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Preventing Teen Pregnancy: Three Words Most Likely to Make My Blood Boil

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Submitted by Heather Corinna on Fri, 2009-05-22 09:03

I hate, hate, hate that phrase. Nearly everywhere I go or look as a young adult sexuality educator anymore, I run into it incessantly.

Let me be clear: I don't hate doing all that we can, to help people of every age to avoid pregnancies or parenting they do not want or do not feel ready for. I'm so glad to do that, and it's a big part of my job at Scarleteen and elsewhere when I work as a sexuality and contraception educator and activist.

I don't hate doing what we can to help women who want help to determine when the best possible time is for them to become pregnant and parent (for those women who want to do so at all), and to do what we can to be realistic about pregnancy and parenting when counseling those who are considering either or both. In addition, I'm totally in support of making sure young women know all their options with the whole of their lives; aren't choosing to become pregnant or parent at a time that's too soon for them to both discover and reach their own goals and dreams, or too soon for them to be able to learn and provide good care of themselves. All good stuff, all terribly important, and all things that many young women seek help with which we can provide.

I'm on board with parents of teens or twentysomethings who don't want to pay the costs for their teen's pregnancy or the child of their teen, or don't want a new infant in the house. I'm not down with any young person assuming that their parent should automatically be a co-parent, an instant babysitter, or will bankroll a pregnancy. Co-parenting with anyone is something to be discussed and negotiated, not assumed. When we're talking about consensual sex, if a young person has the maturity to have sex, to have sex which carries a risk of pregnancy, and to consider parenting themselves, I think it's reasonable and appropriate to also then require the maturity to discuss and negotiate any contributions they want from their own parents with pregnancy or parenting.

I certainly understand parents wanting their youth to be able to have a childhood and adolescence that is not fraught with more responsibility and stress than a young person is able to manage, or which is likely to cause them unhappiness: that's plain old love, and I don't see a thing wrong with that.

I understand wanting children in the world to have parents who are capable of parenting, and for those children to have their most basic needs met. I worked in early childhood education for years before moving on to run Scarleteen, and I continue to feel very strongly about quality care and parenting for children. I also came from two young, unprepared parents, so I know firsthand what some of the downsides and struggles can feel like to a child.

I'm also absolutely on the bus when it comes to all of us, doing all we can to make our soundest decisions around pregnancy and parenting, and the idea that we should all be held accountable when it comes to only choosing to parent if and when we think we can be parents who can provide what children need. It is in part because I am on board with that that I am 39 and childfree, despite being someone who has always liked kids a whole lot, to the degree that I've been teaching my whole adult life. Part of why I also work at an abortion clinic is because I strongly support the right of every woman to decide if a given time is or is not right for her to remain pregnant, and to have the option to decide a given time is not right.

(For the record, I do not understand that "we shouldn't have to pay taxes that support other people's children," stuff. I have to pay taxes for all kinds of things I don't support or like, but I've never had a problem with the idea that some of my income goes to help and support the children of the world. It's one of the few things my taxes go to that I do feel good about. I have chosen not to reproduce myself, however, I'm of the mind that we all share some collective responsibility for caring for everyone else on our planet. So that one? I don't get or sympathize with.)

Here's what I'm not okay with.

What I hate about that phrase is the patronizing, disrespectful and ignorant presumption that all teen pregnancy is unwanted or unplanned: it isn't, and while young women may have less information about and access to contraception than older adults so may have more unplanned pregnancies than older adults (teens do have more unplanned pregnancies than older women, but the highest unplanned pregnancy rate right now is for those 18-24, economics can be as much a determinant as age is, and close to 50% of pregnancies for women of all ages are unplanned), that part certainly isn't their fault or doing. Ask a young person what they want in sex education or contraception access, and you'll find it does not resemble what we, the adults who have withheld power from them in these policies, have usually provided.

I hate the shaming or demonization of teen parents or teens who become or are pregnant, the widespread assumption that all of that is always bad or always wrong, and must always be prevented based on anyone's standards but those of young people themselves. I hate teen pregnancy being presented as if it were a pandemic, and teen parents presented as automatically incapable of parenting just as well as anyone else. I hate the often-dishonest moralizing that often goes with all of this, and teens being told that all sex = pregnancy and that the only way to prevent pregnancy is to avoid all kinds of sex, and/or that choosing to be sexually active means choosing to be pregnant. I hate the other words so often used around this topic, which make teen pregnancy sound like Hurricane Katrina. I hate the defeatist messages we give teens or young women who have become pregnant and who are deciding to parent. I hate that we seem to hold teen or young mothers to higher standards of parenting than we hold older parents.

