a hitch-hiker’s heartbreak

I have hitch-hiked myself only a handful of times, but I can boast of a record of extremely short waiting time with my thumb in the air before getting picked up. Of course the usual response is something like, “Well duh, you’re a cute girl of course you get picked up right away…” This however is not the case. The truth is simple: Karma. I pick up hitch hikers whenever I can. I love it. One of the great things about the South Island of New Zealand is that it is rich with humble hitch-hikers from all over the world. And if you chose, you can share that extra seat in your car with someone in exchange for a short story, their story.  It belongs only to them, and you only get to hear because you delayed your travel time by 3 minutes to help out a fellow wanderer.

Today I learned Rosa’s story. This morning on our way through Wanaka there was a young woman walking along the side of the road with her arm out. Her mustard coloured ski bib gave away that she intended to get to the same place we were. My adorably introvertered Kiwi partner, well familiar by now with my love of hitch hikers, slowed to the side of the road.

Rosa is originally from Holland. However she hasn’t lived there for a while now. She has been in Austria, Australia, Canada, and now New Zealand. She is chasing her passions. Learning to surf each summer, skiing and snowboarding in the winter, taking life as it comes, seeing more of the world than most people I have ever met, and that is because I am American.

There is a wonderful thing that happens between more developed countries all over the world that the States chooses to miss out on: The Working Holiday Visa. This visa allows young adults to move to an other country to find work and travel for one year. I am fortunate enough to be on a Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand, especially since the USA does not offer this Visa to Kiwis. There is this funny thing about foreign relations I have realized during my time in New Zealand, and that is if you treat other nations nicely, other nations will return that kindness. When it comes to visas, it is well known that the USA doesn’t play nice. And we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Because the States does not give working holiday visas to anyone, I can get a working holiday visa in four forgiving countries: Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Singapore. Not too bad… until your Partner talks about working a ski season in the French Alps and you realize you can’t tag along. But because he is from New Zealand, he can chose to go just about anywhere. As a matter of fact he has, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Czech, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lativa, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Phillipines, Poland, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, OR Vietnam to choose from. My list doesn’t feel so generous anymore does it?

The United States, more than any other country in the world, needs this program, for the same reason they chose to neglect it: The USA (excuse the generalization) is a narcisstic, xenophobic, nation, that is still riding on the high that once being a super-power offered them. We choose to deny these young people like Rosa access for 12 months to our country, and it is a big loss for us. The people who are traveling on this visa are our generation’s thinkers, doers, adventurers, wanderers, and problem solvers. They are not just dreaming, they are making it happen. Regardless of where they came from, these men and women are inspirational, and we need to learn from them. At the same time, they can learn from us. We American’s need to represent our nation and break down our negative stereotypes while learning about other cultures in Europe, in Asia, in South America, in Oceania. We need life experiences in new places imbedded into our culture if we want to succeed in the evolving challenges of our globalized world.

Rosa’s story was not exclusively about fun and adventure. She had an American boyfriend she traveled with for sometime. They intended to be together long term, until his Mother became sick. He returned home to help his mother and she couldn’t follow. This part of the story stayed vague, and I couldn’t bring myself to pry for detail as her somber tone told of the frustration she felt at a circumstance that puts being with someone beyond her power. I couldn’t help but feel especially angry about this. About how unfair it is that someone as sweet and hard working as Rosa is not welcome into my country because she was not born there. It almost makes me more angry when people like Rosa talk about how much they would love to see the wonderful landscapes and cities we have in the States, because they are so forgiving and accepting of the fact that they will never be able to do it. Most can not afford to travel there if they are not earning an income simultaneously. It is ridiculous and we need to demand change.

We live in a world where traveling is easier than ever before. Multi-culture is imbedded in New Zealand’s culture. This small little island state is so well aware of the rest of the world it would blow most Americans away. They can distinguish different regions of accents from various countries without a second thought, they know about politics and history of other places, and they welcome all different nationalities who want to enjoy the amazing scenic landscapes they call home. Kiwis grow up expecting to spend a significant amount of their lives traveling. They save more money for plane tickets than materialistic waste. Its a beautiful way to live. I wish America could try to be a little more like this. We have so much to learn from one an other. Nothing is better than learning about and experiencing a place through someone who calls it home.

