Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Marlen Ramirez. I live in between two Texas border cities; Eagle Pass and Del Rio. I have been working with teens since 2012. In 2016, under a teen pregnancy prevention grant, I launched a program for the city of Eagle Pass for teen pregnancy prevention classes. Through this role, I trained other Community Health Workers and developed a plan to help address teen pregnancy.
With the help of community volunteers from Eagle Pass, Texas, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas and my family we started a student parent conference called Save the Teens which basically discusses taboo topics that come up around teen pregnancy such as mental health topics, post-secondary education, and abusive relationships. We have been hosting the event for five years now. It has definitely had a positive impact on our community. In 2018, I was given an award from the Texas Campaign that recognizes exceptional individuals who have made remarkable contributions to the field of teen pregnancy prevention in Texas through service, leadership, advocacy, or research.
Currently I provide services to the community of Del Rio, as a community health educator for Val Verde Regional Medical Center. My role is to work with the school district and community organizations and help raise awareness on health issues by providing educational resources. I also am co-president for the Del Rio – Cuidad Acuna Trinational Health Council. Working with communities along the border has been a challenge, one of the most common challenges is getting permission from parents and school districts to talk about reproduction health. We faced a lot of barriers, but throughout the years we were able to raise awareness on teen taboo subjects and decrease the rates of teen pregnancy in our community.
In order to continue to make an impact on the importance of health education, I was recently appointed to serve on the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Promotor(a) or Community Health Worker Training and Certification Advisory Committee for the next three years.
What is your experience with teen pregnancy?
I became a teen parent during my senior year of high school. I had twins. I was not expected to finish high school, or go to college, but I managed to stay on task and graduate. Instead of preparing to go to college, I was preparing to be a parent to not only one, but two babies. I had my twins at 27 weeks. They were taken to San Antonio immediately due to medical needs. At that point my life completely changed! During their stay at the hospital, I lived in a Ronald McDonald House in San Antonio for a few months after giving birth. Today, my husband (Ricardo) and I are the proud parents of 5 children, our twins (Jesus and Yanitza) are currently sophomores in high school, and our other children are in 8th grade (Samara), 5th grade (Yaretzi), and 3rd grade (Luis).
My family has been with me through my professional and educational journeys. After finishing high school and giving birth, I enrolled in my local junior college and graduated with an Associate’s Degree. While studying for my Associate’s Degree, and working for the junior college I thought about pursuing a career in the medical field, and obtained my license as a CNA. While working as a CNA I realized that my heart was actually in education, I decided to enroll in college again and get my Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences. I am currently working towards my Master’s Degree! I can honestly say that my teen pregnancy had a significant impact on my life, but I can also say that it has been a blessing in my life as well. There is a lot of stigma around teen parents and young professionals who are parents, but I am proof that being a young parent does not mean that you are incapable of following your dreams!
What would you want to tell your younger self?
I would have told my younger self that it is okay to ask about birth control. If I could go back to the moment that I found out I was going to be a mom, I would tell myself that things will be hard, but you can still do the things you planned for yourself before becoming pregnant. I would tell myself not to be so hard on myself and enjoy the little things. I would remind myself that getting pregnant at a young age doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to graduate high school or finish college or get a master’s degree. I would tell myself that no matter what people think you are more than capable of accomplishing your goals and dreams.
What could have been offered to you as a teen to make you feel more supported in making decisions about sex and relationships?
The key is always education and being able to start a conversation. I wish my school and my community had teen programs available to provide information on risky behaviors and more resource centers to keep teens busy.
As a teen parent, I wish there would have been a support group for teen parents. While in school, it was believed that a teen pregnancy would ruin your life. It doesn’t. It does bring many challenges, but when you work hard and set your goals you are able to achieve anything you put your heart to in your life.
A baby is a blessing, sometimes it can come at a time when you aren’t ready, but that doesn’t mean it is any less of a blessing. It doesn’t mean your plans and dreams are gone. It means you will have to work harder to get there. This is how we need to think about teen pregnancy when it happens. We need to provide support and resources to young parents to help them continue to follow their dreams and also become good parents. For teens who are not parents, we need to be able to have conversations about pregnancy prevention. That means teaching comprehensive sex education.
Contact Marlen at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are a young parent who needs to talk to someone who has been in your shoes before or if you work with an organization that would like to develop a teen program