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Dear teen moms – you can make it work

There you are, sitting there looking at this test on a stick and asking yourself what you are going to do now. I was there too. I got pregnant when I was 17 years old. Most of us knew the options — abortion, adoption or keeping our baby. Even though the options are pretty clear making the right one for you and your baby, choosing the one that you feel like you can live with — that’s not so clear.

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Now you’re here, and you’ve decided to keep your baby. I want you to know that it’s going to be OK. Here are five pieces of advice I have for you.

1. You just have to do what’s right for you — and your baby

Everyone will have an opinion. I’ve heard it all, from being selfish in choosing to keep my baby to being stupid for getting pregnant. I was surprised at how mean people I didn’t even know could be. Whatever you do, you are going to have to be the one who looks back at your life and the choices you made. Other people’s opinions don’t matter.

2. Asking for help does not make you weak or unable to care for your baby

It is all right to ask for help. In fact, you might be surprised at the community of loving people available to you, people who want to see you succeed.

I needed to send my son to a babysitter in the mornings while I attended school. I paid her $2 an hour, and sometimes that was all I had. What she gave me that I will never forget was kindness. She said to me, “Crysta, this is hard, but he is worth it. Don’t give up.” She was right: He was worth it. I graduated high school and went to college. I learned to ask for help even though I hated having to do it. He was worth it.

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3. Your life has changed and you can’t expect it to be like it was

When my friends found out that I had a baby, they didn’t really know how to react. While they were staying up late after football games and going to parties, I was home trying to soothe a fussy baby and doing my best to get the grades I would need to get scholarships for college. I wasn’t asked out on dates, and my Friday nights were spent being a mom. Sometimes I resented being left behind, not going to the prom or enjoying my teen years.

Sometimes you will want to leave the baby or sometimes you will want to pretend that this didn’t happen and you can go back to being a kid. Accepting change isn’t easy for anyone, but here’s the thing: No matter what choices you made in your life, you will always have those moments of struggle. Growing up is hard.

4. You will be judged harder than your peers or other mothers

No matter where I went, someone was watching. When I took my son to the playground, other mothers were watching him and watching me. When I took my 4-year-old to the emergency room for doing exactly what other 4 year olds have done — sticking a toy car tire up his nose so far that I couldn’t get it out — the doctors were looking at me. It wasn’t that I was doing anything wrong; it was the fact that I was so young.

When mistakes happen, all of a sudden it isn’t only about the possibilities of hurting yourself or maybe even your future. After becoming a mother, the mistakes are about the life of your child, and they carry heavier weight.

The one thing I learned about motherhood in those early years was guilt can almost smother you. Yet it isn’t the guilt or judgments of anyone else it is the judgement that you place on yourself that eats at you. Every time my son fell down, I felt the sting of not catching him. That is really what motherhood feels like, for everyone.

5. Your love and your best is what they will remember

Let’s face it: Most teen mothers will not have a reality TV show. In fact, most of us have to struggle to support not only ourselves but also this new life we are building. Some will have family support and some will have the father there to help out. But you will struggle because that is what life is about when you are young and getting started.

The tears of frustration or doubt is only natural. Not everything has to be new, and that is all right. When they were little, my kids all enjoyed hand-me-down clothes and toys. I can’t stand the taste of milk after years of adding water to the milk to make it last, but nobody complained. I was there to kiss their “owies” and showed them my love every single day.

My children are all grown up now, and they tell the story of their childhood very differently than I remember it. Their stories are filled with laughter, with silliness and even the hard parts were told with pride of how we managed to get through them together. They never remember the parts you made sure they didn’t see. They remember the love.

Good luck, young mothers. You can do this.

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