There are some staggering numbers that give us every reason that a person should wait to have sex (aside from the fact that the likelihood of contracting a sexually transmitted infectious disease becomes higher every year). Young people, especially young women, should wait to risk getting pregnant and complicate their teen years with the responsibility of an infant. Here are just a few of those staggering statistics:
- Approximately two-thirds of teen mothers never finish high school and are more likely to end up on public assistance than those who have children later.
- Only 50% of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by 22.
- Only 2% of teen mothers finish college.
Teen pregnancy is closely linked to single parenthood, and the growth in single parent families remains the most important reason for increased poverty among children.
Children of teens often receive inadequate parenting from mothers and fathers who are too young to master the demanding job of being parents.
Children born to teen mothers are 30% more likely to be a low birth weight baby and have a 50% higher rate of infant mortality than children born to mothers over 20 years old. Low birth weight raises the risk of other health problems for the child, including blindness, deafness, chronic respiratory problems, mental illness, cerebral palsy and mental retardation.
I am proud (and thankful) to not have been a statistic. But let’s face one simple fact: My children’s father did not walk away and we are still together today so I had help and support. And it was sheer grace that all of my children were born healthy without complications — I had no control over any of that. And my experience is not the typical reality — you never know if someone is going to stay; you never know if your children will be healthy and taking that chance, essentially playing Russian Roulette with your future at a time when you’re not yet fully capable, is foolish. It was foolish for ME, but luckily it worked out. But what if my kids hadn’t been born healthy? How much more difficult would it have been for me at that age to care for a child — or children — with special needs? And what if Barry hadn’t have stayed with me. What then? A single 17-year-old mother with no high school education? What would I have done? How would I have ever made it through college alone with a challenge like that? These are honestly not things I ever considered back then.
Let’s take a moment to examine some different statistics: The majority of teen parents are not even together anymore by the time the baby is born… and 80% of teen fathers do not marry the mother of their first born child. EIGHTY percent. If you think getting pregnant will solidify a relationship with someone, think again. In the words of K. Michelle, “You can pop a baby out, but that won’t keep no man…” Furthermore, less than one out of three teen mothers who get married after their child is born (whether they marry the father of the child or not) actually remain in those marriages… 70% of the time, they end in divorce.
And people think about pregnancy as though you get pregnant and have a baby and it’s all glamorous and spectacular and it’s not. You get pregnant and you get stretch marks and you gain weight. And you get sick — and you throw up. And it’s miserable. It’s also quite magical, but also very uncomfortable. It is painful and you get huge and you can’t breathe and you can’t sleep and you can’t control your emotions and you cry. And labor is HORRIBLE. It’s literally the closest you’ll probably ever come to wanting to just die without actually dying. Then you have the baby and you bleed. A lot. For WEEKS. And you’re weak and you might have to sit on an air cushion because you might have torn your vagina and needed stitches. But no matter how you feel, you have a baby. And you have to feed it, diaper it, and take care of it. And you need money for all of those things.
I remember being so sleep deprived and barely even hearing Briyana when she cried in the middle of the night because I was just so exhausted… but even so, I still had to get up and put her on my shoulder and walk around the room patting her back and softly bouncing her on my shoulder and I realized three things within the first week of being a mom:
- While I was pregnant, no matter how much I read or how many people warned me about everything, I still had NO clue what to expect or how traumatic it all was going to be until it actually happened.
- I had no idea what I was doing and it was the hardest period of time in my entire life.
- Even though I thought I was prepared, I was NOT ready… and I had no choice but to get ready because she was here.
I had my oldest three children before I turned 20. Could I have made better decisions? Definitely. Was it extremely difficult? Certainly! Would I ever want my own children to choose the route I took? NO! They will never understand the struggle that was endured in order to make a good life for them. But was it impossible? Not at all. That being said, I have to emphasize again that I wasn’t alone. It would have been literally ten times more difficult for me if I were a single teen mom. Still not impossible, but a LOT harder. And even though I had Barry, I still was forced to drop out of high school when my oldest daughter was about 3 months old. I was 17 years old, very intelligent, and highly capable, but failed due to excessive absences since I had no one to keep Briyana since he was in school, too.
I still have my final report card from my last semester of attendance. My averages were:
- US History (97)
- Public Speaking (82)
- English III (94)
- Algebra II (99)
- Business Comp I (84)
- Family/Individual Health (95)
- Family Dynamics (97)
When I went back to school after having Briyana in February 2000, I was ready to finish the semester and have one year left. When I wasn’t able to find adequate child care that I could afford, I realized it wasn’t going to happen and I withdrew from classes that April. Barry passed his classes and was promoted to be a senior, but because of work and taking care of us, he wasn’t able to finish either — he dropped out with too many absences in December 2000, midway through his senior year. I took my GED exam and received my equivalency diploma that March with a subject average of 93/100. I was 3 months pregnant with my son at that time and got married 2.5 months later — June 2001. Marriage was HARDER than I ever imagined. The responsibility of it all took its toll on us, and neither of us can even explain to this day how we are still together because for a while, it was one long constant fight.
