"I was a teenage mother"
We've created a happy family despite my unplanned pregnancy. Why's everyone judging me?
From Slate Magazine, Sept 4, 2008
I met my sweetheart when I was 14 and unexpectedly became pregnant at 16. There was no question that I would keep the baby. After much discussion, my boyfriend and I decided we wanted to get married before the baby was born. Our parents were understandably cautious but supportive, and they didn't stand in our way. Eleven years later, we are still married and have three beautiful children. Our marriage is strong, our kids are thriving, and our household is a happy one. My problem is other people. When they find out how old I am and how long I've been married, it seems that their perception of me changes. Their response is always "Wow!" and then they just clam up. The feeling I get from people is that I should be ashamed. This comes up often, since I am the youngest mom at my child's school. I find myself reluctant to tell people my age or how long I've been married. By the way, I am not advocating teen marriage. The first few years were very difficult. Thankfully we grew together, and I understand just how rare our experience is. What should I say to people to convey that we are just a normal, happy family that began a little sooner than most?
If you feel judged, you must have a lot of sympathy for Bristol Palin, the pregnant teen who's getting married with an entire nation acting as if it should be in the pews whispering about the bride's belly. I hope her story turns out to be as gratifying as yours. Unfortunately, as you know, yours is a rare outcome. Only 20 percent of pregnant teens do get married. And people who marry under the age of 18 have the country's highest divorce rate, with about 60 percent of the marriages ending within 15 years. That said, the statistics leave plenty of room for delightful exceptions such as yours. Yes, you're right, when people find out how young you are, they are doing the math and realizing that, "Wow!" you were a teenage bride. But there's no reason to assume that "Wow!" is a synonym for "Shame on you." It's just as likely a simple recognition of your unusual situation. (In my circle, the "wows" over parental age are usually about the fact that the parents are as old as the Bible's Abraham and Sarah.) Since no one's asking you to explain your family situation, you certainly don't have to come up with anything to say to convey how happy you are; your happiness conveys itself. If someone does comment, you can just say cheerfully, "Yes, we got an early start." Try to let go of your lingering sense that there is something embarrassing about how your family began, and be confident about the success you and your husband have worked so hard to achieve.
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Changing public perception
There was a time unmarried pregnancy was considered so heinous, both mother and child were scorned, shamed and sent away. [See History of Child Placement, http://poundpuplegacy.org/history_of_child_placement]
Today, it's almost vogue to not get married, but still have children. [Besides, given the divorce rate in America, what are the chances of any child keeping both biologic parents under the same roof and the same last-name until death-do-they part?]
I think what upsets so many people (read: ultra religious parents/grandparent) is the age teens are having sex. I don't think sex is the unforgivable sin, I think parents turning their backs on their children and grandchildren is. [Doesn't neglect often lead to injury/abuse?]
As one who was relinquished by an unmarried mother, and adopted by a married couple, I'll be honest... I learned up-close and personal how being married to the wrong person, for the wrong reasons can bring far more misery than happiness to an entire family. Marriage does not make a loving family, compassion and kindness towards one another does. Knowing what I was in, and not knowing what could have been, I often wished my mother kept me... regardless of her marital-status "at birth".
The article above just shows me age does not guarantee "maturity", and a little extended compassion and support can go a long way for those feeling judged and lonely.
Article for CNN i-report
I recently wrote an opion piece for CNN as an i-reporter. They were looking for people to write on 'Teen Marriage/Teen Pregnancy'. My article is written from my perspective, as the child who resulted from the teen pregnancy.
I did indeed touch on adoption, and my own (kin-ship) adoption. However, I made no mention of the child abuse that occured in my adoptive home. This was because I had a lot to say about the subject at hand and did NOT want CNN to pull my article because it was deemed controversial and presented adoption in a bad light. There is still censorship out there...anyway, my article:
I WAS THE BABY FROM THE TEEN PREGNANCY...
I have a point of view on this that not many others have....I was the baby that resulted from the teen pregnancy.
My mother was 16 when she got pregnant and 17 when she gave birth (I'm 35 now if you are wondering). She was convinced by her mother that she could not raise me, but was told she could not look for an adoptive couple outside the family,, so she gave me to her Aunt and Uncle.
The entire family was dirt poor and my adoptive father was a coal miner. He also had severe mental problems from the Korean War and my adoptive mother was an untreated manic depressive for many years (she eventually got help shortly before her death). It was not a pretty family picture. This adoption was not monitored by any state agency, and under todays guidelines would never have taken place.
My natural mother went on to get married at 19 (not to my biological father) and have 2 small children before 23. She was divorced at 25. She went on to be what could be called 'An American Success Story' and the children she kept are happy adults.
I managed to put myself through college and have a nice family today...but I still have many problems. like many adult adoptees, I have struggled with depression, suicidal thought, abandonment issues and other problems.