In the States we live with so much fear of forgien immigrants. It is pumped into our system through the media and politicians. Yes, I wont dishonor horrible events such as the Boston marathon. Many would argue is a reason to tighten our boarders and restrict young immigrants. But the truth is we do more harm than good when we stop millions of amazing, loving, diverse people from living in our boarders for a year in hopes of preventing just one potentially dangerous person. Have faith. Relax. Know that all people are inherently good. I wish I had the power to convince our country to make this change. Would it be overwhelming? Maybe initially as visa applications flood the system. Would it be startling for your barista to have a thick Dutch accent? For some, possibly. Would it be worth it? Absolutely. We forget that ours is a nation of immigrants. Why do we feel like we have the right to stop our own distant families from sharing the new world with us (and just for a year!)? Imagine the country we would become if young Americans spent more time learning and engaging with others overseas. Imagine the world we would become as our generation becomes congressmen, business owners, doctors, professors, artists, designers, envrionmentalists, etc. with education and life experiences rich in influence of various cultures.

Please. Have this discussion. Share these thoughts. Lets get our people out amongst the world. Lets get Rosa to the United States she so longs to see, to her love she was forced from. We need more Americans in the world, hitch-hiking, sharing stories, and making change.

what I hope you might understand now

About a week ago my mom mentioned during our weekly phone call that you were expecting a baby. She told me about when you came up in a conversation with one of her friends, she said, “Oh that is so fun for Diane she gets to be the first girl out of that group of friends to have a baby!” The friend’s puzzled look prompted the realization, and my mom followed with, “Oh wait no, that was my daughter!” and they laughed and laughed. I laughed too when she told me the story, and I felt so much excitement for you.

Later that night I could not sleep. I lay awake in bed turning about, full of feeling, full of memories, full of words I wished I could some how say to you, words I wanted to say to every woman who might have looked at an other young pregnant woman with a naked left finger. It is possible these women may not have judged, they just may not have known how to help, so they did nothing because they could not relate. But now that you know for yourself what it means to carry someone within you, someone who is apart of you and yet a complete individual, someone you love beyond words, maybe you can understand better than before what that year was like for me.

I knew. I had a feeling, a fear. I knew before that stupid test from the grocery store told me, that I was pregnant. I sobbed all night. I have never felt more alone in my life. I texted one friend, one of our friends, I dont know why she was the one. – I dont know what to do, I need help, I really messed up- she didn’t respond, she was asleep, I was alone. The next morning, I woke up in a daze. You have that small instant the morning after something drastic happens, like maybe a break up for example, where for a moment everything is ok.  But as you lie there, you sort the confusion, and remember why you feel physically weak and weighed down. It is because your life as you knew it yesterday, is gone.

I would imagine it was different for you. You were probably trying. You were probably so excited. You probably got to run and show your husband who loves you so much and he hugged you so tight that even that tiny embryo felt a squeeze of happiness. I had to call a guy I hardly knew. A guy I impulsively slept with one night to get over the only person I had ever fallen in love with because I was desparate enough to hope that sleeping with someone else would help me move on emotionally, since he had moved on physically and emotionally months before.

I am sure within a few weeks everyone in your neighborhood knew and was so happy for you, anxiously calling and visiting you to hear about how you were coming along. For a few weeks I basically got up to go to class, stayed awake long enough to study and went back to bed. When our friend got my text and called me back asking if everything was ok I lied. I said something stupid like -I just got too drunk and sent weird texts- so that she wouldn’t be able to pry it out of me. My friends at school knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t say. I physically could not  form the sounds that combine to announce “I am pregnant” because I felt too ashamed. Too ashamed I had sex before marriage or too ashamed that my birth control method failed depending on who I was talking to. My mind was constantly occupied with who I would let down if I followed through with the pregnancy, and whether or not I would suffer if I terminated it. I fled to Washington, because I knew living in my Aunt’s neighborhood when I started to show would be easier than living in ours.

While you began the “nesting” period, figuring out where the baby would sleep, and buying clothes in baby botiques, I was making phone calls. I had to tell the river guiding company I landed a job with I couldn’t be there this summer, my university advisor I had to postpone fall semester, and my friends at school I had to pull out of our housing contract. I was rebuilding the way my life would be with this detour that knocked me off my feet. I was emailing an amazing couple almost daily who where my lifeline and hope, the direction, the light at the end of the tunnel. I was scared, I was lost, and I just knew I had to wake up each  morning and keep going.

