Abortion was never an option for sophomore Madie Mckasson and junior Brandon Van Kuilenburg. Their daughter, Skylar Ainsley, was born at 10:12 a.m. on April 5 at the Medical Center of Plano. “To actually see her and hold her, to match a face to the name- it’s crazy,” McKasson said. (Erin Hotchkiss)
Abortion was never an option for sophomore Madie Mckasson and junior Brandon Van Kuilenburg. Their daughter, Skylar Ainsley, was born at 10:12 a.m. on April 5 at the Medical Center of Plano. “To actually see her and hold her, to match a face to the name- it’s crazy,” McKasson said.

Erin Hotchkiss

Baby steps, long strides

They may be young, but sophomore Madie Mckasson and Brandon Van Kuilenburg won’t let their age hold them back as they enter the world of parenthood

April 20, 2011

They didn’t want to believe it. Sophomore Madie Mckasson had no morning sickness, no unearthly premonition, no pains, just a missed period and a hint of suspicion. But five positive signs later, she and her boyfriend, junior Brandon Van Kuilenburg, had no doubt, and tears filled their eyes like the discarded pregnancy tests lining the wastebasket. First came the raw anxiety. Then came the question: What were they going to do?

“I was scared out of my mind,” Madie said. “He had to be with me to tell my mom. It’s hard – to let them down. To know that you disappointed them.”

When Madie told her mother, Barri Lynn, she was about 11 weeks along. She had just turned 16-years-old, and her parenting experience was limited to helping raise her three younger brothers. But she knew she wanted to have the baby.

“People have said to Madie that this is it, her life is over,” Ms. Mckasson said. “But she is going to prove everyone wrong. Because Madie is a fighter, and she is such an incredible child. She and Brandon are really going to show everybody what they’re made of.”

Thursday, March 10

It all started with a high five her sixth grade year. Madie liked Brandon because all of her friends did, and he thought Madie’s pigtails were cute. There was no way of knowing that the two would end up dating on and off for five years. There was no way of knowing that they would become parents together.

“One day, I thought they were gonna have a kid – everyone thought that,” Brandon’s sister, freshman Courtney Van Kuilenburg, said. “I just didn’t think it would be so soon.”

Being pregnant had always been something that happened to other people, people who’d been married and moved to special child-appropriate homes in good school districts or people who, in the rush of the moment, had made one mistake. This time, it was their mistake. Madie’s pregnancy was real, it wasn’t a funny dream or a reality TV episode or a piece of gossip heard from a friend. It was her secret to keep. And she did try to keep it, at first, yet somehow the news spread relentlessly. The rumors fought on like embers in a fire that just wouldn’t die, and finally, Madie’s closest friend, sophomore Jacque VanHorn, simply asked her if she was pregnant. Madie was used to averting her eyes and lowering her voice, emitting a string of denials to avoid looms of judgment, but not this time.

Abortion was never an option for sophomore Madie Mckasson and junior Brandon Van Kuilenburg. Their daughter, Skylar Ainsley, was born at 10:12 a.m. on April 5 at the Medical Center of Plano. “To actually see her and hold her, to match a face to the name- it’s crazy,” McKasson said. (Erin Hotchkiss)

“She’s been one of my best friends since eighth grade,” Vanhorn said. “Her being pregnant changed nothing.”

Ms. Mckasson left the decision of how to handle the pregnancy to Madie, although she is personally against abortion.

“Whether it’s the right decision or the wrong decision, all I can do is just guide her and hope to God I’m doing the right thing,” Ms. Mckasson said. “As a parent, that’s really all I can do. You never know what you’ll don’t until you’re placed with that decision. I will never judge anybody for what they do again.”

Madie’s father, Wade, however, initially encouraged her to give the baby up for adoption. He wanted his daughter to enjoy the rest of her adolescence, to be unhindered by the responsibilities a child entails. But the feeling in the pit of her stomach told her adoption was not for them. Not when they had what other teenage parents don’t: Jobs. Education. Support. Most of all, Madie didn’t want to spend the rest of her life wondering where her child was. She and Brandon wanted to take responsibility for what had happened, and they wanted the baby to be theirs.

“I told him that this was his grandchild,” Madie said. “And he should enjoy this while it’s happening, because it’s not changing. He finally came around.”

Brandon’s parents expected him to take responsibility for his child and stay with Madie, but they may have been the only ones – before, he was the kind of guy who liked to waste away days with his friends, thinking little of the future. Nobody expected him to go with Madie to buy and take the pregnancy tests, or hang curtains in Madie’s room where the baby would sleep, or read stories to her belly so the baby would know his voice.

“It’s hard to stay in, being 17 and having a kid,” Brandon said. “It’s so easy to just go away, and pay $100 a month. But I’d regret it the rest of my life. I can feel that, just thinking about not being there.”

When they found out the baby would be a girl at her checkup in October. Madie already knew the name she wanted: Skylar. She’d liked the name since eighth grade. Even though the thought of giving birth still seemed surreal, Madie still felt pregnant. Morning sickness struck at any time of the day, and the backaches got progressively worse. Then, laying down one night, she felt the first kick.

“It’s honestly indescribable,” Madie said. “I just feel my stomach, and it’s pushing out… It’s unbelievable. Feeling her inside of you – I think that’s the best part, getting to experience that. There’s nothing like it.”