When I withdrew from my classes, I can still remember the resentment, the anger, and the regret that I felt. I was ashamed. I was disappointed in myself. I won’t lie – many parents say they have no regrets and that they wouldn’t change anything, and I agree with that NOW, but at that point when I felt like my whole life was becoming a failure, I couldn’t help but to think I should have just waited. I couldn’t help but to wonder what I could possibly offer my child without even a high school education. I couldn’t help but to hate myself for being so stupid and dragging this precious little girl into such an uncertain world to be cared for by such unprepared people.
Tre was born September 2001. Barry received his GED in December, started college January 2002, and also attended the summer session with a full course load. I started college in August 2002 — two whole semesters behind my husband. I was 19. My daughter was 2.5 years old. My son was 10 months. I was nearly 20 weeks pregnant with Talia — labor was induced 4 days before Christmas over winter break. I was back in class just over 2 weeks later. I was determined to not be a failure and I was going to be the best I could be to make the best life I could for my kids… I had no idea what the future would hold, but I knew I had to put myself in a better position. So I worked my ass off. There were nights I would literally CRY as I studied and did my school work because I was SO exhausted — all I wanted to do was sleep, but I couldn’t. I had to make it.
I ran myself into the ground and I don’t imagine there are a whole lot of people who have the drive, will, and perseverance that I had but all I kept telling myself is PUSH. PUSH. PUSH. And so, I did.
While in college, I excelled. I earned President’s List (4.0 GPA) my first two semesters (Fall 2002 & Spring 2003).
I made the Dean’s list for Summer Fall & semesters of 2003 (3.5 GPA or higher). Summer: 3.72; Spring: 3.60.
I also received a nomination by my Accounting professor as a National Collegiate Business Merit Award recipient in February 2003.
I was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa honors society in December 2003.
I was recognized during Awards Day for being among the Who’s Who Among Students in American Junior Colleges list for the 2003-2004 year.
I attempted and passed 22 credit hours (7 classes PLUS Biology II Lab) during the Spring of 2004 so that I could graduate with my husband. I graduated wearing an honors stole and cord — a cumulative 3.49 GPA — in May 2004.
My husband graduated and continued his education at Louisiana Tech University where he received his Bachelors in March 2007. During that time, we had our fourth child, Avalyn, who was born in September 2005…
What is my point?
I can’t stress to you how extremely challenging it was — there were times I felt downright desperate just for a break, but there wasn’t time for one. I hope that my children learn from my trials and that they choose to live their lives EASIER… that they establish themselves before starting a family. I pray that they set themselves up to be able to ENJOY college and learn who they are before they are ever responsible for anyone else. It’s been very difficult for me — for us. We’ve had to sacrifice a lot — things we will never get back — parts of our dreams that we now hold as visions of what could have been. And to add to that, we were pretty much alone. All of our friends were single and childless — and us being married parents AND college students didn’t make us very available or very much fun so we saw just about everyone we’d been friends with drift away within a few years.
HOWEVER! Our testimony also serves as a witness for what you can overcome — and what you can achieve — by working hard, staying dedicated, and desiring better for yourself. Regardless of what I could have possibly achieved, I’ve achieved a great deal. My life was not over. My potential was not wasted. I did not give up on myself. We never even had so much as a babysitter for YEARS at a time. It was stressful and it was sometimes heartbreaking how many obstacles we faced and how much hardship we had to endure. When our oldest children were born and while we were working through college, we did live in poverty and we were dependent on public assistance. That is not the life we wanted for our family, however, and we did what we had to do in order to be financially independent. For many teen parents, that is not the case and it ends up being a cycle that their children grow up in and repeat. Statistics don’t limit YOU, but let me be clear — statistics have their place and significance because they describe what NORMALLY HAPPENS. They provide you with the numbers based on actuality — based on the reality of life. You can be an exception, but so could every other person who became part of those statistics — yet they didn’t because beating the odds comes with a heavy dose of work, sacrifice, painstaking trials, and more dedication, strength, and will than most people have.
I have owned my own business for over 9 years now — since January 2005. We have been married for nearly 13 years. So many people told us we would amount to nothing. But here we are over 14 years after our first child was born and despite having SEVEN children between us now, we are not on public assistance as the statistics dictated that we would. We are fully, and very well, insured without government programs, contrary to what the statistics claim would be the case for our family. I finished high school three years sooner than the HALF of teen moms who actually finish (which is only one third to start with). We DID graduate college against the odds… I take pride in being included in the 2% of teen moms who came out of college with a degree.
The world likes to tell you what you can’t do. Statistics are numbers that describe masses of people. You are not masses of people. You are YOU. Statistics do not dictate your future — they only discourage you from trying to make it better. When odds are stacked against you, you have to convince yourself that the only option is knocking them down. If they are too high or too heavy, then find a way to walk around them but NEVER just stand there waiting for them to fall. You have to shake the ground.
But if you aren’t in that position now, be smart. Wait. Practice abstinence. The quality of your life — and of your future children — is worth the wait. If you don’t have anything to offer a child and are not already established enough to take care of a child, then don’t have sex. Even with protection, you can STILL get pregnant – or contract an STD. Having sex with someone you likely will not even associate in a few years isn’t worth the risk of compromising your future and taking on responsibility you are NOT ready for. If you can’t feed, clothe, obtain insurance, and care for a child without help from family, financial assistance from the government, etc then you are not ready. That being said, if you are already a teen mom, do NOT let society tell you that your life is over or that you will never amount to anything. Statistics do not define you.
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