I Want It NOW!
The majority of pregnancies that occur for adolescents are unplanned. But some pregnancies in the teen years -- a general estimate is usually about one in every four or five -- are intended or planned. One reason that sex education likely hasn't reduced those pregnancy rates as much as it might is that some teens know full well what birth control is and how and when to use it, but choose not to, sometimes because they -- maybe you -- want to become pregnant.
Young people often want to become pregnant for the same or similar reasons older people want to become pregnant.
They like and want children, want to be mothers; because it feels right for them to do so, because they want to parent with the partner they're with now. Sometimes they want to for the same reasons adult women do which aren't so wise, like to try and force continuation of a relationship, to prove adulthood or sexual development, to try and fill emotional voids or quell loneliness, because they feel mothering is the only thing they might be good at, to get attention they want but aren't currently getting. As well, some seek to become pregnant because it's what a male partner wants or encourages, despite the fact that that partner isn't the one who is going to be pregnant, go through labor and bear the biggest burdens -- in terms of their health, their finances and the whole of their lives -- with pregnancy and parenting.
In your teens and really, really want to become pregnant and have a baby? Going without birth control often or always "just to see," or to "let fate decide," with or without talking to your partner about it? Going without birth control and safer sex when you'd rather not, but have a partner who says they want a kid? Actively trying to become pregnant, without any standard preparation in place, like a full GYN exam to be sure your body is up to it, like a good job to pay the high costs, a place to live, a healthcare plan, a support system in place? Desperate or in a big hurry?
Many people have the idea that they'll find a way to cope and can handle a pregnancy and raising a child like a pro -- sure that for some reason, it'll be easier for them than it ever was for anyone before, even when totally unprepared -- but more times than not, it ends up being more difficult than they imagine, especially for the youngest parents. That doesn't mean it's impossible to enjoy. Lots of young adults find parenting fulfilling and doable, in spite of the challenges it brings. But wanting a child or loving a child isn't often enough preparation to ensure a healthy pregnancy -- physically and emotionally -- and readiness to parent well.
Kids cost big bucks. The first year alone, including the costs of pregnancy and delivery, will cost around $10,000 or more. If you have health insurance that covers pregnancy, if you can qualify for some federal or state assistance, if you can obtain cheap childcare or stay at home with your baby, and if you have the help of family or friends it can cost less, but 10K is average, and sometimes, it can cost even more than that. In the first four years alone, raising a child often costs more than attending a four-year public college with NO financial assistance, grants or scholarships whatsoever, something few people can afford. You can't not feed, house or clothe them, and their healthcare -- preventative and in crisis -- is necessary but expensive. Children cost a LOT of money. Add their costs to the cost of taking care of yourself as well, and you can see why many parents are so often stressed out about money.
You will need a reliable means to pay these costs. Your parents may be willing to help, but don't just assume they will, especially indefinitely. Not only isn't that fair -- after all, they should get to decide when and if they want another baby -- they may or not have the means to take care of the both of you. Your partner may be able to help, but remember that, like it or not, he can up and leave at any time, and child support lapses battles are the norm for single moms. Assuming federal or state aid will pay all the costs is also unrealistic. Many people aren't low-income enough, or don't meet other criteria to qualify for many programs, and even those who do cannot even come close to covering all of their costs with welfare.
Babies grow. Why are there so many older dogs in the pound? Because people forget: BABIES GROW. Obviously, those little puppies really do grow into big dogs, and yet, everybody still seems to space that out.
More often than not, when younger people express a desire to parent, they tend to voice it by saying, "I want a baby." But babies are only babies for a very short while. Babies grow into kids, and then into adults. In between, they're juveniles and adolescents: heck, they can become teens who themselves want to become pregnant and parent and who you'll need to take care of in that. Through a lot of their life, a whole lot of people -- including you -- won't think they're the cutest thing ever some of the time, or make concessions for them or you because of them. For a lot of people, one of the appeals of parenthood is the notion that someone -- their child -- will love them unconditionally. But very often, especially once out of very early childhood, children DON'T behave as if they love their parents unconditionally: they'll often have plenty of conditions, something you might know in terms of how you feel about your parents right this very second.
This whole idea of unconditional love between parents and children is often framed completely backward: it's parents who will need to learn to love their children unconditionally, not the other way around. The unconditional love will need to come from you, not a child.