By now you must know how hard sleeping when you are pregnant is. It starts to feel awkward having this large mass on your stomach. You toss and turn and lay awake. But as least you got to sleep (or not) every night next to a man who loves you. You got to share the changes in your body with someone who adored them, someone so excited for the end to draw near. I always strived to stay cheerful and positive throughout my pregnancy because I had a firm belief that my baby deserved to be surrounded by positive engergy before entering the world. But I will admit there were times at night were I couldn’t be strong any longer. Where I clutched at my stomach both for comfort and out of despair. Where I wished more than anything that there was someone there for me. Someone who loved me, who loved us. Someone who could raise this baby with me. But there wasn’t. I would cry silently until I fell asleep, then wake up, look at the ceiling while I encouraged myself to be strong for an other day, an climb out of bed.

While you were very pregnant you were probably praised and congratulated everywhere you went being the cute pregnant mom-to-be I know you were. When I was very pregnant, I felt stares and judgements from every angle. Of the people who did show love and support, I could tell some were actually terrified of saying the wrong thing. I could count the number of “Congratulations” I got in nine months on one hand. Most people either thought I was a trashy girl or felt sorry for me. But this taught me how to sincerely be proud of myself. This was the first time in my life I truly didn’t give a damn about what people thought of me. I didn’t care about their assumptions of who I was. I knew me. I knew I was an amazing strong young woman. I knew I made the difficult choice of carrying a baby, because I wanted her to have a life with a family that needs her, a family that is ready for her, a family that has been waiting for her for nine years. And even when the word blazed through the neighborhood, and you and so many of the people we know loved talking about the scandal that my pregnancy was, I held my head high. So many of you spread the word and framed the story in a manner than showed that you meant to support me. However, the people I got support from are the few people I am still friends with. They are the people who supported me by coming to me, laughing with me, loving me. Not the ones who only supported the spread of my story. And alas, I was blessed with a premature lesson in quanity vs quality of friends. I will also always know from example what being a true friend to someone during a hard time means.

And lastly and most importantly. When you have that sweet baby, when you bring her into the world and hold her for the first time you will be changed forever. You will be amazed your body made something so perfect, so beautiful and so pure. You will hold her and share her with your family and dear friends for weeks and months and years. You get to be her mentor and you get to watch her grow. You get to be a family. With the man you love and the perfect being your love created. When I had my sweet baby I was so excited to share her with her parents I asked them to be there the night she was born. I held my flawless baby. My little girl. My companion of nine months who I nurished and created,  who would have my bleach blonde toddler hair and blue eyes. She unknowingly taught me how to be better, she changed who I would be forever. I held her and loved her and watched her face for hours, knowing that she wasn’t going to be mine. The night came to sign my right as her guardian away. I looked down at this precious being in my lap and wept. The world around me evaporated, the concerned, sad looks of those who loved me and wanted to be there for me through this. All that existed was a beautiful, new person in my lap who went in and out of focus as the tears washed my face. In those moments as I memorized her face, I gave her all the unconditional love I could give her, a lifetime’s worth of love from a mother, packed into those few minutes.  Then I wiped my cheeks, signed the paperwork, and hugged my family. Her wonderful parents then entered the room. We spent some time together before they bundled her up, and took her away, holding hands, and their first baby. As I watched them walk down the hallway of the hospital, I beamed. I did that. I made that family. I gave something immeasurably precious to two people who lived in fear for years that they would never have it because they could not acquire it on their own.

I have no regret. I did something trumendious, and I know I did it well and with grace. Because of the choice I made I am not a mother, not yet. But I got to finish school, meet someone I love so dearly, and travel to places I would not have been able to go with a child. I get to visit with my baby and her family a couple times a year and love to see what a wonderful, fulfilling, and secure life she has. I feel like adoption was a situation where everyone got the best. And what began as a life changing trial was an amazing blessing in diguise. I do not feel like I lost anything, but I gained an other family, an impeccably strong sense of self, a more compassionate personality, and a gratitude for my friends and family that I can not even explain with words.

Congratulations! I am so happy for you, because I can truly understand how exciting and loving and serreal this time is.  I write this not out of resentment towards you and all the others who didn’t care to know my story from me, but wanted to hear it from anyone else. I write this because I hoped that maybe now you might be able to relate, to understand what that experience was like for me, just a little be more than you could before. Yes, our pregnancies were as different as could be. But there are emotions and feelings and experiences that every woman goes through during pregnancy and maybe you can try to relate this way. This message isn’t just for you. This message is for everyone. For anyone who ever looked at a young woman with-child, and chose to turn her nose up or point her out to a friend so they could scoff at or pity the girl together. You dont know what that woman is going through, or who she really is. But you do know pregnancy is freaking hard, and you can bet its at least 100 times harder for her. And yet there she stands, as brave and admirable as can be, and for that, maybe she should be congratulated.