I hate that our culture has no problem recruiting young people into the military before the age of majority (for enlistment at 18, but the efforts start before then, contracts are often signed before then), suggesting that they have the capacity to make that kind of potentially life-altering decision, one that can often involve choices around life and death, and yet suggests they have no capacity to make this one. I hate that in many states and areas young women can be legally married at 16 or younger, and even though for the youngest teens, that often requires parental consent or a pregnancy, I hate that it's thought by so many that marriage at the age of 16 somehow makes young parenting easier, better or more socially acceptable, or that for a 16-year-old woman, a legally binding marriage contract is somehow less of a big deal, less of a limitation on her life, than a social contract to care for a child. I hate that there are states and areas which don't allow a young woman the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy of her own volition, and some which don't allow her access to contraception, and yet in some areas -- especially when we are talking about nonconsensual sex -- remaining pregnant is the only option we allow young women to have within their own control.

I hate the presumption that it is anyone's place BUT the teen in question to actually prevent a teen pregnancy. Can it be our place to help those who want help in that aim? Absolutely, and I hope that when and if any of us are asked for that help, we'll provide it. But it's not our place to do the preventing, because it ain't our body or our life. It's theirs.

Perhaps even more than that, I hate some of the attitude that seems to inform that presumption, which feels to me a whole lot like older people saying that it is okay for older women to become pregnant, but not for younger women. Which is a pretty odd thing to say about women who both have actively working reproductive systems, who both have the ability to become pregnant and to parent, or to make other reproductive choices. In fact, it sounds a whole lot like eugenics to me.

I'm not going to beat around the bush (as it were) here. In a whole lot of ways, women in their late teens and early twenties are in a better position than women in their thirties or forties are to reproduce, whether anyone likes it or not. They are more fertile, their bodies will bounce back more quickly from a pregnancy, and they have more energy both for pregnancy and for keeping up with small children. A 19-year-old woman and a 39-year-old woman, on average are not in the same space physiologically when it comes to bearing children. The younger woman is in the better, healthier position physically, and the same is likely so for her fetus, particularly if (and that's a big if) she has healthcare of the same quality the older woman has. And for most of human history -- though there are certainly aspects of this, such as gender inequality and sexual violence, very worthy of critique and change -- teen or young adult mothers have been who so many of our mothers were.

There is another side of that coin, which is that young women are without some things many older women have. They more frequently will have less financial resources to care for children, their partnerships (if they are co-parenting) can tend to be less stable or shorter-lived, and they have less access to things like day care at school or work, good transportation, health insurance and the like. Obviously, too, a younger person has often had less life experience, and an older person may have greater perspective in certain areas which can be of great benefit when it comes to good parenting. But there are corrections for those inequalities. So many of the troubling statistics that we have on teen pregnancy and parenting aren't around the pregnancy or parenting itself, or the age of a parent, but instead, arise from many inequalities young people suffer because we have set things up so that they do.

For instance, it's not likely because someone is 16 when they become pregnant that they will be less able to finish high school, but because so many opportunities for schooling are cut off to young, pregnant women, and so few concessions are made to help a pregnant or parenting teen finish high school or enter college. Given the higher teen pregnancy statistics when it comes to young women of color, immigrant women and rural women, the fact that our culture often doesn't privilege education for those groups in the first place is no minor detail. It's not likely because someone is a teen that their child can be more likely to wind up in the corrections system, but because someone is a parent of any age who is without the resources they need to actively parent. Older people can help younger parents by sharing life experience and perspective gleaned with them rather than hoarding it or lording it over them.

Given that we know that that lack of resources is a central issue, why do we see so much money and so much effort put into "preventing teen pregnancy" yet so relatively little put into efforts to get free or affordable daycare into high schools and colleges, providing counseling, schooling and housing for young mothers? Why do we hear so much about preventing teen pregnancy yet meet so much resistance when it comes to contraceptive and abortion access for teen and young adult women? Why does the left and right alike tend to have so much to say and offer before or while a teen is pregnant, yet so little post-pregnancy or when a teen has become a parent?

Why is so much money put into developing and doing fertility therapies for women moving outside of their reproductive years, and so little for supporting women at the dawn of them; women of an age where even the best contraceptive methods, used perfectly, fail most often? Why are the celebrity teens or those of fame and wealth "speaking out against teen pregnancy" so often the loudest voices we hear? Why are the representatives of teen pregnancy and parenting so often so non-representative? Knowing about the disparities between white women and women of color with teen pregnancy, those between women in poverty and those who are affluent, and about the achievement limitations teens who choose to become parents so often feel they have, what the heck is up with the vast majority of those representing teen pregnancy being so wealthy, white and pampered (or male!?!) all the time?

Knowing that for some teens who do choose to become pregnant, or risk pregnancy needlessly, it can come out of loneliness, the desire to cement a relationship, low self-esteem or the feeling that they have little opportunity for a breadth of life achievement, why do we shame them, blame them and put them down so often, further isolating those already isolated and low-feeling teens even more? (At the same time, it's important to recognize these are also often motivations or feelings of older women with pregnancy or parenting, too. They do not only belong to teens.)

