As I was on my way to pick up Lu from daycare on Friday I was listening to KQED, our local NPR affiliate. The story was about seventeen teenage girls, still in high school, who all became pregnant more or less at the same time. I thought it was outrageous and very sad. I thought "I should write something about it". My mom was 16 years old when she got pregnant, 17 when I was born. My dad was 23. They were kids, plain and simple. I am pretty sure they didn't have very good sex education in Chile in 1971, if any at all. My mom has told me many times that even as she was on her way to the hospital to deliver the baby (me) she had NO IDEA what was supposed to happen. She was pretty scared. And in those times nobody was allowed to go in with you. So when I hear that a) in the 21st century b) in a wealthy nation like the US c) girls are choosing to get pregnant and high-fiving each other when they succeed, I just want to scream at the top of my lungs. Maybe even slap those girls around a little (OK, maybe not that.) But how naive do you have to be? How ignorant? It is so very hard to raise a child even as a responsible adult with a job, I can't imagine how they are going to do a good job with their kids unless their families are right there with them every step of the way.
What is so awful about this news story is that the girls seem to have made a pact to get pregnant at the same time and raise their children together. Say what? And today there was an interview on GMA where one of the girls says there was no pact, that they decided to help each other after they were already pregnant.
My two favorite quotes of the interview:
Andrew Psalidas, the 20 year old father of the baby responds to the question "how is it possible that 17 girls are pregnant at the same time?" with "I would just guess to say that girls are just ... getting unlucky, maybe." OK, Andrew, I guess we know how your girlfriend got unlucky.
Lindsay Oliver, talking about the difficulties teens face in accessing contraception: "... and no kid wants to go into the store and buy them, or like, ask their mom to help them get birth control. Like, it's embarrassing" [emphasis mine.]
And I am not trying to mock these teens. I am just trying to illustrate a point: how can kids raise kids? The essence of being a teenager is to feel that you are the center of the universe, that "everything happens to me"; so how will they cope with the sleep deprivation? The constant crying, the diaper changing, the feedings? My fear is that they will be extremely impatient with their children and will resort to yelling and possibly spanking. Not that they will not love their kids, just that they might not know the best ways to deal with the stress of every day parenting. I adore my dad, but he is the least patient person in the world, also very bad at communicating his feelings. I grew up always afraid of having done something wrong, having made him mad, or worse yet, having disappointed him. And to this day, when I am almost 37, I struggle with those feelings of inadequacy.
And then there are all the sacrifices. My mom had to leave her journalism studies and was never able to go back. She tried, but having a full time job and two little girls AND no help from my dad simply made it impossible for her to complete her degree. This haunts her to this day. There are many jobs that she is more than qualified for but to which she can't even apply because she doesn't have a college degree. Things may be different here in the US, but it will not be easy for a teenage mom to build a life for herself and her kids.
Whatever the truth may be, is it not alarming that high school kids are having unprotected sex and getting pregnant? Sex education can help, but the parents hold the key. They have to be the ones willing to have those difficult conversations with their kids, to keep a dialogue going and to make themselves available so their kids will come to them for help, even when it is "like, embarrasing." I know that is what Lu deserves and what she will get from us.