Everyday I wonder what it would have been like to have been raised by my real mother. I'm sure it would have been hard at first, but at least I would have had her love, something I sorely lacked growing up. And with that womans level of determination, I would not have grown up in abject poverty. I also wonder what life would have been like if I had been adopted by parents who were 'qualified' to adopt and actually wanted a child instead of a couple who adopted out of 'Christian Charity' and soon lost any interest and to whom I became a burden.
Now when I run into a young girl who is pregnanat, I encourage her to keep her baby. I give her my perspective as an adopted adult. I tell her to work hard, she can do it....and that even if she doesn't get rich or very successful, to just make sure that child knows he/she is loved. Sometimes that makes up for a whole lot else. As for marriage, I tell her that's her choice, but to think deeply about it if the young man has abusive tendencies, drug/alchol issues or just reallt doesn't seem that interested. There is help out there now for her to raise that child on her own.
To the young mothers who do decide to adopt out, I ask them to MAKE SURE that the perspective adoptive parents are of sound mind, make a decent living and actually want to be parents. I have run into some folks who want to adopt for all the wrong reasons, such as looking good in front of their church by taking in a random child, or to 'patch' a wounded marriage. I also tell them to be prepared for that child to find them one day and have some serious questions (and yes, probably some serious issuses) about why they did not chose to raise them.
I know I have made some readers indignant about the fact that I am adopted and seem 'ungrateful', that's fine I have heard it all over the years:
*Be thankful you weren't aborted.
*You could have been put in a dumpster.
*Not all adoption is bad.
*Young mothers could care less who raises their babies.
*You are just upset because you were never wanted.
*Your mother loved you, that's why she put you up for adoption.
*God planned for you to be raised by that family.
That's all well and good, you are entitled to your opinion.
What I would ask of society is to ALSO take into account the children who are produced by these teen pregnancies are cared for. It seems many people think it's great that the girl decided not to abort (don't go yelling that I'm some radical feminist, I find abortion a very last alternative in any situation), but once that child comes into this world, the caring stops. Then the teen mom is not labeled as a 'hero' but as a 'little slut and 'unfit''. The child is then also labeled as a 'bastard', 'unwanted' and as a 'welfare statistic'.
This is the link to the original article:
If you read the comments section, you will see how a 'happy adoptee' responded to this 'bitter' one...and how I responded in like.
What always gets reported?
I read the comments made, and I'm always amazed (bothered, concerned, disgusted, exasperated, frustrated... you can go down the alphabet...) that "happy adoptees" make it clear, "that was not my experience..." and teen pregnancy / motherhood is no good for anyone but for those wanting to open their homes to an infant/young child.
"Compensated for your sadness". Interesting choice in words, since litigation against a child placement service is not at all easy for an adoptee to do!
Perhaps there would be no bitterness had by ANY child placed in foster care/adoption services if child safety and protection from abuse could be promised, practiced, and maintained. Why some children live a protected life, (safe from harm), and some don't , those inequities don't make much sense to me, especially if there are those who insist abuse does not exist post-placement. Sure, if I was abused/neglected by my first family, and then placed among those who always loved, accepted, nurtured and protected me, I'd be a very happy camper, too.
Last but not least, just because a couple is childless and wants a baby, that doesn't mean they are without family dysfunction or serious problems.
I'm not bitter, baby, I'm empowered.
Adoption is not always a HallMark Channel movie.
As one from the other side...
Kerry said, "Last but not least, just because a couple is childless and wants a baby, that doesn't mean they are without family dysfunction or serious problems."
As an adoptive mother of 7; lost three and am FIGHTING for my two youngest: Adoption has been one of the most
evil things I have ever been involved with in my entire over 50 years! My totally dysfunctional family had 7 placed
without even a thorough exam of who we were. My evilx who lived a dual life destroyed my oldest daughter. He lost
for us our whole future as we thought it would be, after MANY years of marriage! He left me to fend for myself and the
damage he put upon these children that can NEVER be made right. May he rot in prison as someone's hiney-sugar.
My children were placed by incompetent people who never once sought what was right for them. For 15 years we all
lived different lives within the same house; a house filled with people who were destroying each other; living lie upon
lie, deceit upon deceit. And it was all done with the thought that NOTHING was wrong with us! Looking back and putting
it all together, things pop out that were overlooked but NOTHING prepared me for what reality was.
This was NO decent movie; this was the ultimate horror picture of all times. I have no leg to stand on but to say:
Adoption has got to change.
Kerry said, " I learned up-close and personal how being married to the wrong person, for the wrong reasons can bring far more misery than happiness to an entire family. Marriage does not make a loving family, compassion and kindness towards one another does."
For years, I was one who was taught by the church that I HAD to be against the whole sex-before-marriage thing. I was
the in-your-face woman who looked down on those who did; even though I was one who did, too... Being married to the
wrong person and yes, for the wrong reasons, brought so much misery on my children there is not enough years left of
my life to mourn for them. My marriage did NOT make love exist in this house; the things we have suffered together brought out compassion and we learned love. There are three of my children who need to know this love, and now that
the evilx has been gone for two years and is not coming back, maybe we will have that chance.
"I can be changed by what happens to me, I refuse to be reduced by it." M.A.
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