For the many older men involved in these prevention initiatives, given the rate of sexual violence and coercion involved in so many teen pregnancies, given how often young men don't cooperate with sound contraception, and given the fact that no cisgender man has any experience with being pregnant himself, why are their efforts not put on talking to young men about sexual violence, sound sexual decision-making of their own and contraceptive cooperation rather than in moralizing at young women? And yes, I'm talking to guys like you, Neil Cole.

(FYI, I don't think Cole's commercial or ad should be suppressed. However, I'd like to bring your attention to who the infant is given to in the ad, and who is the one really being talked to, who the big issue is left with while the male partner is taken out of the car and out of the issue. Check out the ad: the only thing directed at young men is about marriage. Cole's language around teen pregnancy with the Candie's campaign, and who so much of it is aimed at is seriously not okay in my book, particularly as a male person. While he seems to put so much of this on young women, he also doesn't seem to recognize what actually does belong only to young women: "kids" don't have babies, women do. Yet, all of the negative outcomes of teen pregnancy are apparently, based on his language, only about women.)

I'm also not entirely certain that there isn't, possibly, for some, some measure of envy at play here. It's tough to talk about, especially as a feminist, but I have had enough friends trying to reproduce at later ages now to know how incredibly frustrating the process can be for them. I also have friends honest enough with themselves and others that they will share that they do feel jealousy and anger when they see other women able to become pregnant as easily as breathing, and that's often the case with the youngest women. Some older women -- not all or even most, but some -- struggling to get pregnant now may even feel resentment about all the strong social messages they got about childbearing that they had to wait for later, should wait for later. If and when those feelings exist, they are valid and real, but don't have a place, covertly or overtly, in the discourse around teen pregnancy.

When older people and/or those of means are those creating the movements to "prevent teen pregnancy," -- and that is overwhelmingly who is -- the onus is us to evaluate and keep in check any bias we may have, and to be very sure those are not influencing how we treat teen pregnancy, planned or unplanned, wanted or unwanted. And that's what I think hasn't been done very well: that's what I see when I see phrases like "preventing teen pregnancy." I see a whole lot of bias, a whole lot of carelessness and a whole lot of disrespect.

Time to check-in

So, are we all checking in to be sure that older people aren't trying to claim some sort of ownership over pregnancy and parenting and who has the "right" to parent; who can and cannot be a good parent based on age alone -- and nothing else -- something we know has little basis in reality? Are we sure that some of the messages we're sending aren't about our own frustration or resentment; aren't coming from a place where we might feel like young mothers now are taking liberties we wish we would have? As well, are we sure that for those of us who felt that our lives went best because we did not procreate or do so at a given age aren't projecting our own goals and desires unto a generation which may be radically different than ours? Might we even be projecting some of what we saw and heard -- and disliked -- from our mothers generations unto this one?

Ageism is alive and well and teens are a very common -- and often thought to be acceptable -- target for it. We, as adults, make lousy policies for or around teens without allowing them input or control, and then we point the finger at teens when those policies we made or supported fail them, such as the poor sexuality education we've given them (especially in the last ten years here stateside), the awful relationship modeling, the glamorization, romanticism and commercialization of things like motherhood, vaginal intercourse, marriage and being sexually "attractive." The only real power we give them of late is in the commercial marketplace, and then adults whine about how youth are fixated on money and acquisition. Uh, okay.

Their sexual and reproductive lives are two of the areas where ageism is exercised constantly, and often without any resistance from even progressive adults. Are we sure that ageism and classism (not to mention racism and sexism) aren't playing a part in our discourse around teen and young adult pregnancy?

Are we also sure, that as can happen, that older people are not harboring a desire for their children do do as well as them, but not to surpass them? In other words, what if -- just what if -- a young teen mother really could "have it all?" What if she could be a good parent AND finish high school, finish college, have the career she wanted, have all she envisions her life to be? By all means, that scenario might feel mighty frustrating for generations before who did not have the cultural or interpersonal supports or resources to achieve all of that, but not if we can see making things better for the generations that follow us as one of our great successes, not as something we were robbed of or must grudgingly provide.

It stands to mention that some of this approach likely comes out of attitudes that are not just about young people or young women, but about pregnancy and pregnant women, period. We have long had a cultural problem with women's bodies and reproductive systems being treated like collective property; with laws, policies, practices and initiatives around pregnancy being led by everyone but those who actually are or will be pregnant. To some degree, the way we have been treating teen pregnancy is highly indicative of those attitudes, which isn't all that surprising.

But if we're serious about being pro-choice, if we're serious about wanting to help others make decisions in real alignment with respect and self-respect, the most basic foundation we have to hold is that every woman has the inarguable right to make choices about her own body for anything that happens to or inside of her own body, and that no one but that woman is most qualified to do so. Once we start talking about preventing a given choice someone else may make, we take that person's ownership of their choice away.

When our bodies are of an age where they can reproduce, any of us then -- be we 16 or 36 -- has the right to choose to do that with our bodies if we want to. By all means, once a child is born, we're talking about someone else, someone outside of a woman's body, and not our own body. That's a huge and tangled discussion of its own, especially given the way children are so often framed as the property of their parents, rather than as the responsibility of parents and all the rest of us. But until there is an actual child born and independently present? We are talking about a woman and her own body. Not ours, hers.