While babies are pretty demanding and need a whole lot, as kids grow, those needs change and become different, but they've still got them. When you choose to parent, you're basically signing a contract that says for the next 18 years and beyond, you're going to be a parent: to a baby, a kid, a pre-teen, a teenager, an adult. Growing kids have physical, emotional and intellectual needs and look to you to fulfill them. Extended family and friends can be a really big help (and tend to make for a very healthy and balanced upbringing), but for the most part, all that is on you, first and foremost. That's a whole lot more than breastfeeding and diaper changing.
Parenting is really hard work that asks a lot of a person. Even if it's wonderful, enjoyable and enriching work sometimes, it IS work. The good stuff is usually within the context of a whole lot of things that are tiring, challenging, completely crazymaking and thankless, and which you can't just opt out of.
Infants are demanding little critters. During just your kids first year of life, you can rest assured you'll have bags under your eyes the size of the Grand Canyon, you'll be pretty crabby, and your kid isn't going to say thank you for a couple years. (And even once they can. they often still won't.) Postpartum depression -- deep and sometimes debilitating depression after childbirth, which can sometimes last for months during one of the most challenging stages of parenting -- is common. Lactating and breastfeeding often isn't pleasant. Babies often cry more than they gurgle cutely. Having to tend to someone's basic needs and functions literally 24/7 -- feeding, changing diapers, putting to sleep, entertaining -- is exhausting, even with help, and always putting your own needs after theirs can make a mother feel like a walking bottle, rather than a person. And that's just year one.
Kids can really cramp your style. You may be used to going when you have free time with your friends, needing only to okay it with your folks, and come up with transportation and spending money. Now you'll need to find a reliable babysitter you feel safe with, try and afford things when you often already can't pay for the basics, and reschedule things constantly because babies and kids tend to have schedules of their own that don't neatly coincide with yours. Heck, in some cities, you may even have a hard time just finding places you can go for dinner if you've got a baby or kid with you.
You may find that the things that are important to your friends aren't important to you anymore, and that they're not very interested in what IS important to you, like listening to your struggle to find good daycare, about how parenting has totally changed your relationship with the person you parented with, or the nights in a row you've spent with a colicky, screaming infant. The things you go through as a parent, even those that are fun and wonderful, may not sound very exciting or interesting to some of your friends who aren't parents. Dating when you have a kid is difficult and often frustrating, and if you're co-parenting with a partner, you'll find the two of you end up with very little alone time and more challenges and conflicts in your relationship than you can shake a stick at.
A Juggling Act: Juggling school, college and/or work with a kid is tough, especially if you're single and young. It's hard to study when a baby is crying or a toddler decided to color all over your dissertation. Many schools do not make concessions for pregnant teens or mothers, and so the dropout rates for teen mothers are high. Many employers aren't very understanding about taking time off because your kid is sick, or about needing to leave early to get to a daycare center before closing time. Even basic things you take for granted, like having the time to take a bath or shower, to take in a movie, to do your laundry, to talk on the phone with friends or to sit down to eat a meal will be compromised.
Kids aren't a cure-all. If you currently have any really tough issues or challenges in your life -- an abusive partnership, depression, self-destructive behaviour or self-harm, an eating disorder, drug dependence, homelessness -- they're likely to get even tougher. Plenty of young parents find that dropping bad habits or patterns actually seems pretty easy when they first become pregnant, or at the beginning of their child's life. But it's typical for those issues to pop right back up in time. When they do, not only are they often even harder to manage and work through than before, someone besides you is directly impacted by them. How might your child be affected growing up around an eating disorder, self-injury like cutting or in an abusive relationship? How are you going to manage putting your needs second when you're depressed? If your own parents or family had big challenges, take a look at how you think they impacted you. Even seemingly small issues, like poor eating habits or having a hard time making and enforcing limits, can become pretty big problems when you're pregnant or parenting.
You may find that at the same time you're having to learn to take care of a baby, you're also having to learn to also take care of yourself, and that's vital. You need care as well. It's important that you stay physically healthy and emotionally well, that the relationships you choose are beneficial, balanced and healthy; that you get downtime by yourself or with your friends and partners. It's vital that you still follow your goals and dreams, and that besides being the parent you will become, you also get to be the person you are and will become, too. But it's a lot easier to do that AND parent when you at least get a toehold on tough issues and basic self-care before parenting, rather than during.
