You Gotta Give ‘Em Hope, Jr.

17 05 2012

A groundbreaking article was recently released on the subject of teen pregnancy and parenting, that is apparently based on new research. I say “apparently” because it’s possible that it was actually based on one of my rants from when I worked at Anonymous Youth Center, and began my relationship with pregnant and parenting teens. The article states that getting pregnant and raising a child is not typically the thing forcing young women into poverty. They start off in poverty, and this makes them more likely to become pregnant and choose to parent, for a variety of reasons.

And everyone who works with these young women kind of knew that already.

We talk about how likely it is for young parents and their children to live in poverty, for the parents to not finish school, and to work in menial jobs. For a lot of the girls I work with, that’s not all that different from the future they see for themselves without a child. It’s what their experience and examples dictate. While I certainly believe that young people who work really hard and have the right support, opportunities, and talents can create a different life for themselves, it’s incredibly difficult. We ask a lot of these kids, much more than we ask of those who were lucky enough not to be born poor.

If I had a child at seventeen, it would have meant giving up the scholarship I had to go away to college. It would have meant no study abroad. It would have meant not getting to do the things that most of my friends were doing. For my girls, this isn’t the case.

I recently went a high school to visit a sixteen year old girl I’ve been work with for the past year. She was in quite a mood, saying she was exhausted and nauseated. My mind started racing. “Weren’t you exhausted and nauseated two weeks ago?” “Yeah…”

Oh boy.

Now, I’m very positive when it comes to teen mothers. I have worked with many wonderful young moms. (Sorry I don’t write about teen dads, but I don’t have any!) I have written about it extensively, as I adore them and their kids, and feel that they can do a wonderful job, provided they have some chances and support.

This girl does not want to be a mother, teen or otherwise. She has said this for as long as I’ve known her. Her own family is, in her words, a disaster. She’s never felt taken care of, and has experienced all too frequently the many ways in which this world can suck. The kid wants an abortion.

But she’s being pressured, by her mother, by her boyfriend, not to take that route. So she’s considering what life would be like as a mother. I worked with her on taking some time to consider her options, as it’s still very early. What would be good about having a baby and raising it? What would be good about having an abortion? Can we even talk about adoption?

The answer to the third question is no, we can’t. Why you so crazy, SJ?

The answer to the second question is that she doesn’t want a child. No one is taking care of her, and she’s trying to focus on taking care of herself.

The answer to the first question was, essentially, meh? Why not? Things aren’t going to get any worse, and maybe it would motivate her to get up and get things done. The rationale that most people utilize to decide to chug a Five Hour Energy.

I was once informed that, because I expressed the hope that my teen girls would focus on developing interests and goals for furthering their education and careers, I did not have the necessary respect for motherhood, which is rooted in sexism. I would take a moment to address that point, but it’s so obviously stupid.

I have tons of respect for motherhood parenthood. I also have tons of respect for dismantling bombs. I don’t think either of these activities should be entered into lightly, or without preparation. At age 28, the idea of being responsible for another human (they don’t stay babies for long, do they?) blows my mind and terrifies me. Most parents I know say the same thing. It’s not that I don’t respect having children. It’s that I respect it too much.

Sometimes a pregnancy is a welcome surprise. I get that. I saw “Knocked Up” I also know actual humans who got pregnant before they intended to, but decided to go with it, because they realized it was what they wanted, and the time might never be exactly right, but they could do it. Mazel tov.

The idea of going into having a child the same way I go into having edamame for dinner four nights in a row is what’s troublesome to me. “Eh, why not? There are really no other options, and it doesn’t make a difference one way or the other.” It’s also sad. Profoundly sad. Because this girl honestly believes what she’s saying. That there’s no hope for her. Taking care of herself is not enough of a motivation. A child might be worthy of that, but she’s not.

This is a rare instance in which I wish I could take a child home.

I have faith that this girl could be a wonderful mother if that’s what she wanted, whenever she wanted it. I have faith that she could be amazing at whatever she chooses to do. Chef, rocket scientist, sanitation worker, poet, kickboxer, literally anything. She is smart, capable, and has proven over and over again that she is crafty as hell, and has essentially been responsible for herself and her siblings since adolescence. But she doesn’t have hope.

I have hope for her, and faith in her. Getting her to have that for herself is much more difficult. That is the hardest part, for me, about working with teen pregnancy.

Much harder than talking to a roomful of teenagers about condoms.

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5 responses

17 05 2012
mjfrombuffalo

Best line I’ve read all day:

I have tons of respect for motherhood parenthood. I also have tons of respect for dismantling bombs. I don’t think either of these activities should be entered into lightly, or without preparation.

17 05 2012
prymface

Hey. I found this really interesting. I got pregnant at 16. My family were well off, educated and basically lovely. However if anyone bothered to look into why I still got pregnant they’d find out I was in a relationship that made me feel that if I could get to the end of the day I was doing well. I didn’t care about myself. Avoiding pregnancy was too big a thing to think about. I hate it when I hear how selfish young mums are because when I look back at myself I just wanna shout ” be more selfish!” . Having a child however did give me that wake up call. I got out the relationship, got a degree, nice house, good job etc and sorted my life out. I’m now prob in a similar place I’d be be if I didn’t have a child as a teen, except I have a smart 15 yr old son to show for my hard work! When we talk about causes of teen pregnancy its really time we started understanding that a bit more. It’s not as simple as just saying poverty, without understanding what it is about poverty that makes some girls feel they can’t be selfish, and what other things make girls feel like that too. We don’t get pregnant on our own!

17 05 2012
KatjaMichelle

Yes, yes, and more yes. Working with unexpected pregnancies is all I do now and it’s hard when I work with someone too disempowered to even recognizes the choices they have let alone see how any of them would actually be any different (let alone better) than the others.

19 05 2012
dorleem

I feel for you, SJ…. It is hard to keep up the faith when you are surrounded by the poverty, the lack of opportunities etc – your teens need your faith, optimism, determination. They have grown up with the dismal outlook all their lives…

Keep believing in your girl. I believe that if you keep believing in her and abilities and smarts, she has a very good chance at aiming for and working towards some of the dreams of who she can be, regardless of whether she ends up caving into the immediate pressures she is feeling from her mother and boyfriend.

If she is smart and doing well in school, is there a possibility that she could apply for a college/community college scholarship?

4 03 2013
Stanley

My college roommate had four year old son – and a full scholarship. She came from a very small town, a couple of hours away from our college, and came to school early on Monday morning and went back to her hometown every Friday afternoon, so she could spent time with and take care of her boy. There is no way she could have done this without an incredible amount of support from *her* parents – with whom her son lived during the week – who were also the ones that pushed (hard) to accept the scholarship and get her pharmacy degree.

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