May is Teen Pregnancy Awareness Month. Which is rather ironic to me, because in May 2004 I found out I was pregnant at the very young age of 15.
Being a teenage parent is not for the faint of heart. I was definitely scared and had no idea what I was in for. I decided to keep my baby and be a single teenage parent. That means I chose to grow up and put another human’s needs before my own. If there are any teenage mothers who read this blog, I want you to know that you can do anything that you put your mind to.
This is my story.
A Difficult Journey
When you are a single teenage mother, people will judge you. You will be expected to act sad for the life within you and act as if pregnancy and parenthood are some death sentence. You will see happily married expectant couples and envy them, wishing that you could have someone to share the joy of a new life. Thankfully, I had my mom, but that is different than having a spouse or significant other to share the happiness.
When I became pregnant as a teen, I lost support from my church and school communities. At the time, I went to a local private Christian school and an Independent Fundamental Baptist church, where abstinence until marriage is taught. After my parents found out I was pregnant, I was homeschooled because pregnant teenagers were not allowed to attend my school. I did not gloat or talk about my pregnancy. I also spoke in the front of my church to publicly confess my sin and ask forgiveness. I then was asked by my youth pastor to leave the youth group and my Sunday School class because I was pregnant. My parents continued to attend church there up until about two years ago. While my parents were mostly supportive, this made me feel betrayed.
But it’s okay if you lose so-called friends due to a teenage pregnancy; you’ll make new ones. I lost “friends” during both of my pregnancies — one as a teen and one in my twenties. Before I met my husband, most of my friends didn’t have any children, or they were finished with the pregnancy stage of life, and we grew apart. It happens; you’ll make new friends (I certainly did!).
Seeking Support, and Finding It
I have experienced pregnancy and childbirth as a single teenager, and as a married woman in my mid-twenties. There are not very many differences. Age does not determine if you are a good or a bad mother. But I had a lot more support in my second pregnancy. When my son was born ten years ago, there was not social media to help pregnant teens find support. I relied on my weekly Bradley Method classes, my amazing midwife, my sister, and my mother for friendship and emotional support. When my daughter was born last year, my circle widened. I made some awesome mama friends through the local chapter of Babywearing International. (I am currently a Volunteer Babywearing Educator in training, so that I can teach other moms how to correctly wear their baby. If you are a local teen mom we would love to have you!)
I did have some very positive people in my life during my first pregnancy. During the summer of 2004, I went to a church camp meeting in Georgia, at Dr. Sammy Allen’s church, and met a lady by the name of Shanna Carlan. She was very nice to me and told me that she had become pregnant with her first child as a teenager too. She also paid for me to take the Bradley Method childbirth classes in Columbia. Let me take a minute to say that the Bradley Method is amazing! It teaches women to prepare for natural/unmedicated childbirth, trains birth partners (my mom was mine), and educates women on labor, birth, cesarean sections, and baby care. The woman who teaches the Bradley Method class here, Ruth Glowacki, was always helpful. I remember feeling nervous towards the end of my pregnancy and she always had encouraging words. Shanna came to visit me when my son was little, and we have remained in touch via Facebook.
My parents’ sweet neighbor, Saleema Cobb, was also very emotionally supportive and gave me a baby shower. She has been like a grandmother to my son for the past 10 years, and he even calls her Meemee. He says Meemee is the nicest person he knows.
My Son is Born and Everything Changes
Three days after my 16th birthday, I gave birth to an 8.5-pound healthy baby boy. I remember crying on the way home from the hospital because I felt so undeserving of such a wonderful little person. Taking care of a newborn was very exhausting. I breastfeed my son during the first three weeks of his life. I was very blessed with such a good baby. He slept through the night fairly early, hardly ever cried, and was such a happy and healthy baby.
A lot of children who are born to teenage parents usually end up with grandparents raising them, or in foster care. I chose to become a mother and take responsibility for my son. I could not imagine my life without him. He has taught me what true love really is and he is such a blessing. We battle daily with his ADHD, but he is the most well-mannered little boy that I know. This past year for my birthday he was upset because he did not have any money to get me a gift. He searched around our house for a big bowl and filled it with warm water. He put gel beads in it and gave me a good 20-minute foot massage!
One of my biggest regrets is not finishing high school. Yes, I have a college degree, but I dropped out of high school and got my GED. I always wonder what high school would have been like; what a dance or a prom is like, or a class reunion. The day my former classmates started their senior year of high school, I started my freshman year of college at Midlands Technical College. I excelled at MTC. I was on the Scholars’ List, a member of Who’s Who Among American Universities and Colleges and the National Technical Honor Society, and in the MTC Student Ambassador Program. I did all of this while raising a child and working part time. My parents and grandparents helped me financially and helped care for my son.
Teen moms, I am proof that you can! You can beat the statistics. You do not have to marry the father of your child. You can raise your own child. You can complete school!
It’s Not a Glamorous Life
In no way, shape, or form do I advocate teen pregnancy. My hope for all young girls is to enjoy their youth, finish high school, go to college, travel the world (if you want), and then have children (if you choose). Teenage pregnancy is not like what you see on 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom. I have seen episodes where the children on these shows are not even strapped in a car seat safely — and the way those teenagers talk to their parents? Unbearable! Is this what America wants to teach our youth? No! Teen pregnancy and teen motherhood are very, very hard. It isn’t glamorous, and you have to grow up very fast. Life as you know it will no longer be just about you.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the teen pregnancy rate in the United States has steadily been dropping in recent years. But the U.S. still has the highest teen pregnancy rate among industrialized nations. I partly blame the media. The U.S. glamorizes teen pregnancy in reality shows and sexuality is everywhere we turn, from television and movies to advertising (Hardee’s, anyone?). Girls are also not taught to respect their bodies in our society.
Another Potential Choice
If you do not want to raise and take care of your baby, adoption is an amazing option. Bethany Christian Services has been helping young women since 1944. It’s a global organization with offices in 36 states and countries around the world — including one right here in Columbia. Along with helping you choose a family for your baby, Bethany Christian Services offers family counseling and adoption counseling. If you chose to keep your baby, Bethany helps families get the necessities you will need for your baby such as diapers and clothes. Bethany Christian Services is special to me because it is where my mom took me to talk to a counselor during the early part of my pregnancy. The lady there was very nice, supportive, and respectful of me and my decision to keep my baby.
Teen moms need emotional support and friendships just like any other moms. Do you know a teen mom? How can you encourage her today?