Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

My name is Jessica Mejia. I am originally from Hereford, Texas.I am a former teen parent. I had my son when I was 16 years old and a sophomore in High School. Now as an educated adult, I educate and advocate for teen pregnancy prevention and teen parent outreach due to my life experiences as a young single mother. I currently live in San Marcos and I’ve been here for 14 years. I have two jobs right now- I work with teen parents as a bilingual parent educator and I work for the Hays County Government.

In 2011, I founded my organization where I do public speaking engagements and share my life story. Jonis and I lived in government housing at the time I began writing what would turn into my first book. I knew I wasn’t going to wait until I had money or a college degree to share my story. My book will be out soon! And I continue to write as our family story unfolds, chapter after chapter.

What is your experience with teen pregnancy?

Since I was a runner in cross country in High School , my period was never regular.  I didn’t know I was pregnant.  I didn’t find out I was pregnant until I was four months along. I got a pregnancy test at a pharmacy store and I went to the free clinic to confirm.I was more devastated about not being able to run my track season than the fact that I was going to be a mom. That was my immediate reflection.  

I was sad and hurt thinking about letting my cross country team down because I was supposed to go to state for our team. I was a cheerleader at the time too. I had more fear of letting my teammates down than telling my parents. That’s the teenage brain. I want people that hear my story to understand that a teenager will never think like an adult, not even when they are pregnant and going to become responsible for another life outside of their own.

I didn’t know I would have to experience the pregnancy alone. This shock made my pregnancy the darkest, loneliest time in my life (only second to when my son moved away to begin his career in the Air Force this past year). As much as I did everything in my teenage power to be happy, I cried every night because of my pregnancy. Despite praying and asking God to make the loneliness and fear go away, the tears never stopped.

My teachers were disappointed in me, my church family judged me, my parents were hurt– you have this sense that you failed. I lost a lot of friends. I lost respect from a lot of people. I was being bullied too.

We didn’t have google or the internet when I was a teenager. I didn’t know anything about my body. I didn’t know what postpartum depression was and no one told me. They didn’t tell me that the depression has the potential to get even worse after my baby was born.  No one told me. So not only did I feel sad, I felt horrible guilt for feeling sad instead of feeling happy. When you’re a teenager, you’re expected to be resilient. I experienced post-perinatal trauma. This is a form of PTSD, but 23 years ago when I was experiencing it, no one defined it in that way. Finally, it has been coined this way. I am grateful there is finally a term for what I experienced. Teen parents are not “crazy”. They are experiencing forms of trauma.

What is your experience with sex education in Texas?

When my son was in high school, we lost our home. This took me on a journey of self gratitude and learning who I was. I became a CASA worker and started volunteering with Healthy Futures of Texas while looking for employment and a home. I was able to facilitate different workshops all around San Marcos even though I was between jobs and homelessness at that time. I always cleaned houses, promoted events, or did odd jobs for money when I was unemployed. In my opinion, everything in life is temporary.

Nonetheless, through my active volunteer work I developed a connection with Dr. Realini, the founder of Healthy Futures of Texas, and my son had the chance to go through their Big Decisions training.  It was important to me that he learned to make healthy and informed decisions about sex and relationships because I didn’t. We, as a family, became active members of Healthy Futures of Texas. He became a spokesperson as a teen ambassador and I facilitated sex education workshops in San Antonio after becoming certified via Healthy Futures of Texas training.

What would you want teens who have not lived this experience to know?

I would want teenagers to know that they have their entire lives ahead of them. I’d want them to know that they are loved, that they are intelligent, that they are unique. They have the world at their feet. They are valuable and any choice that they make for their body should be their choice. If they have questions and they’re afraid to talk to their parents, that’s normal and that’s okay. My son didn’t want to talk about to me about sex at first either. I get it. I would also want them to know that if they do become teen parents, it’s not the end of the world. But it will be hard for the rest of their lives or at least the next 20 years. No one told me how hard it was going to be. No one. At the same time, it may be hard, but it is not impossible to be a healthy parent, regardless of your age. Ask for help, it is never wrong to ask for help.

If you’re not a teen parent, don’t become one. Live your life! Find a mentor, discover your goals. And If you are  a teen parent, plug into great organizations like the Texas Campaign and Healthy Futures. Go somewhere where you can get guidance. Talk to your parents if they are in your life. They might not be your best friends, but they want the best for you because you’re their child. It is so healthy and so important to talk to kids about sex.