For the record, I also have a problem with the notion of "preventing unplanned pregnancy." A LOT of wanted children, children who are loved, children who are parented well, come from unplanned pregnancies: at least half of us have. As a sexuality educator who knows very well how many people don't understand how reproduction works, and as someone who has a good handle on human history per how long most people didn't know, it's safe to say MOST pregnancies throughout history have been unplanned to at least some degree. Even now when we do know more, when far more people are educated, when we have many contraceptive methods which are highly effective, a lot of people approach pregnancy not as something they exactly plan, but leave themselves more or less open to at given times depending on how okay they are with pregnancy. For sure, we do want to fill people in on the things which might make a pregnancy more or less healthy when it happens, make parenting go better or worse for everyone involved, but while planning can certainly contribute to healthy pregnancy and sound parenting, it really isn't a requirement or a reality for many people.

Words matter.

This really isn't all that complicated. Words matter. The phraseology we use for things matters, especially when we're talking about subjects like this. Especially when we are talking about choices which are not ours to make, about the lives of others and the bodies of others. Especially when we are talking about something as nuanced, complex and wildly individual as pregnancy and parenting. Especially when we are coming to something and saying that it is about quality of life and respect.

May I suggest some easy lingusitic corrections?

If your heart is in the right place, what you want to do is to not to prevent anything. Rather, you want to nurture and support conscious conception and contraception, conscious birthing; to enable wanted and healthy pregnancy, wanted and healthy parenting. You want to help support all of us in having exactly the reproductive life we want and feel is best for us to the degree that we can control that.

If you're still stuck on prevention as an approach, why not try making it about helping teens to prevent unwanted pregnancy or unwanted parenting?

Is age really even relevant? Only so much. An unwanted pregnancy has the capacity to disrupt or cause hardship in a woman's life whether she is 17 or 37. A parent who is unprepared for parenting, who doesn't want to parent, or who just can't parent can do damage to a child no matter how old they are or are not.

What you really want to do -- I hope -- is to help women of all ages to understand what all their possible choices are for their whole lives, to have a good idea of what making any given choice can entail, the possible positives and negatives alike, and how it could impact them and others. What you probably really want to do is to help young people, all people, make choices around sex, pregnancy and parenting which are most likely to result in a happy, healthy life, and the life any given person most wants for themselves and those in their lives. What you also probably want to do is work just as much towards creating a culture of support for those who do become pregnant -- by choice or by accident -- and choose to parent as you work to support those making different choices. And if you really want to help to prevent unwanted teen pregnancy, you need to make sure your efforts are directed just as much towards young men as they are towards young women.

I know for a fact that many of the people who use the current language around teen pregnancy are people whose intentions are stellar, totally laudable, and all about the good things I'm talking about here. So, why diminish or mislead those great intentions with words and phrases that undermine them and disrespect the population we're claiming to care so much about? Why use the negative when you're trying to support the positive?

P.S. This rant is dedicated to my friend and volunteer Alice, and all of the other teen and young mothers who get as validly angry about this stuff as she does.

Comments

This is a great article! (I beat the statistics)

Thu, 2012-06-14 07:46
Anonymous

I am a teen mother of twins, I didnt get an abortion because it would have killed me, i am 18 i graduated highschool, im enrolled in collgege for the fall, and i work. I am a single mother on top of all that, I love that i stuck with the choice to be a parent, I may have had to grow up a lot quicker than the average teenager, but in the end to me it was all worth it, i love my girls more than anything, I have beat the statistics of being a teen parent of twins, and still graduating highschool, and working. I am proud of myself, and my kids had helped me out a very bad place.

I am not a statistic

Thu, 2012-05-31 18:53
Anonymous

I know this is an old post but I just wanted to add my two cents as a former teen mom. I really wanted to commend the author for taking an unorthodox stance against the overwhelming volume of anti teen pregnancy propaganda. I seriously resent the unquestioned formula of pregnant teen mother = irresponsible bad mother. This is massively perpetuated by the teen mom shows and ensuing tabloids, which I admittedly don't know much about because I refuse to watch or read about them since they are such an insult to every responsible teen mom that DOESN'T make good drama filled reality t.v. I myself became pregnant at the tender age of 17 during the last semester of my senior year of high school. My boyfriend was completely supportive and we mutually agreed against abortion and decided to marry. Let me tell you, we as a society punish our teen moms severely for their error.

