Get Real! Should I Have His Baby to Make Him Stay?

Heather Corinna

A baby isn't a bargaining chip. Having a child with someone doesn't increase your chances of having that person stick around. Having a baby with a guy means doesn't mean you'll cement him to you. Think twice...and again.

This column is published as part of a partnership between Rewire and Scarleteen.

Coffee_Cakes asks:

Okay so I’m 16 and have been dating my
boyfriend for two months now, but we have known each other and liked
each other since like age 5. But recently I found out that he had
gotten his ex pregnant while they were dating and they got an abortion,
that was nearly 7 months ago. She’s been contacting him and wont leave
him alone. She’s trying to get him back. He says he loves me and I love
him, he’s so important to my life happiness, health and just
everything, I love him dearly. I’d been thinking about having his baby
and now this makes me want to even more….

I’m so confused, should I be threatened by the ex? Should I have his
baby? We both have jobs and he has a place for us to stay, I
practically live with him as it is, he’s already got his diploma.
Please help.

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Heather Replies:

A baby isn’t a bargaining chip.

A baby is a very small, but very whole, person. Just like me, just
like you. And a child deserves to be considered as a whole, actual
person, not as an object to possibly get you what you want for yourself.

What I hear you saying is that you are now feeling a very strong
desire to try to become pregnant with your very new boyfriend in order
to try and one-up his ex and hang unto him. Not only does that strike
me as — forgive my bluntness — one of the worst motivations for
parenting I have ever heard, it also is not likely to have the effect
that you want, either.

Having a child with someone doesn’t increase your chances of having
that person stick around. According to the United States census, in
2006, there were 12.9 million one-parent families in 2006 — and 10.4
million of those were single mother families. In the U.S, eight
out of ten teenage fathers do not marry their child’s mother. I think
you can see, from those statistics alone, that if you have the idea
that having a baby with a guy means you’ll cement him to you, and your
kid, it’d be wise to think twice. A whole lot of those single mothers
thought the exact same thing.

I hear you saying things like that you need this guy to be your
boyfriend for your health. Unless he is, say, paying for your
healthcare coverage, I doubt that your health is impacted by having a
sexual or romantic relationship with him or anyone else. I understand
that when you’re young and have very strong feelings about someone it
can absolutely feel like without a romance with that person you
can’t survive, and the idea of losing that kind of relationship can
make it feel like you can’t even breathe. But you can. And you were
breathing just fine just two months ago. Even if this guy doesn’t stick
around, after you get over a breakup, you’ll be just fine again, and
you have the ability to be healthy and happy without a relationship
with him, or even without any romance with anyone at all. And if you
can’t drop the desperation, you’re unlikely to have a happy or healthy
life and relationship with him or anyone else.

Here’s what I’d suggest. I know what it can be like to grow up fast,
but I think it’d be a good idea to do a reality check and remember that
you are 16 years old, and also remember that you are in a very new
dating relationship of just a couple months. You may have liked this
guy since you were wee, but this is still a brand-new dating
relationship. So, take your time in it. Have the kind of relationship
most people have at your age and the kind people have when
relationships are just a handful of weeks old. Go out together and
share your interests. Talk a lot, talk more and more deeply. See how
you two really do or don’t actually work in a love relationship,
something that takes more than a childhood crush and two months of
dating to suss out. Hang out with each others families: see how that
goes. be sure you’re not moving too fast: cut down on the nights you
stay there, and be sure you’re spending plenty of time with your
friends and in the other parts of your life so you don’t get tunnel
vision. And if you have a conflict like you feel you have with an ex,
try handling it with maturity and good sense by doing something like
talking with her about this. Heck, in doing so, you may find her
perspectives on what her relationship was like with him tell you some
things you may have needed to know.

