Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is HK Gray. I’m 19 years old. I currently live in the Fort Worth area and I do abortion and homeless outreach work in that area. I am a peer support group leader for Jane’s Due Process.
What is your experience with teen pregnancy or sex education in Texas?
With sex education, I didn’t have a whole bunch. In middle school, they did sex education like “this is how you put on a pad” and “this is what it will feel like if you have your period”. We didn’t talk much about sex or birth control options. We did have a mandatory sex education class in high school but it was totally focused on prevention.
After I did get pregnant at 15 years old, I stopped going to my sex education class because I was told the point of it was to stop you from getting pregnant. My school took it off my schedule. My pregnancy was wanted, but the beginning of my reproductive journey started because I was not able to consent to my own birth control. My mom always told me to let her know before I wanted to have sex and that she would help me get birth control. Unfortunately, she had mental health issues and wasn’t able to support me the way she wanted to when I did become sexually active. She kind of slut-shamed me and changed her mind about helping me get contraception. It felt like a slap in the face that she wasn’t able to be there for me.
My partner and I didn’t like condoms so we experimented with the pull out method. After a couple of accidents and times using Plan B, we discussed what it would be like if we did become parents. We decided that even with the negative aspects of becoming a parent young, it would be a good time for us and that we wanted a baby. I know that sounds unconventional, but neither of us came from conventional families. My boyfriend’s parents passed when he was very young. My dad was homeless and my mom was in and out of the system. Having a functional family that we could create ourselves was very appealing to us.
What would you want teens who have not lived this experience to know?
I would want for other teens to understand that just because someone does become pregnant or want to parent at a young age, it doesn’t mean that they are suddenly a different person. It doesn’t make them dirty. It just means that they decided to start a family earlier than other people.
I actually dropped out of high school after I got pregnant. I had a scholarship and did very well in school. After my freshman year of high school, my mom decided that because I was making these adult decisions for myself that I needed to figure things out on my own. She said she wouldn’t sign any parental consent forms to allow me to go to school. I needed parental consent so I had to drop out and forfeit my scholarship. I had to wait until I was 18 to get my GED because you also need parental consent to take the test. I eventually moved in with my partner.
There were a lot of ups and downs in the years after I gave birth. In some ways, we had the stability we always wanted. We had a family that we could control what happened with. We lived together. It was really hard to juggle studying and watching my kid and having to get a job. It was actually easier when we were on our own. We worked mostly in either retail or fast food- jobs that have a lot of emotional labor. It was hard for us when we came home. For the first year of my daughter’s life, I was a stay at home mom and would pick up shifts on the weekends. When my daughter turned one year old, we enrolled her in state-funded daycare and I was able to work full-time. I found out about the program by looking up Medicaid resources online.
What would you want to tell your younger self before you became pregnant?
I wish that I knew about Title X clinics. I think that would have changed the course of my life. I’m happy about the way my life turned out, but it would have been nice to have known about all those resources. I could have gone to those clinics and gotten birth control without parental consent. I wouldn’t have had to have these hard conversations with my partner at such a young age.
What could have been offered to you as a teen to make you feel more supported in making decisions about sex and relationships?
I think the biggest support to me would have been peer support. As soon as I became pregnant, I felt like an outsider. I accepted that and kind of knew it would happen, but I didn’t expect my close friends to disappear and want to separate themselves from me. They didn’t want the shame and stigma that I was feeling to rub off on them. I wish that my peers knew that being pregnant didn’t suddenly make me into a different person.
My dad reacted the best about finding out I was pregnant. He told me he loved me and wasn’t mad at me. My mom yelled at me, screamed at me. Having my dad’s support made it okay, but I wish I had had the support of my friends as well.
Can you share a memory about a person or service who was most helpful to you when you were pregnant?
I think the biggest help to me was getting on Medicaid. It was very difficult to actually get on Medicaid because my mom wasn’t supportive and I had to do it on my own. It helped me tremendously to pay for things like my ultrasounds. It let me save up to have the money to buy baby clothes and a nursery.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
One thing that might be important to know is that I had preterm labor complications while I was pregnant. Other than that, my pregnancy was extremely normal and I was happy. At 33 weeks, my cervix was dilated at a two which was not good. They had to give me steroids to help get my baby’s lungs more developed in case she came early. I had to take medicine to make sure my cervix didn’t dilate anymore. This is a common problem for teens when giving birth. It would have been nice to know about that. I didn’t know about it at all until it happened to me. My doctor didn’t tell me, she just assumed that I knew about possible complications.