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Don’t Shut Up

26 May

We hear a lot from a few specific teen mothers: the cast of MTV’s docu-dramas “Sixteen and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom”; Bristol Palin; Jamie Lynn Spears. This is not a lot of representation. It is, in fact, very little representation. The cast of the MTV shows are the closest we get to hearing from teen moms who aren’t ridiculously privileged in every way, but even those mothers are only a small part of the spectrum of opinion, belief, and lifestyle in teen mothers. Yet some still think we hear from teen moms a little too much.

Take Jessica Shafer, who video blogs about her pregnancy on YouTube. Though she’s eighteen now and graduating from high school with straight As, people still want her to shut up. A writer of particularly modest intellect and impressive inability to Google basic facts, Mary Thatcher, has been especially insulting. In her article which I won’t link to for fear of giving her easy page views, she contributed such gems as:

“…girls who have sex with boys are not physically bonded to get married.”

I think she’s saying Jessica should switch teams? This sounds like a plea for more lesbianism. Unfortunately, I think it’s just slut-shaming. Once you give away your precious flower (I’m trying not to vomit, here), you’re no longer marriageable. I could write ten posts about this alone, but instead I’ll just ask — where is Mary’s problem with the boys? I guess “lady’s men” and “studs” are still fine for marriage.

“Neither do I think she should be commended for having sex at an unusually young age.”

Here’s where Mary’s poor skills in basic research come in. The average age of first intercourse in the United States is seventeen according to the Guttmacher Institute. I found that information in a total of two seconds by searching “first age intercourse united states”. In other words, it was so incredibly easy that Mary’s ignorance cannot possibly have any excuse that shouldn’t embarrass her horribly. Sadly, Mary doesn’t seem embarrassed about being lazy and bigoted.

“Secure females never look to males for self-esteem, and think that sex will make a woman ‘whole and perfect.'”

Does Mary believe that’s the only reason any unmarried female has sex? I think she needs to read The Multi-Orgasmic Woman.

“Her publicizing of her pregnancy will only encourage more girls to engage in high-risk behavior…”

Her publicizing of her pregnancy will show people that teen pregnancy does not need to be the end of a young woman’s life and accomplishments. Such a revelation can only be a good thing in a world where teen mothers struggle not just because teen motherhood is innately difficult, but because people like Mary don’t want them to have any visibility or community.

The only reason not to want a certain class of people — teen moms, in this case — silenced is because you find them unsavory. That is bigoted, and it’s a poor way to live. In the past, pregnant teens were sent away so as not to shame their family in a public manner. Now, they can share their stories and form meaningful narratives.

Jessica? Don’t shut up.

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1st Post Up at The Push Back

25 May

I found out I was pregnant on Thanksgiving of 2007. At the time I thought it was ironic that I discovered [what I then saw as] such a disaster on an official day of thanks. I was, not surprisingly for someone who had just turned eighteen, pretty ungrateful about the person-to-be inside me. What I didn’t realize was that the pinprick-sized lump of cells wasn’t the only person-to-be. I was a person-to-be too.

Click here for more, and make sure to comment. This is going to be a great blog by a great organization, and it deserves your attention.

Parenting: The Great Equalizer

24 May

When I first got pregnant, I thought I would spend the rest of my life (or at least several more years) being shunned. I thought people would perceive me as an inexperienced kid masquerading as someone’s mother. While that view is something all teen moms are bound to run into now and then, it has been surprisingly irrelevant. Parenting makes us all equal. Equally confused and terrified, that is.

But, maybe you’re thinking, older moms have time to read a lot of books. They’ve probably watched other people’s kids. They know how things work.

God, I wish that were true, because then maybe some of the dozens of books I read as my belly swelled for nine months actually would have helped me. Unfortunately, none of them said what to do when your daughter screams if you even get her near her crib, and she won’t sleep unless you’re holding her in a semi-upright position. None of them told me what to do when your toddler won’t eat.

Wait, let me rephrase. They all told me what to do in such situations, and they all said something different, and they all ignored the little things that can make their advice completely useless. I’m not sure there’s a single one I didn’t end up chucking in the trash during a particularly difficult parenting fiasco.

And then there are the serious resolutions parents-to-be make in that magical period of time before the baby is born when they think they know everything and don’t yet have to put any of it into practice. This is just anecdotal, but 100% of my friends who said they would never co-sleep did end up co-sleeping at times. 100% of my friends who said they’d wear the baby everywhere at all times (after all, The Happiest Baby on the Block must be right!) ended up leaving the baby in the bouncer once or twice just so they could take a shower alone and without listening to ear-shattering shrieks.

I’m not just talking about teenage moms. I’m talking about moms who, after years of trying to get pregnant, had their first child in their forties. I’m talking about moms who’ve been reading parenting books for decades. I’m talking about moms who have worked as nannies and thought they knew everything.

Being a first-time parent is a lot like being a teenager: you think you know everything, until you don’t.

I Wanted You, Persephone

22 May

Dear Persephone,

I wanted you. When you are sixteen, and we are in the middle of a fight, and you say, “But you were eighteen! I was an accident! You don’t want me!” know that a) you are really cute when you’re angry, at least right now, and b) that’s totally wrong.