If it feels to you like his being with you is something that makes
or breaks your own value of yourself, then you’re also going to want to
be sure you are doing things for your own life, which are about your
own goals, separate from a love relationship. Love relationships can be
awesome, to be sure, but a whole life they are not. So, work towards
your own diploma. Make time for your own interests and dreams. See your
life as bigger than this guy. All of that is important not just so you
can be good with you, but healthy relationships tend to require people
who are healthy all on their own. We also know that among teens who are
trying to become pregnant, one common thread is that those teens often
don’t have great self-esteem, and see their life options as very
limited. So, I’d remind you that if you have that idea, know that more
than anything else, your limitations are what you make them. If you
aren’t limiting yourself, chances are the sky is the limit when it comes to what you do with your life.

If the guy you are seeing has a habit of not cooperating and doing
his part when it comes to birth control that’s pretty bad news, by the
way. It doesn’t say good things about him, and certainly not about his
ability to be responsible, and that’s a super-big deal if you’re
considering co-parenting with someone. A guy who can’t handle a condom,
or who doesn’t understand how big a deal a pregnancy is, especially for
the youngest women, pretty unlikely to be able to handle a kid or
even get what being a parent requires. I’d also say that a guy who is
either actively or passively trying to get teen women to become
pregnant is someone who clearly does not understand that for women,
pregnancy and parenting is a far different thing than it is for men. He
can just walk away: you can’t. His health will be in no way impacted or
at risk: yours will. He won’t wind up socially isolated and lonely: you
probably will. He won’t be waking up at all hours to nurse: you will.
He already has his diploma: if you become pregnant, there’s a very good
chance you won’t get yours.

If you’re going to continue having sex with this guy, I’d strongly
suggest that you only do so if you are using a reliable method of birth
control every single time. Safer sex is also an issue: if you’ve only
been dating two months and you are not using condoms, you’ve been at a
high risk of sexually transmitted infections, particularly since it
seems he has had unprotected sex with at least one previous partner.
Are both of you current with tests for those infections? If not, it’s
time to go and get those, and that means him, too. (And if you don’t
feel like you can ask him to do something as basic and easy as that, I
think it’s very obvious you two are nothing close to ready to do
something far more loaded and complicated like negotiate parenting
together.)

Let’s talk a bit more about choosing to become pregnant.

The choice to be a parent is a huge one: about as huge as it
gets in life, as any mother will tell you. Babies don’t stay babies,
and if you become a mother, you’re a mother for the rest of your life.
And when you choose to become a mother very young, you’re choosing to
parent at what will likely be the toughest time for you to do so, when
you will have the least resources, the least cultural and community
support (that’s not your fault or the fault of teen moms, but that is
how it is), and the least stability, which helps a whole lot when
parenting: helps you, helps a kid who very much needs stability, not
drama and chaos. When you choose to become a parent at a time when a
relationship may be in crisis — with the magical thinking a kid will
fix things, something nearly everyone who has ever tried that has
learned the hard way is false thinking — you’re choosing to do so at
the worst time, not the best.

Whether the father of your child sticks around or leaves, you and
that kid — who doesn’t get a choice in any of this — are tied to that
person in some way for life.

I know that might sound like what you want right now, but that kind
of tie may not look like you think it will, or have anything to do with
romance or love. It may wind up being about chasing someone down for
child support when you can’t feed yourself or your kid, about watching
that person hook up with more teenage girls and get more of them
pregnant, about comforting your kid when that person is an absent
parent to them, about seeing that person seem to succeed and do just
fine while you and your kid are struggling or about living with someone
who does stick around but only out of obligation and resents you for it
the whole time, treating you and/or your kid with nothing that
resembles love.

So, who we choose to have kids with is a very big decision, one that
we never want to make in haste. Again, this isn’t just about us, it’s
about who we our choosing to have a kid be bound to for the
whole of their lives. I think you and I can agree that making a choice
like this as hastily as you’re about to make it, and with the
motivation you have — which isn’t about a kid at all, but just about
your immediate wants — is a story you’d probably not want to tell a
kid who had to struggle growing up because of your choice. "His other
girlfriend wanted him back, and I had to have something to compete
with, so I made you," is a pretty lousy tale. Every kid deserves better
than that.

