With the launch of her new network, OWN, Oprah Winfrey is taking her already-broad reach to a new level. Last night on CNN, the cultural icon appeared on Piers Morgan Tonight, where she opened up about some painful incidents in her past. Oprah described how becoming pregnant as a teenager nearly moved her to suicide…and how she saw her miscarriage as a second chance.
When Oprah was sent to live with her father in Nashville, he made his opinions on teen pregnancy painfully clear. “‘I would rather see a daughter of mine floating down the Cumberland River,’ Oprah recalls him saying, ‘than to bring shame on this family and the indecency of an illegitimate child,’”
Little did he know, his young teenage daughter was already pregnant.
At fourteen, the secretly pregnant Oprah was despondent. Her father’s proclamations made her feel suicidal. And although she did not make any serious attempts on her life, she did engage in some seriously self destructive behavior…like drinking detergent.
Oprah’s baby died in the hospital after birth. “When the baby died, I knew that it was my second chance,” she said. ” I went back to school, and nobody knew. Because had anybody known at that time, I wouldn’t have been able to be head of student council. I wouldn’t have been able to be speaking champion in forensics. … I wouldn’t have been chosen as one of the two teenagers in the state of Tennessee to go to the White House conference on youth. None of those things would have happened, and the entire trajectory of my life would have been different.”
In other words, she wouldn’t be Oprah as we know her.
Though this was a different time—when teen pregnancy had much more serious social ramifications in general—Oprah’s revelation of these feelings still feels brave. I’m sure there are teenagers today who can identify with the horror Oprah felt at the thought of revealing her pregnancy to her family. It may be easier to be a teen mom today than when Oprah was 14, when there was no MTV series to open people’s eyes to the reality of teen motherhood. But I’m sure there are still some fathers out there who feel like Oprah’s did. Unfortunately. And is there a teen mom out there whose life trajectory isn’t altered by having a baby?
Oprah’s interview with Piers Morgan can be seen on CNN.com.