Madie and Brandon know what people think when they see teen parents: Irresponsible. High school dropouts. Lives ruined. They said those phrases don’t apply to them, and they’ve made sure of it with plans to stay in school, retain jobs and go to college when they both graduate next year. (Madie will graduate a year early.)

“A lot of older people will look at you, and I feel like I’m being judged,” Madie said. “We get so many stares. It’s hard to go out. It’s kind of embarrassing, just a little bit. I try to think, ‘I’m not gonna see these people. They don’t matter.’”

Madie and Brandon’s friends supported their decision to keep Skylar, throwing a baby shower in February.

“It was so fun for us to get to do that for her,” sophomore Maddie Rembecki said. “She shouldn’t lose her friends because she has a child. Why would we leave her when she needs help?”

The birth of their daughter represents the beginning of a new part of Madie and Brandon’s lives, but at the end of another. With a baby to take care of, partying every weekend the way they used to, staying out all night and attending four-year college straight out of high school are no longer options. Brandon moved into Madie’s apartment with her mother and brothers, and their families will help them in raising Skylar, but the sole responsibility is theirs. Theirs are the dreams that have been crushed.

“I wanted to be a baseball player, professional – but every kid does, doesn’t he?” Brandon said. “I had to grow up so quick. I feel like I’m 30.”

To keep his job at The Purple Cow, Brandon had to quit the baseball team. Madie chose to transfer to the Lewisville Learning Center for the remainder of the school year, and when her maternity leave ends, he will go back to her job at Kenny’s Burger Joint. The two will keep their jobs and likely attend a community college for two years, completing their degrees at a state school.

“You’re bringing in this amazing life, this huge blessing,” Madie said. “But you have to give up everything for her.”

Madie and Brandon want one thing made clear: Although they love their daughter and don’t regret their decision to have her, they don’t encourage teen pregnancy.

“It’s the hardest thing you will ever do,” Madie said. “You cannot be ready for it, no matter what age you are. You’re giving up your entire life for someone else. And most teens aren’t ready for that.”

They’re trying to become ready, though. They’re both taking parenting and birthing classes at the learning center, becoming educated on everything from coping with contractions to breastfeeding. Madie is trying to come to terms with the pain of labor and is waiting for the moment that she’ll get to hold Skylar and match a face to the name, see what color her eyes are and touch her little fingers. They’ve prepared a nursery for Skylar in Madie’s room, bought a large crib, covered the floor with a fluffy pink rug and filled her closet with ruffle- and bow- adorned baby clothes. They’re as ready as they’ll ever be.

”[At the first sonogram], I cried out of joy,” Madie said. “You can’t be mad about it, ‘cause it’s happening. And I chose to let it happen. I am so excited, and I am so happy. I feel blessed. It’s someone that I already love so much. I can’t wait for her to be here.”

4 a.m. Tuesday, April 5

Madie’s due date, March 30, has come and gone. Her hips are killing her, and for the past five days, she has wondered if each day will be the day. Today at 7 a.m., she will go to the hospital to have labor induced, and she knows it will be more painful and more prolonged than natural birth. But lying in her bed next to Brandon, it is still dark outside when she feels her first contraction.

At her checkup in October, sophomore Madie McKasson and junior Brandon Van Kuilenburg discovered the gender of their daughter, Skylar. McKasson’s first appointment and sonogram were in August, when she was about 11 weeks pregnant. (provided photo)

When she first woke him up, he didn’t believe her. Go back to sleep, he said. But she was sure. She, her mother and Brandon got to the hospital at 6:30 a.m., and she was completely dilated at 9:45 a.m.

Madie’s father, who had been so discouraging of Madie and Brandon’s plan at first, was in the delivery room with them. Rembecki swears she saw him cry.

It was a quick birth — within a half-hour, at 10:12 a.m. Skylar Ainsley was born. After more than nine months of waiting, Madie finally held the life that she and Brandon had created in her arms.

”I love Brandon, I love my parents, I love my family, but when I see her, it’s so different,” Madie said. “I care for her every day. I feel so needed. For the first few days, I didn’t believe she was mine.”

Skylar is a sleeper. Nestled in her father’s arms, she dreams soundlessly. When she does cry at night, Brandon is always the first to volunteer to get out of bed and do it, even though he’s been going to school since the Monday after Skylar was born. He said he views life differently now — every grown person was a baby at one point. He said it blows his mind.

The closet of sophomore Madie McKasson’s room is filled with baby clothes, some of which her daughter won’t be able to wear for months. (Erin Hotchkiss)

Ms. McKesson has been sleeping in Madie’s room at night, helping her and Brandon feed and watch and change Skylar. This baby, with thick tufts of dark hair and misty gray eyes, is her first grandchild.

“All the time, people say to me, ‘Poor you,’” Ms. Mckasson said. “And I told them the other day, ‘You know what? Stop. Stop being sad for me.’ This isn’t sad. We get challenges all the time in our lives. It’s a stumble in the road, and you have to step over it and pick yourself up and move on. This is what we’ve chosen to do.

Soon, Skylar will grow out of her clothes, her crib and her toys. But staring into those scrunched-up eyes and cradling her weight against her chest, it’s hard for Madie to imagine her baby ever growing older. When she does though, Madie and Brandon have high hopes for her. If things go their way, Skylar will have everything that they lost on that day in August when they saw the positive sign.

”I want her to have a future,” Madie said. “I want her to be able to play sports, to go to school and go to college. I want her to follow her dreams; because that’s something we didn’t get to do. I want to be the best person I can for this baby. For both of us.”

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