Motherhood is hard enough without throwing the multitude of challenges that being just the right kind of mother presents into the mix. Even when you are the “right” age and demographic, there’s always something you could be doing better. You could be working. You could be staying at home. You could be baby wearing. You could be breastfeeding.
When you’re already starting from a few squares behind square one — as a teen mother, for instance — trying to be a good mother gets even harder. Teen moms are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Take, for instance, the new breastfeeding room at Fresno High School. What should be a good thing is quickly drawing criticism it doesn’t deserve, as people decry its existence as “encouraging teen pregnancy” and “rewarding bad decisions.”
The room, which was Fresno High School nurse Kathy Herr Davis’ idea, used to just be an empty storage room. Now it has a rocking chair and refrigerator, giving both the teachers and the students at the school a designated room to breastfeed that isn’t a toilet stall. It’s something schools are required to do in California but the first of its kind. Typically a student will be given the use of a multipurpose room instead.
This should be a good thing. Teenage motherhood is not ideal, of course. But if you want to keep a girl in school and her baby healthy — both things that reduce the amount of financial support they will need from a taxpayer-funded program — this is the way to do it. You give Mom a place to go to breastfeed her child and provide her the support she needs to get through the unique challenge that teen motherhood presents.
Unfortunately people are seeing what Fresno High School has done for its students as conflating support with endorsement, proving that what people want isn’t for teen moms to do what society at large considers the right thing, but that they really just want them to feel ashamed for being teen moms.
It didn’t take long for those true colors to come shining through on the comments of a piece that outlines the new initiative over at The Fresno Bee. The breastfeeding room — which remember, will be available to teachers and students both — has been called disgusting and a joke. Most of all, though, people seem eager to gleefully point out that giving minor parents a whole rocking chair to nurse in will only encourage girls (and it’s never boys, somehow) to have more of The Sex and, in turn, more of The Babies.
That’s not just the epitome of kicking a person while they’re down — it’s also wrong. As in, factually incorrect. If it were true that providing teenagers with resources when they become pregnant makes them turn around and churn out more babies, then we should see a spike in teenage pregnancy. We haven’t. In fact, the opposite is true. In America, teen pregnancy is at an all-time low: It’s down 42 percent, from 41 births in every 1,000 teen girls aged 15 to 19 in 2007 to just 24.2 per every 1,000 in 2016.
As if that weren’t enough, the argument that telling kids what sex has the potential to do (make you a parent), giving them a way to prevent it (contraceptives) and supporting them if they do get pregnant (things like breastfeeding rooms) is a sign of moral decay eating away at the fabric of society via “kids these days” falls apart completely when you understand that teen pregnancy was at its all-time high in 1957.
Yeah, as in the Cleavers and “the good old days.”
The fact is, the data backs up the concept of not forcing teenage parents into their shameful, proper corners, where they can sit and think about what shameful hussies they are. Support initiatives like this one are the only way to combat teen pregnancy effectively.
You don’t have to love it. You don’t have to pretend that teenage pregnancy is not the result of less-than-rational decisions. Most teen parents already have their own challenges to work through that include feelings of embarrassment and shame. There’s nothing some random internet commenter can say that they haven’t already thought of themselves. When they want to breastfeed their children, that shows that they’ve pushed past the stigma they’re already grappling with to be good parents.
But you also can’t pretend that you think we should do something about teen pregnancy when your reaction to the things that combat it directly is repulsion and disgust. If you do that, then you need to admit that the only thing you want to do about it is shame the people who need the most help.
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