I kept my pregnancy a secret from all but family until after graduation. I was terrified at the time that the school would find out and ship me off to the alternative school in my district, thereby not letting me graduate with everyone else. Among those that did know, they all "knew" that I had destroyed my life by becoming pregnant and deciding against abortion. My high SAT scores, great GPA, AP exam scores and college scholarships suddenly meant nothing anymore. It didn't matter that I was a virgin before I started dating my fiance either. When the pregnancy came out, everyone suddenly "knew" all sorts of things about me and what kind of person I was. My fiance's parents pressured him for abortion and/or leaving me. They "knew" that I was destroying his life. And because everyone "knew" all these things, it had to be true. In some ways, they made it true. My parents cried and yelled for months, until my father eventually kicked me out at 7 months pregnant.

I could write you my life story at this point. Let me summarize: It was hard. We had to grow up over night. We didn't know about support programs like WIC. The economy took a huge dump and our age and resumes meant that finding a job was a miracle. Still, I refused to fit into the stereotype. I didn't party, in fact I almost never went out as there was no babysitters. I never smoke, drank or did drugs. (Hell I even quit caffeine entirely while I was pregnant.) I read what to expect when you're expecting. I gave birth naturally and breastfed for almost the first year of my son's life. Today, 10 years later, he and his 3 siblings are all healthy, happy and thriving. My husband and I are still married, and though neither of us has graduated college yet, we just bought our first home a couple months ago.

I was determined to not "be a statistic." Although I didn't plan my pregnancy, I wanted my son. I wanted to be a good mother. I wanted to have a good marriage and be a good wife. I wanted to go to college and get a good job. In the end I have accomplished most, but not all of my goals. Still, what if we had something as simple as low or no cost childcare while we went to college? My husband and I both had scholarships at the time we graduated. What if the school student loan programs had worked properly and helped pay for our expenses instead of never coming on time and forcing us to chose between eviction and dropping out of college? What if college was actually affordable instead of putting us 20K in debt with not even transcripts to show for our academic progress? Who knows. What I do know that no matter how I got here, or how much easier it could have been, it wan't a death sentence like everyone thought. I love my life and my family, and I will never regret being a teen mom.

Teen pregnancy

Wed, 2010-07-07 23:13
Anonymous

I am 15 and pregnant. My boyfriend and I always used condoms, but we never felt anything break. In any case I had just gone off the pill because it seemed to make me break out terribly, and I figured condoms were enough. Of course, I was wrong. I am still early in the first trimester but I know that I'm preggers because I am about a week late for my period and the test I took read positive. I have not told anyone yet because I'm unsure of what to do. Bottom line is, I can't afford a child. I have always been independent and if I were to raise this baby I would prefer to do it with minimal financial help from my parents. My boyfriend is 2 & 1/2 years older than me. He doesn't know and he just got a job. Financially, as he puts it, his family doesn't "have much money". I can see the pros and cons of abortion but I'm not sure where I stand applying it to myself. I would feel guilty but then again it begs the question, is it more irresponsible to have an abortion soon than it is to give birth to a baby that nobody really has the money to take care of? In my eyes, adoption is worse than abortion. It's like saying you don't care about your baby. I am very conflicted and not sure what to do about any of this. I know that soon enough I will have to tell someone, and the first person I tell will be my mom. I am very worried however about how she will feel and I don't want my dad to know until I am sure of what to do. But I know I can't make a decision without my mom's help, and I also know that I love my boyfriend very, very much. It may sound dumb but he and I really are a great match. He has even told me on a few occasions that he wants me to mother his children one day, he wants to marry me as soon as he can financially, maybe when he's in college. The whole situation has a good deal of complexities. I don't want to shame my family or his, and I don't want my family looking at him in a negative light because of it; he is honestly the best guy I've ever known and I know that I love him. The thought of not having him is chilling, I would take a bullet for him. I realize this has been a long message but I really don't think that I can put it in simpler terms. I am afraid of what to do. I mean, I love babies and I think I'd be a great mom one day. I believe I'm already mature beyond my years and am more cut out to handle a situation like this than most girls my age, so that's not the problem. If I were old enough to be legally self-sufficient this would be a lot less vexing. Another thing, not to sound conceited, but... I just hit puberty about two or three years ago and I have developed slowly. I feel I am just beginning to bud into a young woman. If I could have a baby, and if I did, I would most likely get stretch marks and I would have a bad post-baby belly. In the real world, outside of celebrity and wealth, a middle-class girl like me can't afford to supply diapers and food for an infant, let alone have a personal trainer to get back in shape for herself! I am trying to look at this situation from all angles. I really don't know what to do. Please, anyone that has advice... My ears are open.

dear anonymous

Wed, 2012-03-21 19:30
Lauren007

I would just like to say, adoption is not worse than abortion. Abortion is not worse than adoption. They are just different choices, chosen for different reasons. Adoption does not mean you do not love your baby. Adoption means you love your baby enough to realize that she deserves the absolute best of parents, the absolute best the world has to offer her, and that for any number of reasons, you just aren't ready, aren't able, or just don't have what you need to give her that, and are willing to sacrifice raising her in order for her to have all of that.
Please, do me a personal favour, and never say again that adoption means you don't love your baby. Because it's the opposite. It's the ultimate embodiment of it.
thanks

Abortion vs adoption

Fri, 2012-06-01 12:21
Anonymous

I had an abortion at 18 as I thought adoption meant I didn't love my baby and I wanted to love my baby, I really did. But my life at 18 would have been a very bad place for a baby and I couldn't bear the thought of giving it away. So I had an abortion.

