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Being a Teen Mother: What it is REALLY Like
Glorifying teen motherhood?
by Shelia R. Wadsworth ©Copyright (2012). All rights reserved.
According to Family First Aid website (2004), the United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the western world and teen pregnancy costs the U.S. approximately $7 billion annually. Most pregnancies are to unwed mothers and are unplanned.Other problems stemming from teen motherhood include: not finishing high school, lower birth weights for the infants, increased risk of child abuse, poor educational outcomes of the children, having additional children close together and financial problems.The “reality” shows like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom have been targeted as glamorizing or glorifying teen motherhood. And in my opinion, they certainly do. Honestly, until I decided to write this, I had never watched an episode of these shows, just bits in pieces through flipping channels.
I, myself, was a teen mother. At 17 years old, in my senior year of high school, I became pregnant with my oldest daughter. I should have been enjoying typical senior year stuff like Senior Ball, hanging out with friends, and getting into college but instead I was worried, scared and confused. Would life have been easier if I had waited until after graduation and getting a college degree to start a family? Yes, it certainly would have been. Do I regret having her? ABSOLUTELY NOT! She is the very best thing that ever happened to me (besides my other 2 children and husband, of course). However, with that said, I would like to describe the difficulties I faced as a teen mother.
For me, it wasn’t really so much a matter as finding out but rather just knowing. The ONLY person I told was my boyfriend, her father. I said, “I think we shouldn’t have sex anymore” and he said, “You’re pregnant”. Too late to stop having sex; the “damage” had already been done. That was really all we ever said about it for the first few months. Neither of us ever considered abortion. I couldn’t go to my mother; she had often said that if I got pregnant she would make me have an abortion (at the time this statement was made I did not even know what abortion was). That is one of the reasons I hid it for so long, so then I couldn’t be forced to have an abortion. I didn’t have close friends I could confide in. I was too embarrassed to go to any of my teachers. So we kept this secret. I don’t know how, but I hid that pregnancy for 7 months. My dad even took me to visit a college 4 hours away from home, though the whole time I knew I wouldn’t be going.
I went to school every day. Sometimes I would have to go to the bathroom to throw up. My phys. ed. teacher began to suspect because she would say things like, “If you are pregnant, some of these exercises are not safe” while looking right at me. Unfortunately, I also did not get the medical attention that a pregnant woman should have during critical times in pregnancy. Luckily, although she was born a little early (her estimated due date was February 11, 1990 but she was born January 11, 1990), she did not have anything wrong with her.
Eventually, it became harder and harder to hide. My mom noticed that my ankles were swollen and “thought” I had a kidney problem so she took me to the doctor. I used thought in quotation marks because I think she was just in denial that I was pregnant. Well, of course the doctor told her, “Your daughter is pregnant”. When we got home mom called my boyfriend’s parents and informed them. There was talk of having to get married and finishing school. There was a lot of arguing and yelling that night. At one point, my parents wanted me to let them adopt my baby but there was no way I could do that. When my daughter was born, she actually accused my dad of being her father because “she looks just like my babies did”.
Fast forward a few months. My mom and I were always fighting. She didn’t want me to have contact with my boyfriend and tried to keep us apart by not allowing us to talk on the phone or placing unreasonable stipulations about when he could see his daughter, which caused problems between him and me. So, one day, after an argument about phone conversations, I heard her say to my dad, “That’s why I hate her so much”. When they left to go to the store, I did too. I packed everything I could for my baby and me, called my boyfriend and his friend picked us up and took us to my boyfriend’s parents’ house. I was 18 by then and I was still a few months from high school graduation, but I was in that 1/3 of teen mothers who actually graduate high school. It wasn’t quite as bad living with his parents. There were some difficult times but we were together taking care of our daughter.
I didn’t have any income and he wasn’t working. I didn't get paid big money to go on a T.V. show. I had to apply for welfare (about 80% of teen moms go on welfare). I got very little money and food stamps.The money mostly paid for diapers and I was eligible for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program for formula and other foods. We walked everywhere. If I needed to do laundry, I would pack it all up in the stroller with my daughter and would walk up the hill to the laundromat. We would walk to go to the store or to the doctor’s office. I took care of my baby; no one else did it for me. If she was up all night crying, I was up all night. When she needed fed, changed or bathed, I did it.
Eventually, I got my own apartment in a low-income housing complex. It was still a struggle. It was embarrassing to use food stamps and cash welfare checks. I didn’t know what else to do. I decided to apply to our local university to work on my college education as did my boyfriend. I still was on welfare, but I felt like I was actually doing something to better life for my child and me. I would get up in the mornings and get us ready for the day. I would walk to the college about a mile and a half away. On the way, I would drop off my daughter at the daycare center and pick her up on the way back. Occasionally, my boyfriend’s dad would be able to pick us up and take us but for the most part we walked even in the cold. I did manage to get my own car for $300 which made a huge difference.
My daughter went to Head Start and I continued on my journey to getting my college education, which is not typical for teen moms; only about 1.5% go on to get a college degree, (FFA, 2004). My boyfriend and I got married when Lauren was 5. Shortly thereafter, we had another daughter with 7 years between them. Tasha was born in October and by the holidays we were separated and on our way to divorce. By June (actually would have been our anniversary) he was moving in with his girlfriend and our divorce was final. A paper by Naomi Seiler (2002), indicated that about half of all teen marriages end in divorce within 15 years. While we were not teens when we got married, we were in a "committed" relationship for 7 years and our marriage dissolved in less than 2 years so we sort of fit into that statistic in that the relationship ended within 15 years of our unplanned, teen pregnancy.
I was then a single mother to my young daughters. This was at the time of welfare reform and I had difficulty working, taking care of my girls and trying to finish college. I did the only thing I could: I quit college to work full-time. I worked numerous low-wage jobs trying to support my daughters. It was rough. My highest paying job was as a portrait studio photographer making $7.25/hr with bi-weekly paychecks and not much by way of child support. I was a "floater" and traveled to the various stores to work and usually had to travel 45 minutes to my job which took even more time from my children. Fortunately for us, I found a landlord who was willing to let me pay half my rent out of the first check and the rest out of my second check.
Beating the odds
Eventually, I married a wonderful man (12 years now!) who loves my daughters as his own and we are raising them together (along with a son). I returned to my studies and obtained a BA in psychology, one of my dreams come true. I am currently working on a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
Lauren graduated 2nd in her class when she graduated high school in 2008. She did not follow in the footsteps of her mother and become a teen mother herself. According to FFA (2004), teen motherhood is an inter-generational problem in that approximately 22% of daughters born to teen mothers become young mothers also. She has since completed four years of college as a dual major in chemistry and biology and is working toward a Ph.D. in biochemistry. From the problems typically faced by teen moms described earlier in this article, WE BEAT THE ODDS!
Becoming a teen mother is a life changing event. I wrote this as a way of illustrating the difficulties faced by teen mothers and, even though there are obstacles, they can be overcome.
What did you learn?
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An article published today (May 23, 2013) by Associated Press for Yahoo News indicates that in the last five years teen motherhood has made a drastic decline.This comes from the information included in the Centers for Disease Control report. This is wonderful news. A source for the article says that it is due to the teens themselves making better decisions about sex, contraception and their futures.