mom! My baby changed my life. And for the better. My life prior to getting pregnant prepared me for becoming a mother in many different ways. I may have stumbled into Motherhood early, but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve it. 

I want you to stop judging those young mothers in the checkout line. That teenage girl with the protruding belly doesn’t need your grimaces. She needs a smile. A message that says she can do this. Whether it be becoming a mother to their child, or a birth mother to make a couple a family.You don’t know their circumstances. You don’t know what kind of person they are. Especially before they got pregnant. She is still of infinite worth.

Let’s be kind to each other woman we see, young or old. I may have stumbled into Motherhood early, but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve it.