Even today I am sad about that decision, yet I have no regrets. I am finally in love, happily married and pregnant again. This time I will love my baby as well as being able to provide a good home for my baby. It's a difficult decision and one I hope Anonymous can make without too much pain.

This was a really interesting

Sat, 2010-05-01 12:45
Anonymous

This was a really interesting and thought-provoking post. Bravo for writing it.

certified nurse aide

Fri, 2010-03-12 23:31
onlinetips

Thanks for such a great post and the review, I am totally impressed! Keep stuff like this coming.

Brilliant!! I had an abortion

Sun, 2010-01-31 14:06
powers

Brilliant!!
I had an abortion in my early twenties, for lots of reasons, but mainly to do with other people's expectations. Even now I catch myself looking at women younger than I was with babies and it breaks my heart, I think if they can do why couldn't I, and then have to shake myself, as it is those opinions, thought process and social pressures that made me feel I had no choice but to have an abortion.
Thanks for helping me put some of the mess in my head into context!

Great insight

Sun, 2010-01-03 01:26
Bellarose

This is a point of view which I whole-heartedly share and long have. I was pleased to see that you came to this insight even though you are not directly affected by the prejudice in society against young parenthood. I see this truth expressed often amoung young parents but rarely understood by people of different ages and situations. I am also a member of many feminist and pro-choice groups, filled with truly great women, but even they seldom understand that parenting at a young age is not tantamount to catastrophe in every case. It's refreshing to see someone make an honest (and often rejected) assessment of the accepted opinions of our society. I know a great woman, Hygeia Halfmoon (author of Primal Mothering in a Modern World), who has taken it upon herself to be an online advocate of young and teen mothers. The bashing she gets is intolerable. She literally recieves hate mail and has been accused of pedophilia simply because she does not condemn young women having sex or choosing to be parents and supports them if they are parents. It's abysmal. I myself am a young parent but not at all the stereotype of impoverished, uneducated, or unfit. Thankfully, I have a supportive partner who makes a brilliant father and other supportive family members as well, so I feel for young women who face motherhood without all this support. I hope to become an advocate for young women, especially young mothers, in the face of a serious societal prejudice that nobody seems to want changed (even many young parents who seem to feel that they must profess guilt and shame and the wrongness of their parenting at all times, even while also claiming to be happy). I hope someday to open a home for young women facing crisis pregnancies and their children and allow them long-term support and access to education if they have no home support. I know that maternity homes exist but they seem too often to be pushing religion and/or adoption and turning young women out who do not want to relinquish rights to their children or abandoning them after they do so. So anyway, thank you for getting this point of view to more people so that acceptance and support may be become the normal response to young and teen mothers, as opposed to the useless judgement that so often abounds. I especially loved the part about the relevance of age and how ability to parent at any age is a much more valid concern. I have seen both fantastic and abysmal parents of all ages. Please pass a sisterly 'right on' to Alice for me.

appreciating your post

Tue, 2012-04-10 18:03
Anonymous

What a great response you wrote Bellarose.

I am an older mom of teens, and what I am hearing said to teens drives me crazy, but I really needed to read the essay - and then hear from a young mom like yourself - to put it together in my mind.

I offer mentorship and rites of passage to girls, and I think it will be interesting to see how parents in my community response to my whole-hearted public endorsement of the article. http://facebook.com/journeyofyoungwomen if you'd like to visit or http://JoyW.org for anyone interested in the offerings in the Twin Cities.

It is sometimes hard for parents to support their daughters choosing to have sex, and there is little offered in the way of support for parents to reflect together on their values and unexamined assumptions about parenting children for sexual well-being. Without that support, and with mostly how you were raised to draw on, it can be like a war within a parent's mind when one's daughter gets into her later teens and may be ready to explore sexuality within a committed, caring relationship. Your mind saying "yes, I believe that my daughter can choose for herself, given that she is well-informed, over 16, etc" but one's feelings saying "no way in hell!"

I hope that parents of teens will also consider that the Dutch have a much more relaxed attitude toward older teens having sex (given that they are well-informed about contraception and STDs, and are in a caring, committed relationship) and that things are going very well for them in measurable terms - few unwanted pregnancies, lower divorce rate, etc.

Anyway, it's just great to hear from intelligent, grounded, confident young feminists. Thanks!

It's like you read my mind

Fri, 2009-07-24 19:18
sweetpalmtree

It's like you read my mind and organized it onto a computer screen for me.
Thank you.

