HOUSTON – “You do not know until you get there what you will do,” Lori Harrington said emphatically. “Don’t ever say you know what you’d do in a situation – or what your kids would do – because you don’t until it happens.”
Harrington didn’t know what she’d do if she found herself pregnant at the age of 17, until it happened.
When it did, her life and the life of her boyfriend, now husband, along with the lives of both of their families, changed permanently.
“He told his parents and I told mine,” Harrington said. “We got married, it just wasn’t an option. I know it broke their hearts. Hank was in his first year of college and I was in high school just barely passing English.”
The pregnancy ended Hank’s college days.
“He came home and worked at Shannon Chair on the dock,” Lori said. “And we lived in the bus.”
The bus was a recreational vehicle owned by Hank’s parents. The couple lived in it as they started their married lives. Lori’s dreams of pursuing a career in music seemed to end and she saw immediate changes in her classmates reaction to her.
She also felt changes within herself.
“To have to tell the community and my classmates, in that moment everything stops,” she said. “You grieve over your life. Seeing your friends go off to college, everything changed. All they did was go on and live their lives. I stopped and stayed here.”
She felt alone and ostracized by her peers and embarassed to join public functions due to her teen pregnancy.
“I lost all my self-esteem,” Harrington said.
Her role as the baby of her family changed quickly. Her parents and Hank’s both supported them and helped, but their lives as children were over and their lives as parents and adults began.
“They let us fall on our faces,” Lori said. “I mean, our parents both helped, but they didn’t raise us anymore. They didn’t let me be dependent on them.”
The Harringtons struggled through some tough times with Hank working and Lori staying home with their daughter. Less than two years later, there were two daughters.
“Broke, we were so broke,” Harrington smiles at the memory now, but it was tough to live through at the time. She also had to transition to living with her in-laws, a much larger family with different dynamics.
“God knew I needed another mother,” Lori said. “Ann could get through to me when my own mother couldn’t. Their family had different ways than I was used to. She could have been ugly to me. I was the baby and spoiled. But she just loved me. Their role in my life was different than what I was used to, but they accepted me.”
Building a marriage
With two small children at home and a husband working to keep a roof over their heads, life wasn’t easy, but the couple worked together to build their family, even renewing their marriage vows on their tenth anniversary.
“I got saved and Hank did too,” Lori said. “We renewed our vows after ten years of hard work. But you just take steps in life.
Lori did have the opportunity to work with her music and made an interesting discovery.
“I would have hated that life, traveling all the time,” Harrington said, crediting her oldest daughter’s birth for preventing it earlier. “I always say Katie saved my life. She saved me from that life.”
Her experience has also had an affect on the way she reared her children. Her two daughters are now adults and her son is a senior in high school.
“I can’t live their lives for them,” Harrington said. “I can love them. I can help them and teach them and hope they make the right decisions.”
During her 28-plus years of marriage, she also discovered the love of her life, right there at home.
“I realized I was in love with my husband,” Lori said. “I always knew I loved him, we’d been through so much. But I realized I was totally in love with him.”
The Harringtons will celebrate 29 years of marriage in March.
Never one to mince words, Lori’s advice gets directly to the point.
“You can do anything, but you have to make your mind up,” Harrington said. “And pride is for the birds.”