For much of Daidrian Laing’s academic life, she had been an astute student who also took pride in being involved in many extracurricular activities. Perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments for the former Knox College High School student was being on the school’s honour roll for three consecutive years. A feat which required exemplary mannerisms as well as an above-80 per cent average. “I was on the honour roll from grade eight, which is something that I was very proud of, because I tried really hard,” she stated.
Growing up, the St Ann resident had never met her father who lives in the United States, and realised from an early age that education would be her only means of escaping the biting hands of poverty. “It was very clear that he had no interest in being a part of my life, so I had to do the best with what I had,” Daidrian shared. Living a very average life, she tried to maintain a sense of balance. This included having a high-school boyfriend two years older than herself, whom she started talking to when she was in third form. “We were always good friends and he was very kind and respectful to me. He never pressured me to have sex; he always told me I didn’t have to do anything until I was ready,” she declared.
Making the decision
“Towards the last few months of my fourth-form year, I decided to go ahead. I didn’t have a lot of knowledge on sex at the time, plus my period was very irregular, like five months apart, which, looking back now, I didn’t think I was ovulating. We ended up having unprotected sex, which was not a good thing to do,” she disclosed. A few weeks later, she began to experience morning symptoms, which at first bewildered her. “I felt very dizzy in the mornings and I knew something was not right, so one morning I went to the pharmacy and bought three pregnancy tests. By lunchtime, I got the courage to use them.” As she looked at the test and saw the two strokes which represent being pregnant, she immediately lost her composure. “I started crying first, then I told my best friend and she and I started crying. I remember everybody looking at us and asking what happened. The next person I told was my boyfriend, who kept telling me not to do an abortion and that he would support me.” With her pregnancy status confirmed, the next daunting task Daidrian faced was confronting her mother with the information. Ironically, her mother had had her own premonitions which she linked to symbols from her dreams. “She kept asking me if I was pregnant, because she saw fish in her dreams and it meant pregnancy, but I was so afraid and shame, so I lied and said no.”
Facing the summer heat
Having continuous suspicions, her mother took her to a doctor during the summer to get tested. “My mother kept saying on our way to the doctor, ‘Don’t let me waste my money if you know you are pregnant’, but I was so afraid to tell her the truth. Finally, after the doctor examined me, he found out I was five months pregnant. He also warned me not to consider an abortion because the pregnancy is too far [advanced] and it could be life-threatening to me.” With such astonishing news, Daidrian’s mother was consumed with anger on their way back home. “She kept shouting at me. I knew she was frustrated, she had all the right because it was she alone, as my father had never been interested in me. Even so, it was hard, because she was saying some real hurtful stuff as we walked through the town.” Another sad reality for the young girl was the fact that her community soon found out. At that point, her daily journey was likened to the famous walk of atonement by the lead antagonist, Cersei Lannister, in the HBO hit series Game of Thrones. During these periods, she had to endure cascading criticism that pronounced shame and failure over her life. “There were a few persons in my community who made me feel so ashamed. They kept telling me how horrible I was. I had to leave for a while to clear my mind.” To make matters worse, her aunt, with whom she was living at the time, insisted that she could not stay in her house any longer. Consequently, Daidrian moved to Montego Bay, where her mother worked.
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Finding a new path
“As we moved to MoBay, I went to Catherine Hall clinic to do my check-ups, but given that I was 16, the nurses were adamant that my mother enroll me in The Women’s Centre. They even threatened to call the police on her, stating that when girls get pregnant, they usually drop out of school and then their lives fall apart.” Following the nurse’s advice, she went to The Women’s Centre at Brandon Hill, where she enrolled and started school in September 2016. Immediately, she felt comfortable in her new environment as many persons supported her. At first, she was of the impression that she would delay doing her exams for one year. However, after seeing her outstanding school report, her principal insisted that she join the fifth-form programme and do seven subjects at the Secondary Education Certificate level in May of 2017. These are standarised examinations done at grade 11 in 16 participating Caribbean countries. Using a distance-education programme, students were given laptops to view their teachers and take notes, which was a very new experience for Daidrian. “It was something different, but it worked and we, as girls, really appreciated getting a second chance to do something great.” Nonetheless, she still had to endure financial challenges along with the discomforts that came with pregnancy. “Things were really hard on me financially, so I had to miss some days here and there. In December, I had to miss a lot of days because my body just wasn’t coping well. I was feeling a lot of discomfort and cramps.”
Trying to maintain a balance
Fortunately for Daidrian, she had developed some meaningful friendships at the institution, and those friends showed up at her lowest moments. “My friends came and visited me every day (that) I was absent. They made notes for me, as well as went over the various subjects so I wouldn’t get left behind.” This trend continued until February 2017 when Laing gave birth to a healthy boy weighing seven pounds and 12 ounces. “The baby was overdue. I should have given birth in January, but I guess God had other plans. After this, I was out of school for two weeks, so I was a bit concerned because I knew I was going to have to make up for all the time lost.” Once she returned to The Women’s Centre, Daidrian doubled down on her studying, making the most of the two months she had left before her exams. “Going into the exams, I had to be realistic. I knew I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. I was even thinking I shouldn’t have done seven. I should have done less. All kinds of doubts were entering my mind, but I said I am going to do the best I can.” After the exams were finished, the new mother waited patiently for two months before receiving her results.
The fruits of endurance
“I was so surprised when I found out I passed seven subjects with four ones. To be honest, with everything that was happening, my confidence was so low when I was sitting the exams.” Daidrian has now returned to her old community, where she is viewed differently. “Some of the persons who were cursing me, their kids never passed any subject, so they have a renewed respect for me, knowing that I did it while carrying a child.” With this monumental hurdle behind her, this determined young woman remains optimistic about her future as she plots her next move. “Even though I would love to further my education by attending a college, it’s just not realistic because I don’t have the financial support, so now I am aggressively searching for a job.”
Advice to others
Laing admonishes teens’ lack of sexual education and encourages them to make sensible decisions on the matter of sex as much as possible. “Teens need to be informed, because one day they will become adults and have to make a decision to have sex, and this knowledge will guide them to do it the right way.” She also implored schools to teach kids the unadulterated truth about sex, rather than the traditional approach which usually dabbles in utopia. “Don’t pretty up things; let the students know what is really happening out there,” she emphasised.