My son is amazing. We have a successful and very powerful life story, but even I had trauma, anxiety, and adverse childhood experiences (ACES). Now at age 39, while my son is  flying as an Officer in the world’s greatest Air Force, I am just now discovering and healing from these traumas. Teen pregnancy comes with a lot of healing that will need to take place. No one told me that. That is why I share my life as authentically and openly as I can. I had all of these emotional and physical traumas. I didn’t know about them until I had someone to mentor me. My experience overall was a positive one because I forced myself out of the negativity. I loved myself through it. I want teens to love themselves too.

It was a positive experience, although painful, in that I didn’t let anything stop me. I still continued to be in sports. My son is now an officer in the air force and I’m empty nesting and finally healing from those traumas.  Although my story is inspiring, I still think teen pregnancy should be prevented. Take sex education courses, talk to your parents, talk to mentors! Have safe sex or no sex. But most importantly: love yourself.

What would you want to tell your younger self before you became pregnant?

I would tell Jessica to love Jessica! I didn’t love myself as a teenager. I was religious and I loved my idea of God but it was not until I matured spiritually and mentally that I learned that me and God are the same. I would tell Jessica that you do not have to be religious to be loved. Life and the universe love you, just look for the signs. These signs will lead you to self-love.

I found love in another person. Someone told me when I grew up I would look back and realize what I felt for my son’s father wasn’t love. But in hindsight, I did love him, I just didn’t love Jessica. Years later, that teenage form of love evolved into grace and gratitude. He gave me a son. I am eternally grateful for being blessed with getting to be a mom.

The same advice that I’ve given to all teens throughout my life, I give to myself everyday- I would tell my younger self to not be so hard on Jessica. And that she is able to do even more than she’s already doing, so to not limit herself. I would tell younger Jessica during each challenge, “this too shall pass”.

What could have been offered to you as a teen to make you feel more supported in making decisions about sex and relationships?

I would have loved to have someone like the educated, empathetic ,and enthusiastic Jessica I am now in my life!  As a bilingual parent educator and also as a motivational facilitator via my organization, My ParenTEEN Life, I am able to go and speak to teen parents and check up on them. The accountability is healthy and nourishing. Having a cell phone would’ve been great…well, maybe not for bullying. But with a cell phone you can google anything now, for example you can just google “post-partum depression” and read about it. I never even knew what that was. Nowadays everything is at your feet! So educate yourself as much as you can and surround yourself with positive role models!

I would have also benefited from going to a counselor once a week. My parents were there for me, but during those years I really pulled away from them. Having daycare at my school would’ve been amazing. I grew up in a period where resources were not very available. So if I can have a success story, anyone can, especially now.

Can you share a memory about a person or service who was most helpful to you when you were pregnant?

Friendships mean everything to me even now as an adult, because of the loyalty I experienced being a pregnant teenager. Everyone deserves friends like mine. They never stopped accepting me and loving me. I even remember that I was proposed to while I was pregnant, from one of my cross-country team mates! He was older and worked and was really a genuine human. He would give me rides to school and to daycare after my son was born even after I said no to the serious and innocent proposal. You will have to read my book for that story and many other good ones!

Another memory is of Jennifer. She was one of my best friends in high school, we were cheerleaders. Twenty years later, she is still my best friend, her husband and sons and my son are all friends too. She was my only friend that visited me when I was pregnant and in alternative school for  …well, you will have to read my book for that story too!!

As an adult, I can tell you that my mom was instrumental for my success as a parent, although I did not feel that way as a teen parent. She taught me discipline and routine. My mom wasn’t my friend. And I am not my son’s friend. I am his mom, his teacher, his protector. My mom made me change Jonis’ diapers, all of them. She made me get up in the middle of the night to take care of him. She let me bond with my baby and stayed in her role as grandma. The discipline and integrity as a parent my mom taught me is the reason why Jonis turned out the way he did. My mom knew her role and taught me mine. She is the real MVP.

As far as services, food stamps do not buy diapers! But I was grateful for WIC and foodstamps. I have worked ever since I was pregnant, many times I made too much for assistance, but too little to really thrive. I often remember being in survival mode all the time. I had to be. I do not want teenagers to struggle like I did. That is why I share my story and my motto.

What else would you like people who work in this space to know?

Research more about post perinatal trauma. No one talks about it. I know that I experienced it before it had an actual name for my experiences. There is PTSD that teen parents experience and we need to research and monitor it. People should reach out to teen parents and allow them to share their perspective. 

There should also be support provided for teen dads. We need to advocate for and mentor teen dads. Just because most, statistically speaking, are not present in a baby’s life doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be. We need to create a way for them to co-parent in a safe and healthy environment.

Thank you for supporting this work!