Teen Parenting, Against the Odds

Alice Bacon

It is past time for our country to establish programs and policies that would help young parents like me access the health care, education and economic support we need.

After hearing the news of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, I
looked at pictures of her posted on various websites and blogs. I was attempting
to relate by studying her face for signs of desperation, fear and shame. We
are two very different women linked by becoming pregnant at a young age, but this
is where our similarities end.

I became pregnant near the beginning of my senior year at an
alternative high school for the arts. Without thinking about it, the first
thing I did after seeing the plus sign on the pregnancy test was call Planned
Parenthood. When asked if I wanted to schedule an abortion I froze on the spot.
I said I wasn’t sure and was told they could only help me if that’s what I
wanted. I apologized and hung up.

A month later I made an appointment for my boyfriend and me
to see a pregnancy and parenting counselor through Catholic Community Services.
We were told that abortion could not be discussed but encouraged to read thick
packets of information about adoption.

In the two and a half years since becoming pregnant I have
discovered resources which provide inclusive options counseling. But at the
time, I was far too frazzled from perpetual morning sickness as well as
emotional turmoil to continue to search out resources. I was lucky enough to
have an amazing school guidance counselor who was very encouraging and
supportive. But readily available options counseling in schools, offered as a
part the comprehensive sex education badly needed in this country, would have been
extremely beneficial to me.

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Ultimately I made the decision to drop out of school just
months before graduation. Attempting to keep up with school and working as the
manager of an independent concessions vendor became too overwhelming and
frustrating. Shortly after I left school the company I worked for went under.

I spent the majority of my last trimester isolated inside of
my apartment. Why? I was embarrassed by my pregnant condition and I didn’t want
to see the reactions of some people I knew finding out about it. Also contributing
to my increasing isolation was developing pre-eclampsia that put me on bed rest.
By far the most challenging part of being pregnant at 18 was receiving heaping
piles of judgment – from family members, friends, acquaintances and teachers
but even more so from absolute strangers. I was hyper aware of people staring
at my empty ring finger and my pregnant belly. I was verbally rebuked when I
had the audacity to go grocery shopping while being unmarried, young, pregnant
and later with my newborn in tow.

No matter your age, raising children is difficult. It can be
so much harder to reach out for help and support as a young parent because
you’re already wading through dealing with harsh judgment as it is. As a result
of this I have put far too much time and energy since my son was born two years
ago into portraying everything as going so wonderfully in my life when frankly,
sometimes it just isn’t. Guilt from this resulted in spending a lot of time
searching out facts, studies and blogs stating disadvantages for children
raised by young parents. Throughout this time I started creating game plans on
how I would beat these odds and all of the strategies I would use to give my
son the most fulfilling and happy childhood possible.

A bill like Reducing
the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act
could have helped me
out.  The bill provides funds for teen
pregnancy prevention programming but also excludes pregnancy as a pre-existing
condition for insurance, increases funding for health care for low-income women
with children, provides no-cost visits from nurses to teens and women who have
given birth for the first time, expands a tax credit for adoption and funds
child care services for parents in college – all measures that would have made
it easier for me to parent once I decided to do so.  The bill was introduced in Congress in June
of 2007, and has been referred to the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and
Communities.

I am now pursuing an education and working part time
in retail. This year I will be working on getting my Para-educators certification to teach Head Start kindergarten and will go on to earn
a degree to teach elementary school, while working in a Head Start program. I am
starting with one online class this quarter and hope to be in the classroom
this winter. My partner and I are sharing the childcare responsibility for now
as we are working separate shifts. This isn’t an easy or permanent situation. Once
I am in school full time my son will start going to daycare, a move which I think will
benefit him greatly – he wants to interact with other children.

This has been a topic difficult for me to write about as I
feel so emotional about it. I believe it is past time for our
country to begin establishing programs and policies that benefit all people – young
parents and women in need of reproductive healthcare and education included. Furthermore:
we should be passing on the respect Bristol Palin is receiving from those who previously
were so opposed to sex and pregnancy before marriage to average, non-celebrity
young women.

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