Parenting at a young age can be really lonely. Young parents often feel incredibly isolated: far more than they did before becoming a parent, which can come as a real shock. It's common to get lots of attention, care and company while you're pregnant, and in the first six months or so of your kid's life. It's also common for teens, and even adult women, too, who feel lonely and crave attention to see pregnancy as a means to fill those voids. But when all the showers and parties have passed, -- if you even got them -- when the novelty of your cute baby has passed, a whole lot of young parents start to feel like they moved to Mars when they had kids. Many feel more alone than they felt before they were parents, not less.
You may find you'll lose friends who just don't have the patience to wait to see you the one or two nights a month you can net a sitter and don't want to hang out when your baby is crying it's head off. You'll find making new friends can become tougher than ever. Not only do many young relationships not stand the test of time -- but having a baby adds loads of extra stresses to make relationship longevity and harmony even more challenging. The vast majority of teen parents are and remain unmarried, and partners, even the father of your baby, can and do vacate the premises often enough.
Having a pretty strong self-image, being autonomous and independent and being okay -- even happy -- on your own are all pretty vital to healthy parenting for both mother and child.
Our society isn't very accepting or supportive of young parents, particularly teen mothers. Parenting in your teens IS going to be much harder for you than it would be for someone ten years older than you, and not just because of their better financial, health or emotional status. A whole lot of people really look down on teen parents. That's not at all right or okay, but it still is a reality.
Finding resources and assistance will be harder for you and you are going to have to fight hard for your right both to parent and to be treated like a parent. You'll be walking into parenthood with people assuming, no matter what you did or do, that's you're irresponsible and immature. You may be treated more like a child once you have a child than you were before you were pregnant. You're going to need to be able to advocate for yourself even better than a parent older than you needs to be their own advocate. You're going to have to learn to be one heck of a fighter, for yourself and for your kid.
That may involve battling to get schools or workplaces to provide childcare or make allowances for your being a parent, working your buns off to obtain financial assistance, housing, school and work opportunities, healthcare and emotional support. It may involve facing up to people who feel very confident that not only can you not be a good parent, but that you have no RIGHT to parent, and may make doing so harder for you. It may mean losing the support or presence of friends, family or partners.
You're 100% responsible for your child and their upbringing. Sure, that means that the good stuff that happens, and all of your kid's accomplishments are things you'll feel really good about and proud to have had a hand in.
But with responsibility comes accountability, something a lot of young people don't have to deal with yet in any major way. In other words, if you are late to pick your kid up from daycare, you're going to have to pay the late fees and if you do it repeatedly, possibly be asked to find another day care center. The folks in charge aren't going to be real interested in whose fault it is, because it's your responsibility. If you space picking your kid up from school someday, you'll have to be accountable for that to the school, yourself AND to them (and this stuff does happen now and then: after all, parenting can really fry your brain). If your kid steals from somewhere or beats another kid up, it's on you. If you have a partner who harms your child, you'll have to deal with both being and feeling responsible for putting them in harms way. If you make poor parenting choices, not just your kid but you have to live with them, as well as whatever long-term effects your choices have on both of you.
You're also likely to be very emotionally invested in your child. So, when they're sick or unhappy, you're going to be scared and distracted. When you screw something up, you're likely to feel horrible about it. In many, many ways, your kids become your life. You're responsible and accountable for most of what your kid does, even through their teen years, legally, practically and emotionally. Imagine the possibilities. All of them.
Part of why making a choice to be a parent is such a big deal is that you're not just making a choice for you, you're making choices for a person who can't make their own choices and who has to live with yours. That's a very big deal.
If you're considering parenting:
• Talk to other young parents. Seek out young parents who currently have infants and toddlers (if you or friends don't know any, ask your school guidance counselor or job supervisor). Not only can you ask them about what it's like for them emotionally, how they feel about the choice they made, you can also find out very practical things you need to know, like how the school, college or job you're at handles young mothers. Do they provide daycare? Is it safe and sound? What special programs and resources exist in your area for teen or young parents? What do you need to obtain those resources, and aid like funds and healthcare for young mothers and kids? How are your local hospitals with young mothers? What doctors, midwives, hospitals or clinics would they suggest?
