I have watched MTV’s show, 16 & Pregnant, since I was, well, sixteen and pregnant.
I am equal parts committed and ashamed, as I still watch it at twenty-three, while Teen Mom stars are my age with kids the same age as mine.
If you watch the show, you know that the girls’ lives it depicts have since exploded with fame, and in turn, money; therefore, every bit of reality you were (or were not) getting from the original show has since been depleted. (Yet here I am, still watching.)
If you don’t watch the show, you still probably have some predetermined view on people who become parents at a really, REALLY young age.
Or maybe you don’t care because it doesn’t affect you.
You do you, boo.
Now I can’t speak for all teenage mothers…but neither can those girls on TV, so I’ll tell you what I think anyways.
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
30% of women have a child before the age of twenty. The fact that this falls under “good” information is a matter of opinion. As someone who had their first baby at seventeen, it feels good to have company. We won’t talk about how significantly lower that number is for women who become mothers at 17 years old, but it’s more common than you think.
I’m not saying this to promote teen pregnancy. Maybe my “good” isn’t really good in the grand scheme of the human population given the statistics that show how teen moms will FAIL again and again. But you know what else might not be good? Isolating and ostracizing teen moms after they’re already expecting. Acting like it’s a rarity and that it’s impossible when realistically, it’s not.
It is THE most defining label of my existence and taking on the hardest role of my life at the ripe age of seventeen was not ideal.
I’m just saying that it’s not THE END. Like, the end of everything ever in your life. Although every decision and scenario you find yourself in traces back to one decision from a time when you were barely able to make decisions…it just doesn’t stop there.
By all means, please do promote abstinence, please do share knowledge to prevent, but please do not make a teenager with irreversible choices feel even more anxious and alone in a time when they need encouragement the most.
The chances are that one of the women in your church small group or in your gym class was a teenage mom.
Chances are that she isn’t hounded about her rebuttal to extreme liberalism and resistance to back alley abortions even though
the formula is college, THEN fulfilling career, THEN marriage, THEN baby.
But LOOK AT HER doing everything backwards and killin’ it. So tell Mrs. Jenn in small group that she inspires us all.
Remember this is just the BAD although it has caused ugly crying.
How do you deal with stretch marks and loose skin when all of the other seventeen year-olds are literally reaching their peak hotness? You grow wide while they grow tall, thin.
What you do is look at old pictures of yourself and count calories.
I wish I could tell my seventeen-year-old self how bomb I looked with strong legs and a baby on my hip but she wouldn’t have listened anyways. You see, the thing about seventeen-year-olds is that they have their priorities all messed up.
But no one else my age had birthing hips or stretch marks that reached from their ankles to their inner thighs. If only I were as aware and attentive to my surprisingly great swaddling/lullaby-singing/rocking/diapering/nurturing skills as I was to my appearance.
The second go-around at this motherhood game has shown me the confidence I was missing before; I don’t just feel good about myself, I just feel good, period.
Let me just take a moment to share that I deal with this in a place of privilege, as someone who had immense amounts of help as a young mama. Then, I did not REALIZE how fortunate I was to have food to eat while other teens were kicked out in a shelter with their newborns, nourishing their bodies with whatever they were given. The thought of my own self worrying about my IMAGE makes me physically sick. But like I said, sensible priorities aren’t a large portion of the teenage brain.
Teenage insecurity + the biggest/quickest physical transformation of life paired together; it’s like late February and you’ve got the jacket and gloves and hat and they’re covering you and THEN a new level of cold hits and another layer and before you know it, you’re suffocating beneath the cotton/self-consciousness/wool/worry/fleece.
But while the BAD hides in the thick of the snow, July is around the corner and what better excuse to flaunt your tiger stripes than on a beach vacay where your kids will just bury your multicolored legs in the sand anyways.
Shoving grown-up emotions into an adolescent body.
Pregnancy has always left a bad taste in my mouth. LITERALLY and figuratively. (I brush my teeth 4+ times per day ever since, true story.)
In hindsight, after two pregnancies, it’s fairly easy to pinpoint the underlying reasons for what can only be coined as, despair, during the nine months leading up to both of my sons’ births. (Cue the immediate guilt because of how unbelievably lucky I am to have the healthiest of offspring.)
Relief– in the months after.
And then you have an 8 lb. baby in your arms and you’ve never even changed a diaper.
Looking back, I truly had
what I was doing.
You know how your kid will get a fountain drink at Burger King and fill it with Mountain Dew/Coke/Pepsi/Fanta/Hi-C/Dr.Pepper and Sprite at the same time?
Well that’s you when you’re seventeen with your first baby.
You take the lid off and you think you’re ready or you don’t know what to expect or you’re just tired and BAM. Influx of emotions.
Now the cup is leaking. It’s leaking school/prom/friends/sanity and meanwhile, it’s just steadily being filled with that Mountain Dew/Lactation Consultants/Fanta/Birth Certificates/Sprite/Sleepless Nights/Coffee.
Long story short, the ugly is only ugly if you’re an adult and not a six-year-old, which is true about more things in life than just this analogy.
If you asked me what the ugly side of teen motherhood is, it would be this. Your cup is forever bent, or more so, crushed just a little. It’s just going to be a tad bit harder to pour out of every day, which is something you have to (and want to) do.
You CAN go to college and then graduate school.
You CAN have a successful marriage.
You CAN give your child a fulfilling life.
It’s just going to be a little bit harder for you.
I’m not going to sugar coat it for your sake because I can promise you that if you are going/about to go/have been down this road, you know that the world certainly won’t sugar coat it for you either.
But you have to keep POURING out for that baby through every drought.
Your cup is not broken and it’s certainly not tainted, it’s just a little oddly shaped. Luckily, liquid is resilient and can always change shape. You’re not a toddler trying to put a square piece into a triangle puzzle. You don’t get an Error 504. Your path is just somewhat crooked with some unexpected twists, which brings me back to the GOOD.
I know, it’s not The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and then some more good…but ending with ugliness isn’t really my jam.
There’s a lot more ugly that I could tell you about. Watching Teen Mom, you’d quickly gather that their ugly consists of all the baby daddy drama. My ugly takes place in its absence. But that in itself is another story for another time.
Whether you’re nursing a baby at 2 a.m. while writing an English 101 paper,
or building a village of friends in the absence of the ones that left,
or crying in the bathroom
or just laughing in the yard with this little person you adore,
you’ve got this, little mama.
If it weren’t for those unexpected wrinkles, I wouldn’t be a strong problem solver. If it weren’t for the dents, I wouldn’t have practice fixing things without complaint or loss of composure. And if it weren’t for that high-strung, blue-eyed boy that made me a mama at seventeen, I would not be the strong-willed and purposeful mama/wife/woman that I am
Nor would I be the swimsuit-clad mom sitting Indian-style in the sand
into motes around sandcastles from a