Your boyfriend has choices. His ex can’t steal him: he’s a person, not a purse.

He chooses who he dates, is sexual with, has relationships with and
who he does not. Sometimes women can get in a headspace where they get
all caught up in this idea that the love or attention of a guy is about
women competing with women and forget that something like this isn’t
about an epic battle between two women, it’s about the choices that guy
makes which neither of you can control. This other woman isn’t your
enemy: she’s someone who probably felt or feels the exact same way you
do right now, and who knows how your boyfriend really is dealing with
her, anyway, or how their relationship went down. If he’s made your
promises lately, he may have been making the same ones to her. As I
mentioned earlier, I’d say that the way to deal with this with maturity
is to simply see if you can’t talk to her — not yell at her, not show
up with a knife screaming about "Your man," — calmly about how both of
you are feeling.

Love shouldn’t feel like something we have to prove like this: when
we love and are loved, it’s not something we need to win or earn, or
try and get by making huge sacrifices or putting ourselves and others
at risk. You becoming pregnant at 16 puts your health and life at risk,
and you having a kid in this kind of context also puts that kid at
risk. None of this, by the way, involves your boyfriend taking any such
risks himself. I hope you can see how unbalanced that is.

You’re going to feel a lot more loved by someone when they simply
love you for who you are, not for what crazy, reckless thing you’ll do
to "prove" your love for them or show them you’re more wigged out about
them leaving you than someone else they like. If you get pregnant now,
whether he stays or he goes, you still don’t get to know if he actually
has love for you, because even if he stays, it’s going to be tough to
know if he is staying because he wants to be with you, or staying
because you’ve created a situation where he feels trapped or like he’d
be a bad person not if he left you, but if he left a kid. You’re going to know you are loved and that someone wants to stay with you when they choose to freely, not when you do something nuts to try and force them to stay.

I’m going to go back to that nonexistent kid one more time before
I’m through. Kids need more than a place to stay and a parent with a
high school diploma and a job. They need a lot of love and attention
(which is tough to have for them if we’re giving all of it to someone
else in trying to keep them around). They need parents who have some
real maturity, a lot of selflessness and plenty of stability and
support. They need parents who have good self-esteem of their own, and
feel good about themselves whether or not they’re together or in a love
relationship with someone. They need parents who can tell the
difference between love and a soap opera.

I’m of the mind that when we have a choice in pregnancy — and you
clearly do — that we owe it to children to make those choices in their
best interest first. Our interests are not unimportant, but I’d say
they are secondary since, again, that kid doesn’t get a choice. We make
these choices for them, and that’s a big responsibility. Kids deserve
parents who are really ready to be partners, which includes things like
being able to never try and use a child as leverage or as a way to get
something you want. Once more, children are people, and very
defenseless people who depend on parents to make the best choices for
them.

If becoming a mother is something that’s part of what you want for
your life, you could certainly start doing things that prepare you for
that and help you plan for that, like finishing school, being sure that
you are in stable relationships (which this does not sound like at
all), doing the things in your life first you want to do which will be
harder or impossible to do with a child, prepping for a good career
that will support you and a child well and work with life as a mother.

While teen pregnancy happens sometimes, many teens have choices, and
can choose to do all they can to prevent that until the time really is
right for parenting, be that not having sex or always using reliable
birth control methods, and choosing partners who do their part with
those, too. This clearly sounds like a very bad time and a very bad
reason to have a kid. I’d suggest you hold off on parenting until at
least a bit later when you are more prepared, when you have your own
diploma, a place that’s also really yours, when you’re a bit older, and
when you’re choosing to parent with someone who you know wants
to stay with you, who has demonstrated that over considerable time
(read: not two months, let’s try two years, five years or ten years),
and who you feel loved by, full-stop, without anyone bringing a big
bucket of crazy.

Here are a few extra links to help round all of this out:

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.