It took more desire for me, an eighteen-year-old with a surprise pregnancy, to have you than it might for a thirty-year-old with a stable environment. It is easy to want a baby when your life is ready to accommodate one. It’s indescribably scary to want to keep your baby when your life is not ready at all. That didn’t stop me.

Sincerely,
Mom

We Are Everything

15 May

When I started Teen Mama, my idea was that I’d be creating something that a) was badly needed and b) did not yet exist. I kept saying that my site was these two things because it provides support to teens who choose to parent, but you know what? That’s not precisely true. There are loads of web sites and organizations that offer support to parenting teens. It’s just… most of them also tell you how they want you to think.

I’m thrilled every time I hear about a new organization that helps teen moms, whether the people who run it worship Jesus or purple Martian men — doesn’t matter to me as long as they’re doing the right stuff. Many, maybe even most, of the organizations I link to on the More Support page are religion (more specifically, Christianity) based in some way. The problem isn’t that these prescriptive resources are there; it’s that they’re almost all that’s there.

Teen mothers shouldn’t have to be taught a particular religion, or any religion at all, in order to get help. The religious tone of the majority of organizations out there is just another thing that keeps us in our ever-shrinking box.

Teen moms aren’t just one thing; they’re everything. They are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, and every other religion or lack thereof in existence. They are pro-life, and they are pro-choice. They are Republicans, and they are Democrats, and they are neither. They believe in abstinence until marriage, or they believe in having sex whenever you feel like you’re ready, or they’re not sure yet, and that’s okay too. They see marriage as the way to make the best of their situation, or they see it as a way of making an already difficult situation worse. They chose to get pregnant, or maybe it wasn’t a choice at all.

Teen Mama Inc is there for all of them.

Don’t Accept Me In Spite Of My Baby

21 Feb

I’ve been applying to colleges recently, and one of the issues that’s brought up a lot by everyone who knows that is my young motherhood. Will the admissions committees think I’m irresponsible or unreliable? Will they accept me in spite of my bad decisions? Will they see past…

Oh, shut it.

If schools see my pregnancy and my daughter as blind-side or a mistake, they are discriminating. A pregnancy is not comparable to disciplinary infractions or a drug problem. A pregnancy is a natural occurrence that shouldn’t be judged in anyone who proves themselves capable of handling it, which I’m pretty sure I have. If admissions people feel that it offends their sensibilities to see a bright, young girl get knocked up, that’s on them. Motherhood has, if anything, made me brighter, more responsible, and more passionate than I could possibly have been otherwise. Anyone who thinks I’m worse for wear because of it is bigoted and deluded.

Also… Harvard? Just so you know? Lots of your students have had abortions. So please don’t think my pregnancy shows anything particular about my character except the fact that I’m human.

Teen Girls’ Birth Control Often Sabotaged

21 Feb

You know how people who are really disgusted by teen moms often say that we’re morons who should know more about birth control? Well, aside from the facts that a) many schools’ sex education is purely abstinence only and b) even mature adults have surprise pregnancies, a new study provides another reason those who judge might want to shut their traps:

Young women and teenage girls often face efforts by male partners to sabotage their birth control or coerce or pressure them to become pregnant — including by damaging condoms and destroying contraceptives. These behaviors, defined as “reproductive coercion,” are often associated with physical or sexual violence.

Conducted by the Family Violence Prevention Fund, this study turns the “She got pregnant to trap me,” trope on its head. Though it doesn’t apply to all teen moms, it probably applies to many of us who don’t even realize it’s the case. It’s shocking and tremendously important for girls and women to know that this can happen to them and for societal as a whole to recognize this as the form of domestic violence it truly is.

Colleges Want Teen Moms

21 Feb

If you wonder if any colleges actively work to create positive environments for teen moms, the answer is yes. In a College Confidential forum post dated August 18, 2008, Sally Rubenstone, a professional college counselor, shared information about schools with strong support systems for teen moms.

“Lately I’ve received a growing number of queries from teenage moms who are looking for a four-year college program with on-campus housing for mother and child(ren). Although many colleges and universities offer special housing for students with children, my mail is usually from those seeking schools that provide other forms of support as well, such as year-round housing, free child care, parenting seminars, etc.

The option I recommend most often is the Women With Children Program at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA, which offers not only housing (year-round!) but also ongoing support and special financial aid targeting this population. (Babies must be at least 20 months). See Wilson College: Women with Children Program

To read more of her recommendations, check out the rest of her post.

Babies Aren’t Life Enders

20 Feb

Contrary to popular views, having a baby doesn’t mean your life is over. It doesn’t mean your life is all about your kid. If your life is all about your kid, you’ll turn into one of those crazy annoying moms who has no life outside of the PTA and doesn’t know how to function without at least ten kisses and hugs every day from Little Sweetums. Nobody wants to become that.

You still have your life — now there’s just a wonderful child there to share it with you. Going for and achieving your goals can only make you a better, more interesting and wise mother.

The solution is — keep dreaming your dreams, but edit them. Don’t stop yourself from thinking them, but start including your child in them. You can be the has-it-all mom with a cell phone in one hand a baby on your hip. It will be difficult, but it’s not even remotely impossible.