Choosing to Be a Teen Parent
Originally Published: July 23, 2015
Revised: September 14, 2015
Being a teenager is tough. There’s your awkward growing body, managing classes, nagging parents or guardians and annoying siblings. Pair that with all of the hormones active in your body, and you’ve got what can be a pretty uncomfortable period in your life.
But imagine juggling all of this and not only having to take care of yourself—making sure you eat breakfast and make it to school on time—but also having to take care of someone that is much smaller and much more vulnerable than you. A baby. That must seem impossible, right? Actually, it’s totally possible to raise a baby as a teenager. But this doesn’t mean that it’s easy. I spoke with a few parents from the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy. They shared their experience with prenatal care, childbirth, pregnancy and dealing with the stigma of being a teen parent.
Despite the cloud of judgment and disapproval surrounding teen parents, they work, go to school and do their best to raise their children.
Prenatal Care & Childbirth
If you or your partner decides to parent a child, you’ve got to make sure that you have the appropriate prenatal care so that you can have a healthy baby. Prenatal care is medical care given to pregnant women. It consists of regular check-ups where a doctor will check on the mother’s health and the growth of the baby. The doctor will also give the pregnant patient advice on how to manage the changes happening in her body and live in a way that is healthy for her and her growing baby.
When I ask 19-year-old Ciara Mejia of Boston, MA about prenatal care, she says, “After finding out about my pregnancy, I was referred to Brigham and Women’s hospital, and it’s there that I received my prenatal care. I was confident about receiving it there because I had heard great things about the hospital and had family members who were familiar with the prenatal care given there.”
If you don’t feel ready to talk to your family about your pregnancy, you can still receive good prenatal care. Kira Gibbs, 22, of Medford, MA tells us, “I actually went to a clinic that offered confidential health insurance so that I could receive proper prenatal care. I did it this way because being 18, I was still under my mother’s health insurance and when my prenatal care began, I was still not ready to tell my mother about my pregnancy.”
Prenatal care is important to ensure the health of the mother and baby. As for where and how to get it, ask your health care provider or family members to recommend an obstetrician, a doctor who deals with pregnancy and childbirth.
When I ask Kira about childbirth, she says, “Childbirth was great! It seems as though my labor went by very quickly. I remember being scared of my daughter when she first came out of me because she had just come out of me! For the first time in my pregnancy, I questioned whether I was really ready when she was first placed in my hands.”
Everybody has different experiences during childbirth. Pregnancy is a milestone, and after that milestone, there is a lot of work to be done raising a child.
When I speak with teen parents, they acknowledge that life is harder now but not impossible. Teen parents are usually incredibly responsible and hardworking people who, when compared to their peers, better understand the value of time management and a strong support system. Teen parents aren’t any worse or better than other teenagers. They still need help with their homework, and they still need to be supported by their loved ones. Despite the pressures of still being teenagers and having to go to school while taking care of a child, they manage it.
Kira juggles being a teen parent with school and work. Every day, she wakes up at 7 a.m. with playful fake snoring and giggles with her child. Kira, who became pregnant at 18, is a hardworking, motivated parent who loves her daughter dearly. She encourages new parents to “Love them. Give them kisses every day. And play with their tiny fingers and toes. Stare at them and take the time to fall in love once more, every day.”
To support herself and her child, Kira works during the day and drops her daughter off at daycare. She leaves her daughter with her mom while she goes to college at night. As a parent, student and worker, her days can be extremely busy. She treasures the moments she has with her daughter. “These moments become so valuable when life gets busy.”
Becoming a parent forces young people to take on more responsibility than they ever imagined they could handle.
Ciara tells us, “Being a teen parent has made me realize that I am capable of so much more than I could have imagined. It has motivated me to want to further my education, as I am not fond of school at all. It has opened my eyes to realizing that the little things in life matter the most and also changed my relationship with my family.”
Taking care of a baby isn’t easy, and it doesn’t help if you’re a teen parent who is getting more shaming than support.
Teen parents are often criticized for being irresponsible young people who don’t care about their future. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and it does a lot more to hurt than it does to help teen parents. Despite the cloud of judgment and disapproval surrounding teen parents, they work, go to school and do their best to raise their children.
Ciara tells us, “I have been in a lot of situations where I experienced stigma and shame associated with teen pregnancy, but I have learned to ignore it and not let it affect me. But before I learned how to really block it out, I would keep my feelings to myself then write pages about what happened in the situation. Writing when overwhelmed helped me a lot.”
Teen fathers are judged too. But in spite of this judgment, Christian Morales, 21, of Boston, MA manages to have a positive attitude about being a young dad.
“I’ve been told I’m too young or started too young but when I think about it, would I want to enjoy my children in my 60s or my 30s?,” asks Christian. “I would personally rather be young with them the whole step of the way.”
Everybody needs help at some point or another in their lives. Teen parents have to handle an inordinate amount of stress, pressure and criticism. Sometimes a healthy support system makes all the difference.
Support Makes a Difference
When I ask Christian what can be done to help teen parents, he responds that teen parents need, “More help to become independent. More resources on safe sex, more resources on money management, raising kids, and just life itself. Offer us as much help. Don’t hand it all to us but help us achieve. Don’t bring us down, society.”
No matter what your views are on teen pregnancy, be understanding, kind and compassionate. Ciara tells us, “There are so many things that can be done to help support young parents, starting off with a simple judgment-free zone. Anyone can question my pregnancy, but please do not jump to conclusions or judge me for my decisions.”
Kira says, “Support in schools is major! Education can still be so important to young parents, but the way their lives are set up, it can become hard to stay focused and make school a priority. Young parents need an advocate in schools to help them stay on track.”
Education is a large part of a teenager’s life, and if the stigma of teen pregnancy follows teen parents there as well, it doesn’t bode well.
If you know any teen parents, try to be supportive. Make an active effort not to shame anyone, especially not teen parents. The next time you hear someone at school talking down to or about a teen parent, set them straight. And if you’re a pregnant teen or your partner is pregnant and you’re thinking about becoming parents, remember that being a parent isn’t easy, but it’s possible to be a great parent with the right support.
Thanks to Natasha Vianna and the Young Parent Policy Fellows of the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy for speaking with us about teen parenting.
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