• Talk to your doctor, gynecologist, clinician and/or nurse. About 1/3 of pregnant teens receive inadequate prenatal care; primarily because of that, babies born to very young mothers are currently more likely to be low-birth-weight, to have childhood health problems and to be hospitalized, and teen mothers sometimes have special health risks. So, you'll need to be sure to spend extra time assessing your health. Healthcare pros can fill you in not only on health issues, but can also help hook you up with resources and support, and can also give you their unique perspective on what you'll be dealing with.
• Talk to everyone who you consider or assume will be part of your support circle or a child's life, whether you plan to rely on them, or have them contribute, to needs like food, housing, clothing and healthcare, to schooling for you and/or a child, to the day-to-day work of parenting and childcare, to your own emotional support. Get a realistic picture of who earnestly would want and plan to help for the whole of a child's life, and who is reluctant or really does not want to or feel able to take part. Understand that anyone who does not have a legal obligation to provide care for you or a child but says they want to help is stating an intention, not a guarantee. Making these kinds of assessments, rather than making assumptions, can give you a sound picture of how much help you'd have and how much you'd be on your own in making a choice to become pregnant and parent.
• Spend some time visualizing your life with a kid at every stage of the game: not just when they're babies, but when they're 5, 10 or 15 years old. Not just when you're having an awesome time with them, but when they are making you bonkers. Consider the goals you have for your life, and figure out how you might or might not be able to work them while also parenting, or while parenting at a given age, with or without help or a co-parent.
Please know that teens and young adults CAN be good parents: as good as anyone else, of any age.
There have always been many young adults who have been excellent parents, many who have enjoyed being parents and felt very good about the choice they made to be parents. If it's really what you want to do, and you're prepared for it realistically and with plenty of support, chances are good that you can do it and do it well.
Deciding to parent is a big deal for anyone: it's a huge responsibility and a gargantuan, and permanent, life change. Caring, responsible people are often scared when they make that choice because they have at least some inkling of how big a responsibility it is. So, it's normal to be scared (if you're not, at all, chances are you're not seeing the big picture, or even the little one). It's also normal to feel grossly unprepared, even after the birth: many parents of every age and social strata find that they feel like hacks as parents; that parenting was much more challenging than they thought it'd be, and worry about failing their kids. If you feel in no way scared, nervous or unprepared that should be a big red light for you to heed: pretty much nothing in your life will change it as much and demand as much from you as parenting will.
You've just considered a long, long list of challenges, and that isn't to say there aren't a lot of really great parts of being a parent. Kids are really cool, and they are often a whole lot of fun to be around and watch grow; their perspectives on the world are pretty amazing. Parenting makes you grow as a person, and you'll find that your child teaches you things no one else could. It's unique and special to be in a relationship with someone who is literally a part of you, who you brought into the world, and for whom you are the sun, moon and stars, for some of their life, anyway. Later on, they won't be so dependent and will be able to see your flaws (and likely even let you know explicitly what they are), but even at that point, a strong relationship develops when you nurture it well, and one you will truly have for their whole life or yours.
Again, there's no rule that young parents can't be good parents. Plenty of teens ARE and have been good parents. But plenty of people who already are or were teen parents, especially mothers, will tell you that as time has gone by, it usually becomes pretty clear that it'd have been a whole lot easier for them if they'd have waited, even just for a few more years.
Maybe one of your goals in life is to be a mother, and there isn't a thing in the world that's wrong with that, so long as you understand that certainly isn't your only option, nor is it something to rush into. Even if you know that and parenting is what you want, it'll keep. While few people will ever reasonably suggest pregnancy or parenting are easy, both are easier when the parents involved is as prepared as she can be, physically, emotionally, financially and practically. A lot of personal development happens in the teens, but even more will happen in your twenties and thirties. You will be more secure, financially and emotionally, and what you want now may not mesh very well with what you want then.
A BIG part of parenting is patience. So, if you just don't feel like you have the patience to wait to become pregnant and be a parent, chances are pretty good you also don't have the patience required to BE a parent. If it's you whose head is screaming, like Veruca Salt, "But I want it NOW!" know that if you do have a kid, you'll have two-part harmony with that line very shortly, 24/7. And know that if that's the headspace you're in, the hard truth is that it's pretty unlikely you're ready for parenting.