What would you want teens who have not lived this experience to know?
It’s really hard. It’s REALLY hard. You find yourself making very adult decisions with no good answer. Sometimes the only answers that you can choose from are between bad and worse. That kind of decision making on a young person can kind of break you.
I would also tell teens who haven’t lived this experience to be considerate of their peers who are pregnant. A lot of judgment gets passed when you’re pregnant in high school. Your peers who are pregnant need love and support. I think it’s Ellen DeGeneres who says, “life is hard, be kind”.
What would you want to tell your younger self before you became pregnant?
The same things that I tell my daughter now. It’s okay to date people, but don’t let your relationship define you. Don’t be all about that one person. Take this time in your life to love and get to know yourself as you,not as part of a pair. I paired up with someone and that became who I was. That led me to be in a relationship and that led to my teen pregnancy. My daughter is 12 years old right now and right at the cusp of becoming a teen. I’m trying to empower her to make good decisions when it comes to sex and relationships. I’d like her to know about making good decisions not just with romantic partners, but with friends too.
What could have been offered to you as a teen to make you feel more supported in making decisions about sex and relationships?
In the age of technology, I think that a lot of teenagers are aware of how most things work and how to prevent pregnancy. I wish I had known options then. No one talked to me about having healthy relationships or what unhealthy relationships looked like. That’s the thing that’s most likely to lead to teen pregnancy. I think parents and counselors need to learn to recognize the signs of a child who might be in trouble and start doing things about it.
In my case, it was probably fairly obvious. I had older boyfriends, I stayed away from home a lot, it was obvious I was going down the wrong path but no one did anything about it. When I told my parents I was pregnant, they weren’t surprised. It seemed like they kind of expected it. I found this very hurtful. I wish more adults would see signs that a teen was in trouble and know to take action. I especially think adults should focus on the emotional aspects of empowering young adults to make good and healthy decisions in relationships.
Can you share a memory about a person or service who was most helpful to you when you were pregnant/a teen working through these decisions?
I had a friend who was very supportive of me. Through the process of being pregnant and giving birth, I really lost most of my friends. It was really alienating. But this friend was always there. She sat next to me in my first class of the day and would always check-in. She’s my best friend to this day and an Aunt to my daughter and other children. Simple friendship and staying with me gave me some continuity in my life in a time when everything was changing.
What do you wish you had, what would have been helpful, or what support do you think was missing that would have been most helpful to you?
I think I had a lot of support. I was pretty fortunate. My parents continued to support me and made sure I was able to make it through college and succeed in life. I know not a lot of teen parents have access to this. If you’re a teen parent and want to think about going to college, you need to think about how you’ll pay for the school itself and then how to pay for daycare. This can be overwhelming and can stop teen parents from getting a career. This then perpetuates the cycle. I think we’re all aware that certain social and economic statuses that tend to have higher rates of teen pregnancy. We need to uplift teen mothers by helping them continue their education or find stable employment.
Another thing I wish I had would be a sense of community. It was alienating to be in college as a parent. You can’t socialize or do any of the things that you associate with college when you only have daycare from 8 am- 5 pm. I went to UT and lived at home. That wasn’t my original plan; I wanted to go away to college but needed to stay close so that my parents could support me. I was in the top percentile of my class so I was automatically admitted. My daughter was four months old when I started college. As soon as she became mobile and started talking, balancing school became really difficult. It took me seven years to graduate. College was the longest and hardest years of both my life and my daughter’s life. I think that it would be great if we could find a way to be more supportive of young parents going to college and trying to get their degree.