The Soapbox: Quit Stereotyping Teen Moms
I started dating Trent when I was 18 and he was 21. Three dates in, I was hooked. We spent all our free time together, going for drives out in the country, watching the latest movies or just sitting around talking. We were also having the copious amounts of sex you would expect from a couple of smitten, horny young adults.
One day we were sitting around watching a reality television show – a relatively new concept back in the year 2000 – about a girl around my age who got pregnant.
“Wouldn’t it be weird if that happened to us?” I said.
“Yeah, totally weird, but it’d work out okay,” Trent replied without thinking.
I wasn’t convinced, but it did make me think about how I would handle it. The fact that we’d recently had a slip-up in the condom department was also at the forefront of my mind, so after the program ended, I decided to ease my mind by taking a quick pregnancy test.
Waiting those five minutes for the results, should have been longest five minutes of my life. But it flew by. That’s how certain I was that I was not pregnant. I mean, after all, that wasn’t going to happen to me. I just started college! I had lots of traveling to do! I was in total control of my life! Having a kid wasn’t anywhere close to registering on my radar, let alone happening in my near future. When the positive sign showed up on the stick, it was like somebody had suddenly launched a screaming toddler with a full diaper into my arms and said, “Here, it’s all yours now.” Horrified doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings when the realization hit me.
Trent took the news much better than I did. While I sat in my bedroom at my mom’s house, surrounded by DMX and Third Eye Blind CDs, my high school graduation cap still hanging from my bedpost, my initial shock turned into a tsunami of tears and snot.
“This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening,” I just blubbered over and over. As if repeating it would make the pea-sized human inside me disappear.
My denial eventually shifted to acceptance, and I began to comprehend fully my soon-to-be status as a teen mom. We didn’t consider abortion or adoption, not because we’re opposed to either one, but because we just wanted to keep our kid. It was a part of us, and even though it was unexpected and we were wholly unprepared, we wanted it.
Over the next several months, I experienced change like never before – emotionally, financially, geographically, and of course, physically. In between first trimester barfing sessions, I was working hard, putting every extra dollar into a savings account, and so was Trent. We opted for a quickie wedding, settled into a new apartment, and started reading pregnancy books. I also began dealing with the near-daily whispers and stares of others who disapproved of my situation. While some people were supportive and positive, others were openly rude, with condescending stares and comments. Someone even asked me once, “Don’t you know where babies come from?”
Others, like my obstetrician, were more subtle about their disapproval, but it was obvious from his comments during my exams that he thought I was undereducated, underemployed and totally unprepared for parenthood. Perhaps he was right, but reading over a person’s medical history and making small talk while peering into their vagina does not make you an expert on whether someone would be a good mom or not.
The judgments continued as my belly grew. People would ask when I was due, then they would notice my wedding ring and ask when I got married. It was almost comical to watch them calculating, trying to pinpoint just how many months pregnant I was on my wedding day. But even before I got pregnant, I knew the stereotypes that accompanied teen moms. There were girls at my high school that had gotten knocked up, and most people looked at them with complete disdain. Sure, they would act excited and ask to feel the baby kick, but behind their backs it was usually snarky comments about “sluts,” “idiots who didn’t use protection” and how it must “suck to be her.” Interestingly, the father was rarely criticized, or even mentioned.
My daughter was born in February 2001. She’s 12 now, and like most other middle school girls, she’s busy texting her friends and worrying about how many followers she has on Instagram. Things have certainly changed for Trent and I since the positive sign appeared on that pregnancy test. We’ve had plenty of highs and lows over the years, especially in the beginning. Kids are expensive, and diapers and baby clothes that only fit for a couple weeks can wipe out a small paycheck in an instant. And don’t even get me started on the price of daycare. There have been many times we’ve had to scrape by on Ramen noodles or give up cable, but we’ve made it on our own.
Financial difficulties aside, there’s the sleep deprivation, the arguments about parenting practices, and the intense emotions that come with parenthood – overwhelming love, fear, pride, stress and anxiety. Still, we’ve done okay for ourselves. We made our marriage work. We finished our college degrees and got decent jobs. We bought our own home and even had a two more kids…on purpose.
Not all teen moms deserve the bad rap we get. We don’t all turn out like Farrah Abraham or Jenelle Evans. Some of us devote our lives to our kids from the moment we realize the unexpected has happened, whether we’re excited or terrified or both. Some of us work our asses off and make any sacrifice necessary to make sure our families are provided for, and some of us put all those epic college day stories on hold so we can change diapers and ooh and ahh over finger painted masterpieces.
So yeah, there are some teen parents out there who aren’t yet ready for the myriad responsibilities of raising a child, but please don’t heap us all together. I may have had a baby when I was still a teenager, but I grew up when I needed to.
[Photo from Shutterstock]