“Some girls try to do it because they think it’s cute,” the teen mother said, as she stroked her newborn baby with perfectly manicured finger nails. She is one of the allegedly 90 young women who has had or will have a baby this school year at her Memphis, Tennessee High School as showcased on the January 19, 2011 episode of The Today Show. A call to action was issued for more programs for young people to help them protect themselves physically and emotionally. These young people needed to know beforehand how parenthood changes everything. Except for, perhaps, acrylic nail maintenance.
I am no stranger to teen pregnancy. In my twenties, I worked with the New York Department of Employment and the Welfare to Work initiative to assist pregnant and parenting young women with their education and job placement. I felt for them and poured my heart and soul into helping them get GED’s and jobs. Then I wanted to have a family of my own.
I moved to the suburbs and began teaching English in a local high school. Clearly, teen pregnancy is not limited to the urban landscape. The pattern was always the same. A week’s worth of crying quietly in class, surrounded by rumors and whispers, followed by frequent use of the hall pass and trips to the school nurse. Physical education class was replaced by study hall in the library. Then they would begin to show, pushing their low rise jeans below the belly swell, their boyfriend’s sweatshirt barely concealing the bump. Then they would go on Home Instruction.
I took on a few of those assignments. I wanted to help them. Who wanted to go back to the days when a girl who was “in trouble” just disappeared in a cloud of questions for a school year, only to return the following September, her whereabouts still a mystery but her newly widened hips revealing her shameful secret. However, my attitude and solid support for these young women began to wane.
I could not get pregnant. Ever so slowly, my support turned to silent shunning. I no longer pulled those weeping girls into the hallway, rubbing their hands and telling them it was going to be all right. I did not shush the rumor makers or offer hall passes. I avoided Home Instruction assignments. When those pregnant girls became new mothers and proudly presented their newborns after school to the staff, I hid in the faculty bathroom until they had passed my classroom. My jealousy turned to judgment.
I realize now that pregnancy is not personal, it is biological, but my struggles with infertility continue to influence my opinion. Perhaps all those IVF drugs have altered my brain chemistry, but my support for these young women has not returned even after having children of my own. Should we be giving these young women our support? I have to also consider my position if my daughter were the one “in trouble.” The high school showcased on Today claimed that it had such a high teen pregnancy rate because many young women transferred there once they were already pregnant to participate in their in-house teen-mother program. Are programs like these supportive or incentive?
On The Today Show, the good doctors sat on Meredith Vieira’s couch and talked about self esteem and frank discussions with our young women and men about sex and its consequences in order to combat teen pregnancy. I might want to suggest some good old fashioned threats of exile. Parenthood, for most of us, changes everything. It does not really seem that way for some young parents. (I had at least one student return to the cheerleading squad after becoming a mother, leaving her stroller on the sidelines with her mother, as she took her old spot in formation.) The lives of most of the young men involved do not seem to be affected at all.
The theory is that if these young people felt better about who they are and had more “knowledge,” then perhaps they would not find themselves pregnant. As a teenager, I had low self esteem, just like almost every teenager I know. I also had very little “knowledge” about sex. What I did know was that if I found myself pregnant, my mother would have killed me. Really, that was all the “knowledge” I needed about teen pregnancy to keep me from giving in to my “low self esteem.” Clearly, my opinions are still coming from a place more personal than political. So until my resentment fails to rest in my judgment, I should probably continue to hide in the bathroom.
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog by Amy Griffiths, a New Jersey mom.
Photo credit given to All Women Stalk.