The Right to Choose... to be a Parent (at any Age)

Sat, 2009-05-30 09:39
Lena

Thanks, Heather, for putting something I have noticed and feel strongly about into words so eloquently and providing such detailed support. As someone who works with teens in-person on a regular basis, I feel nothing but support for pregnant teens and young parents; in fact, I don't feel anything negative or judgmental at all and it saddens me to see what resistance so many must face. I think this negativity doesn't come from their peers so much as it does from some adults who *should* be non-judgmental. Granted, I think most people are, indeed, quite helpful and caring. However, I was shocked to see that the very people I had, incorrectly, assumed would be the biggest supporters of these young people (a.k.a. anti-choice people) were, in fact, often their biggest (hypo)critics. My experience has been that pro-choice people make some of the biggest supporters of young parents, although the anti-choice lobby would certainly like to us believe otherwise.

I did say late teens and

Tue, 2009-05-26 07:42
Heather Corinna

I did say late teens and early twenties, and talked not just about birth, but also some issues around parenting young children.

Based on the data I have seen, when we aren't talking about the youngest teens, health issues in women in that age group have mostly been linked to not getting proper healthcare, not to anything physical. For much-older women -- especially those over 40 -- even with great prenatal care, the health risks to mother and fetus are often higher.

Of course (in other words, perhaps unsurprisingly), ages which most often are linked with the healthiest pregnancies, births and post-delivery health tend to fall smack-dab in the middle, around 30.

I'm really glad to see this

Tue, 2009-05-26 07:04
Anonymous

I'm really glad to see this post. I definitely agree with the sentiment, and I'm no fan of the way teen parents get stigmatized. I really wish educating young people weren't so laden with shaming and stigma, and it was something that I took issue with when I was a teenager.
That said, I do have one non-substantive issue regarding who's more physiologically fit to bear children, the teenager or the older woman. While older women might be at an elevated risk of delivering less healthy babies, being too young (i.e., in your teens) has its own set of risks. It's not accurate to say, even on a purely biological level, that the teenager is in a better position to give birth than an older woman.

Limitations and choices

Sun, 2009-05-24 17:07
Anonymous

I think that limits are dangerous.
The problem is that you could have people who do what they feel like doing, making their own choices. Instead you have these limitations causing people feel compelled to do what they wouldn't like to do, or to something just out of rebellion.

I think the same about the age of voting.
Since we have a limit on the age you can vote, there are a lot of young political conscious people who can't vote, and lot of older plain ignorant people who vote otherwise because they feel compelled to because at magical age X they have been allowed to vote. If you think about it if there was no voting age, those who don't want to vote or don't know anything about politic or are not interesting would simply astain, while those who are interested and know their politics and have interesting ideas to share would vote. This automatically would mean that even if a child of 7 could legally vote, he will never care about it. On the other hand a 50 year old person who is not informed or political conscious enough to vote, would not feel compelled to.

Pregnancy and marriage are similar.
I see a lot of people having children and marrying for the most wrong reasons.
But the worst and most common reason of all is "feeling they're getting old"
Since they have been brainwashed by the age prejudices according to which a young person should never become a mother or marry
while and older person should hurry up making children and marrying, regardless of whether they really want a child or a marriage, they compromise with their lack of willing or lack of love for the person they marry, because they're obliged.

In turn when you see their families and their children, you don't feel a sense of love and self-determination, but of frustration and sadness. If love and marriage were not based on age but on the self-determined and real desire, then young people could contribute to beautiful families and older people would not fee compelled to marry and have children if they don't want to.

Most human feelings and relationships lately are being stigmatized.
People talk of marriage like a prison, talk of children like a burden, talk of love like an illusion, talk of parents like slavers. The problem is that indeed when you turn what should be a personal choice into an "orthodox duty based on age or whatever other meaningless characteristics" you devoid life of choice and makes everything a social obligation. Which is sick.

I have always been opposed to the ridicolous idea that a wanted teenage pregnancy is bad and that teen parents are not good parents.

There are a lot of bad parents of every kind out there and no one seems to have made much pressure to them on being good parents, and yet when a teen wants to parents, parenting is presented to her (or him) as fraught with danger and pitfalls (which in itself is a prejudice against children) which is ridicolous considering never in the history of humanking parenting has been seen like an impossible job requiring dozens of books and specialists and to the extent that children were "raised", it was done by the community. Ironically people do a worse job now that parenting is considered an impossible chore, children are considered retarded brats and everyone writes books about parenting than when parenting was considered a normal instictive thing and children were respected as human being with ideas and rationality.

Limitations create need while freedom and information creates intelligent choices.

Too true

Sun, 2009-05-24 06:10
Anonymous

I remember from when I was about 11 my mother frustratedly commenting on the statistic that the UK has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in Europe; that many of those are welcome/planned pregnancies; that having a baby at 19 probably shouldn't be in the same statistical bracket as having a baby at 13; that the media treats the news with abject shock and horror when there is no shame in being a mother while a teenager. Thank you for this article which has stirred all sorts of gratitude as well as ire within me.

An interesting thought.

