It's Not the End of Her Life: Why We Need to Destigmatize Teen Pregnancy
I was 17. I had just finished high school (a year early) and had been reunited with Irish. I had graduated three months before and had recently been given birth control pills by my dermatologist to combat my acne. It was the kind of pill that you had to wait until your menstrual cycle began to start taking. Only it never started.
I was pregnant. I was terrified. Irish was comforting and supportive. Whatever happened, we were in it together. I had about 7,407,483,358,798 emotions over the next several months. The next several years weren't a breeze either. Mostly because of finances and simply not being settled into a life. One thing was certain: We loved our little girl.
Credit: Phoebe !.
Boots was the most amazing thing. Ever. She cuddled and nursed and screamed and pooped on the carpet. Curious and cautious, she explored her world and became mine. People have told me that I am not the norm. That most teenage mothers do not end up with their partners, happy and stable. They point to statistics experienced by children of teen moms like lower birth weight, lower graduation rates, higher rates of teen pregnancy, and higher rates of neglect.
Obviously, teenage pregnancy is not something to be advocated. Our society is not set up for teenagers to become parents. I just wish the stigma against teen parents could be lessened. One of the reasons I experienced so many overwhelming emotions was because I had been led to believe that having an unplanned child early in life would be the end of anything and everything good.
As a teen parent, you are expected to be miserable. It's like a requirement. No one ever rubbed my belly or asked when I was due. Very few people ever got around to being happy about it. Even after I had my daughter, the judgmental eyes of strangers followed me everywhere.
Public Service Ads like the one above from The Candies Foundation only add to the stigma. This one doesn't just hurt teen mothers either: Changing diapers is a thing that every parent does. Does having a child make you incapable of influencing the world? Again with the idea that your life and your worth end the moment you have a child.
I couldn't find any information about how effective these ads, like the one above from NYC Human Resources Administration, are, so I'll just tell you how I feel. Before I was pregnant, these would have been filed under "Adult Fear Mongering" and "Why do adults even bother to have kids?" in my brain. As a pregnant teen, the ads would have told me once again that I was a horrible person that would amount to nothing. One planned kid and seven years later, they make me sad.
Parenthood in general is full of societal landmines. Stay-at-home or work, breastfeed or bottle-feed, cloth or disposable, spanking, circumcision... on and on it goes. It is no surprise that teen pregnancy gets demonized the way it does.
Statistics are important. We should share the facts as well as what we know about sex with every youth. When a teenager does get pregnant, support must be offered. They need to know that the road ahead will be difficult, but that it can still be full of joy and success. Scare tactics are cowardly and cruel.
In the end, even the scary numbers of teen pregnancy represent the minority of teen parents and even less of unplanned pregnancies overall. I am not the exception to the rule, I am the exception to the expectation. I love my children. I have laid awake at night looking at them in shocked disbelief, unable to fully comprehend a love that is so ingrained it aches. My body literally aches with love. I am exhausted, astonished, and empowered by love for my children.
“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did - that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that - a parent's heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.” ― Debra Ginsberg
Originally published on my blog: http://muggleinconverse.wordpress.com/