At 16 years old, I was quiet, moody and often very distant. My home life was unpredictable and abusive. I made plans to graduate, join the military, attend college after serving, have a career and live peacefully alone — possibly with a cat. However, one night changed my life, and instead of taking the ASVAB test, I took a pregnancy test.
I remember one day at high school, where I'd been doing my best to keep my pregnancy hidden from everyone. I got up to walk across the room and one of the boys called out loudly, "Hey, did you get knocked up? Whoa! Who would ever do that?" The room erupted in laughter. I couldn't breathe; the embarrassment enveloped me. The laughter was so awful.
The next week I was asked to leave the school before my condition became contagious. Parents of my friends refused to allow their daughters to be friends with me, out of fear.
I had my son when I was 17 years old.
I was told repeatedly that my life was over. I'd never get a good job. Nobody would ever love a girl with a baby. The comments from other people didn't stop. In grocery stores, I would hear women talking about how unfair it was that "kids can get knocked up in the backseats of cars" but those who choose to do it the "right way" struggle. As if somehow their struggle was my fault.
Young mothers, like I was, are mothers like anyone else. We love our babies the same as any other mother, and we feel the same instincts and fears like any other parent. Yet our lives are lived under the microscope, judged for our mistakes and judged for having sex. Instead of being welcomed into the parenting community, teen mothers are rejected and labeled.
Shaming girls for choosing to take responsibility for not only their bodies but for bringing a child into the world isn't helping anyone. I didn't "make a mistake"; I made the responsible choice to take accountability for my actions and chose to put the life of my child before myself. No matter how hard other people tried to make it for me, I am a great mom. We need to stop calling babies a "mistake." Those words hurt, and they live on long past the moment.
Teen pregnancy is a combination of a lot of issues, and blaming the girls helps no one. We need to stop slut shaming and tearing apart our young women for having sex that ends in pregnancy. Girls are left to make sure they have condoms or birth control, or they have to face making the decisions about pregnancy. That's not OK. We need to talk more to our boys about their roles as men.
Let's have more open and frank conversations with our younger children about what sex is all about. Let's tell them what their options are for having sex instead of believing they are too young or "not that kind of kid." Let's arm our children with both information and access to protection if they need to use it.
As a young woman, I gave birth a healthy baby boy. Yes, I struggled. I had to work harder with less sleep, but I managed to finish high school and go to college. I took whatever job was offered. It was hard, but my life didn't end. I didn't end up on drugs or in a gang, and neither did my son.
I became a preschool teacher at a low-income HeadStart school so that I could not only give back to my community but so I could also help other young parents feel confident about being parents and overcome the stigmas placed upon young families by empowering them to get an education, take parenting classes and be their child's advocate.
I am not ashamed of the road that I took. I was a teenager when I became a mother. My age didn't change our ability to thrive as a family.
My son showed me how to love and be loved. I was able to see myself as someone worth fighting for. I learned how to have a healthy relationship not only with another person but also how to see my life from a different point of view.
It wasn't the life I had imagined for myself. But it was the life that I have been blessed to have, and I wouldn't change it for anything.
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