Sat, 2009-05-23 15:30
Anonymous

I was surprised. Not the content, I mean, it all makes sense from both an emotional and a removed perspective. I was surprised by the fact that I was surprised.

By that I mean that I was shocked how much I didn't know. I don't think I've ever seen anyone actually take this stance, one which I agree with.

Normally, there's just a bunch of people spewing out opinions I disagree with whenever I hear this issue. Anyone who disagrees is usually vastly outnumbered and essentially shouted down, or simply ignored due to their "age bias". Then all those people get together and agree they must be right since nobody speaks up against them. It's often rather self-serving. Why must they debate or even bring up an issue they all know is right? Could it be that they're questioning or unsure and want to be reassured that no counter argument is possible?

Perfect.

Fri, 2009-05-22 15:30
Anonymous

This is absolutely amazing - thank you so much for writing this. Too often, it is misinterpreted that if you are not actively campaigning to "prevent teen pregnancy," you are somehow "encouraging" teen pregnancy. What really gets me is that even many of the most "progressive" sex educators I've met who will talk and talk about giving young people the resources to make their own decisions about sex will spew this trash. What is key is support - support for any sexual health or reproductive decision one wants to make. Young women (and men) need to be supported with information on and access to the right contraception for them. They need to receive messages that support their CHOICE of whatever kind of sex they chose or chose not to have. And if a young woman faces a pregnancy, she needs to be supported in ALL of her options, granting the right to make a choice that is best for her.

=) props!

Sat, 2010-01-02 08:06
whenfinallysetfree

This was interesting and kind of nice because you hardly ever hear anyone supporting the teens. =)
I'd imagine that the negative stigma associated with teen parents gives many people the false idea that these parents shouldn't recieve the same love and reinforcement as older couples, simply because they are young.I do think that by treating younger parents with the respect and support they deserve will give them the confidence to know that someone actually believes they can raise a child and raise one well, contrary to what many believe.

Being a teen myself, I do know that although I am practicing "safer sex," a baby could always end up being a reality. Although I really do want kids,and sometimes wish I could have one now, I know that I honestly would not be able to handle the responsibility of a child. I am not an irresponsible person--I have had a good-paying job for 3 years and am currently in college on scholarship. I just really know that having a child before I get out of college is not going to make things very easy. A lot of teens don't have 2 parents, so if they end up becoming pregnant, things are harder from the start. Not to say that teens couldn't be good parents--because I believe they can be--but don't you think it's generally not wise to purposely conceive a child before you're finished with school? To make it easier for them, and yourself, wouldn't it be easier to just hurry up with going to college and getting a degree without the added stress of a baby? I know a few teen moms my age and older who are having the hardest time trying to get everything done and I hear them at school and work talking about how they just wish it would be over so they could be home with their child. There's no lack of love here, so wouldn't life be so much better if the school part was done and the mom could have more time to enjoy the baby they think about all day?

It seems like being young has so many parts to it that are constantly moving around and changing. I can't help but notice the stress my friends are having, knowing that they want to give their kids the very best, but are still trying to grow up themselves. I've witnessed that the one way teens get through this really is with support. Our bank accounts are pretty empty...we need our friends and our family standing by us to help babysit because we know these people will coddle them just as much as us, you know? But I honestly know that when my single mom's not working, she's home getting some sleep in before she goes back...Although my boyfriend is amazing, he has school too. Without the cash to pay for good daycare for a baby, I wouldn't be able to finish school to get the money to get a baby the clothes and food it would need. It seems like such a vicious cycle...I have to keep reminding myself that even though I know I'll make a pretty good mom and would love my child like crazy, to give it the life I'd want it to have, I'm going to have to put aside my overwhelming desire to raise a child right now and wait until it's best.

I mean, I really do think that's the IDEAL thing for both the baby and the parents, but I do know that if everyone was the same, life would be so boring. I know some fantastic girls my age--some with boyfriends, husbands, or fiances, and some without-- that are doing an amazing job of raising their kid(s). Some people grow up by putting their desires aside for a better time, while others grow up by taking chances and stepping up. Both ways are equally necessary and important, and different for each person, and I think that either way, we need to support each other. I'm glad you wrote about that. =)

Thx Heather@!

Tue, 2010-01-19 13:53
butterfink

Thanks, Heather, for putting something I have noticed and feel strongly about into words so eloquently and providing such detailed support. As someone who works with teens in-person on a regular basis, I feel nothing but support for pregnant teens and young parents; in fact, I don't feel anything negative or judgmental at all and it saddens me to see what resistance so many must face. I think this negativity doesn't come from their peers so much as it does from some adults who *should* be non-judgmental. Granted, I think most people are, indeed, quite helpful and caring. However as a cna, I was shocked to see that the very people I had, incorrectly, assumed would be the biggest supporters of these young people (a.k.a. anti-choice people) were, in fact, often their biggest (hypo)critics. My experience has been that pro-choice people make some of the biggest supporters of young parents, although the anti-choice lobby would certainly like to us believe otherwise.

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