If there’s one alarm-raising consequence of the US’s inadequate sex ed support, it’s teenage pregnancy. There are lots of very convincing reports about the negative impact of “children having children” on physical, psychological, social, and economic levels. And there’s no doubt that in a world where people like “Teen Mom” exist, we need to do a better job of preventing unintended pregnancies.
But what do pregnant teens think? This New York Times op-ed is from a while ago, but it’s a really good perspective from a woman who became a mother when she was a teen and had to raise her child, finish school, and suffer through everyone else’s disapproval of her “poor life choice.”
In primary care clinic, I have seen several teen moms, sometimes accompanied by their own moms, who are anxious but innocently excited about their pregnancies, who coo to their babies and talk about the babysitting schedules that they share with their friends. They are stressed, but are some of the happiest girls I’ve ever seen.
I have only respect for a young woman who decides that she wants to have a child–even if the conception was unintentional–takes the initiative to be well-informed, and tries to continue her education and improve her job prospects. Even if she was less prepared or capable, that would only be more reason to support and help her.
It’s true that teenage pregnancy rates are higher in girls who tend to be of color,poor, have suffered sexual abuse, are at higher risk for comorbidities. But it’s ridiculous to blame the girl herself. As a society, we are obligated to make sure this girl is well-informed about all her options, what she can expect, and what resources she can turn to for help. We are obligated to let her know that she is not a failure.
Women didn’t fight for gender equality just so that women could be exactly like men in their life trajectories. (Like this nice op piece from Glosswitch implies.) There is no reason to cast aspersions on someone whose life course unexpectedly veers from the “graduate high school, go to CC/university, work for a few years before getting married, have kids after putting a down payment on the house” track.
Chris Bonell writes that to many, teenage pregnancy is a vehicle for the “intergenerational transmission of poverty.” I don’t disagree. Teenage pregnancy is not a problem in and of itself, but a reflection of BIGGER problems like income inequality, continued racial/ethnic discrimination and segregation, our dysfunctional Puritan-Victorian attitudes towards sex and sexual health, the question of “broken families.” These are what are shameful–not the girls raising the next generation.