One of the dynamic women I met at the Blogalicious Conference in San Antonio was from an organization named The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. In an interesting discussion with her, I told her that I was a teenage mother that became pregnant at the age of 16. I told her that because of my experience I applaud any organization that works to prevent an unplanned pregnancy from happening to any girl. She asked me to blog about my experience so that she can share it to be used as an education point in the work of their national campaign.
I gave this request some consideration and decided to comply after some hesitation. I am college-educated with a dynamic career. I am a single-woman with my own home. I have traveled internationally and speak a foreign language. I have always been self-sufficient. I did not become the statistic that teenage pregnancy should have dictated for me. My concern is that a person may only give attention to the end result of my life and minimize my journey through teenage pregnancy. It is my prayer that I find the words to convey here how no girl of 16 should ever set her foot on that path.
Here is my journey.
At 16, I had plans for my life. I was finishing up my junior year in high school and was meeting the course requirements to attend the university of my dreams – UCLA. On the last day of school that junior year we were released early from school. A group of us went to Lake Houston for an impromptu picnic and a swim in the lake. We had a great time and I remember my parting words to my girlfriends as we went off to summer break was “Don’t come back to school pregnant!” I did not know how prophetic those words would be for my life.
During this time period, Roe vs. Wade had only been decided by the Supreme Court a few months earlier and girls my age could not acquire birth control without the consent of their parents. Plus, in the African-American community, most mothers did not discuss that taboo subject “SEX” with their daughters and abortion was an abomination. Abstinence is what was preached to us and we all tried so very hard to abstain. We battled those teenage hormones every day. One of the childish methods we used was to put large safety pins across the zipper in the inside of our jeans so that our boyfriends would be unable to unzip our jeans during a heavy kissing/necking session. It worked every time except for the time I did not wear jeans and went to my boyfriend’s house when his parents were away. We raided the refrigerator and found a bottle of wine. Wine, kissing, and the Isley Brothers crooning on the stereo proved to be a life-altering combination for me.
One month later, I was confused when my monthly menstrual cycle did not start because I had only had sex one time and thought you had to have an orgasm to get pregnant. In this case, ignorance was not bliss. When I missed my cycle the second time, I had to accept the facts and informed my parents. Also, I had to inform them that marriage was not a consideration because I was too young and the father was too young and irresponsible. It would only make a bad situation worse and I did not want to spend the rest of my life with him. At least I had enough sense not to make a second mistake. It was the first of many hard things I had to do to grow up quickly. My focus became to learn to shoulder the responsibility that was now in my “too young” life. I had to face the fact that my plan A life was gone and I now had to define what my plan B life would entail.
I was blessed. I had a strong immediate family and extended family foundation. I had their unyielding support as I moved forward in my life as a single mother. Now, this did not mean I turned over my responsibility as a mother to my mother. I took full care of my child performing all of the tasks necessary to nurture a child. I finished high school on time and acquired a full-time job with full benefits shortly after my 18th birthday. I did not attend UCLA as planned but when my son turned 2 years old I entered the University of Houston in my hometown. I worked a full-time job and took at least 12 hours a semester which included summers until I acquired my degree. It took me 5 years but I did it. My son was 8 years old when he attended my college graduation.
Being a teenage mother was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life even with help from my family. There were personal sacrifices I made to ensure that my child did not go without anything that his peers with both parents enjoyed. I wanted to be a good mother so every personal choice in life, i.e., career opportunities, work/home location, financial matters, was made with consideration for my child being the priority. The level of stress associated with working full-time, attending college, and taking care of a child is immeasurable. I had no personal life. I was either at work, at school, or with my child. I had to shed all of my friendships except for those that were in the same arena with my life. I raised my son to adulthood as a single mother. I never had another child.
The most important lesson I learned from this life experience was that every child needs BOTH parents full-time in their life. Even though my son was loved and well-cared for he was impacted by growing up in a single-parent home as he never really bonded with his father. Also, since he was never really “fathered” by his father, he is now struggling with that role with his own sons.
The other lesson I learned is abstinence is not sufficient to eradicate unplanned pregnancy. I do believe that birth control methods are more effective. However, I am concerned that teenage pregnancy rates are still high even with easy accessibility to birth control. There is something missing in the prevention message especially in the minority communities.
I believe that the final resolution lies in addressing the ills in our communities. Before I became pregnant, I had a dream for my life and I had already started on the path to acquire that dream by seeking higher education. My pregnancy was a major hurdle to overcome but it did not waver my determination to pursue my dream. I think families need to be more supportive of their youth providing structure and examples to follow. I think communities need to provide more opportunities for the youth. I think both need to provide something bigger for the youth to focus on in their lives so they will want to manage their sex lives responsibly and pursue their dreams.
I hope my words here about my journey are strong enough to be a cautionary tale. I hope my words here will cause some young teenage girl or boy to think before they act. I hope my words here will cause families to reach out to the youth in their family and openly discuss this topic.