Drowning From The Inside Out: The Stigma Surrounding Early Pregnancy

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Written by Amy Lopez

There is an unspoken rule in Hispanic households: if you’re feeling something, hold it in. Don’t let yourself be seen as weak. It is not going to make anything better if all you are doing is pouting.

That’s how I used to feel.

How I still feel sometimes.

I was valedictorian of my high school in Southern California. I also won the Gates Millennium Scholarship my senior year—the only person in my class to receive it.

I was entering my freshmen year at University of Southern California with an academic scholarship that would leave me debt-free by the time I graduated.

I had everything figured out. Or so I thought. The second semester of my sophomore year at USC, I found out I was pregnant. I was 19 years old.

It was not the great shock for me that society and media make it out to be. I had missed my period for about two months, something that was out of the norm for me. There was no, “How could this have happened?” moment for me. Sure, there was a chance that when I went to the clinic, the test would come out negative, but when it read positive, there was not much surprise.

Nor was I shocked by the reactions I got from people.

I was not a stranger to teenage or unplanned pregnancies.

Coming from a low-income community, unplanned pregnancies were talked about at my high school and occurred occasionally. Plus, being the daughter of one who gave birth to my oldest brother at the age of 17 and then to me at the age of 20, I was not foreign to the topic. But I had mixed feelings about it.

It was always the same story when it came to the unplanned pregnancies at my high school.

The girls stopped coming to school. They always said they were coming back but most never did. Perhaps they lacked the support from school staff. Maybe they were unsure of how to balance their new role with the ever-present demands of school. Often, their boyfriends started working and the girls would spend their time at home, becoming accustomed to maternal life and all it entailed.

It’s what my mother had done. She’d given up her peak years to take care of my three brothers and me. It was not until we were significantly older that she finally decided to go back to school to become a teacher, a goal she continues to pursue to this day. Still, it was her hiatus that always bothered me. Why couldn’t she have still gone to school and taken care of us? Why did she wait so long? When I got pregnant and heard the reactions, I realized why: It was easier.

No longer was I the wunderkind valedictorian who was going to take over the world.

People heard I was pregnant and it was almost as if they were giving out eulogies rather than congratulations or morale boosters. “She’s so young,” they’d say. “She had such a bright future. She worked so hard in high school. It’s a shame.”

Fueled in part by doubt and adversity, I was inspired and motivated to finish school. I was determined to continue. I could not let people be right. I was not doomed to fail.

Every day I went to school, and my anxiety increased as my belly grew. I began to realize that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was exhausted. I would drive to school, park, and walk to class in a sleep-deprived state. I was not in the best state health wise. I was tired and scared that I would not have the strength to carry this load. Not just going to school and graduating on time, but parenthood itself.

This is where it began. What it really feels like to be a young parent. In addition to the typical worries of students my age, I began to wonder if was going to be a good parent. The feeling would eat at me. I had so much homework as it was, how was I going to balance a child as well? What was I getting myself into?

In most communities, venting brings one response: “Well… you should’ve used protection,” or “You had a choice.” And this is true.

As young parents, we do have a choice to make. A difficult choice to make that has been debated at federal levels for decades. For some, abortion is a simple procedure. For other, an anguishing option. But there are many of us that immediately feel a connection to what is already growing inside of us.

Here’s the kicker: while one decision is politically debated about whether or not it’s a personal choice, the other is a life-long commitment that is forever viewed as the wrong personal choice. The choice to parent young.

Because as young parents we could have “been smarter about contraception” or made an alternative choice instead of creating struggles. This is what the media tells us. This is what society tells us. It creates a feeling of drowning from the inside out.

It is making a sound choice about our parenting and our plans, only to have someone tell us “you’re so young. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

It is sharing my pregnancy news with family and former close friends and hearing, “When are you quitting school?”

It is going to school, raising my son and being asked by family members why I’m so focused on my homework. Why is my son crying while I’m on my laptop trying to finish a news package for my journalism class? Why did I even choose to go into journalism? What kind of earning can you make in that field?

It is being told by numerous people that you’ll have help at a moment’s notice, but always being denied help when you need it most.

It’s taking finals while trying to put your child to sleep.

You try to come up for air and realize that the baby years will pass. School will end soon. All the while, you’re still treading water. The drowning feeling never goes away. But you learn to adapt.

School finishes and work begins. Instead of having class hours to work around, you now need a full 9-hour babysitter for your children, and daycare isn’t cheap.

Even when you have reached “adulthood,’’ you have already been a parent for years. It sets you apart from the parents who had their children at a socially appropriate age. You never really fit in anywhere.

You fall into a specific category, constantly trying to make sure you don’t drown from the steady influx of stigma. It is difficult to parent under the scrutiny of everyone around you, when you are doing the best you can.

The suffocating stigma must end. We have a right to parent with dignity.

 

 

 

 

Why I Chose to Be A Young Dad at 18 and How You Can Start Even If You Aren’t Ready

EYF Podcast Artwork

By Joe Chavez

This one is for all the young dads out there. In this episode, we share how we, as young parents (especially young dads), have a “choice” to play a role in our young families life. We will then cover some crucial areas where I, myself, struggled with when first starting out as a teen dad. Lastly, we’ll offer you three thoughts that should erase any doubt whether you are ready or not to be a young dad.

Thanks for listening
And don’t forget to checkout www.empoweringyoungfamilies.com for more inspiration, content and support to help you start smart as a young parent.
 


In this particular episode, I hope to explain:

  • That early fatherhood is a choice, one I made at 18 years old,
  • Things to watch out for when stepping into this new role,
  • How you can find purpose in being a young dad even if you think you aren’t ready.

Summary

I found out I was going to become a dad when I was 18 years old. I never really knew my father and I surely didn’t plan to have kids young.

Like many guys that have kids young, we aren’t thinking about the future, but what happens when we get a girlfriend, a “one night stand,” or a girl we just met pregnant? That’s the one reason I started this entire movement. There is an absolute need to know how to “Start Smart” as a young parent.

Regardless of what point you are in your life, you always have the potential to start off on the right foot. When you have a child young, it doesn’t have to signal the end of your future or your dreams and it certainly isn’t the end of your life as you know it. It is the beginning of a new chapter, of an entire new season of your life. While it may not make complete sense at first, you’ve just got to give it a little time, taking small steps toward being the dad you want to be for your little one and trust that both you and your child will be better off than if you just choose to run away from the whole entire situation, instead.

You have a unique opportunity to be present in your child’s life. Take advantage of it. It’s a gift.


Items Mentioned in This Podcast

We All Have A Choice

After all, you could just abandon your young family. That easy path is always available to you. But having the choice makes doing the noble thing, the responsibility of leading, loving and providing for a family all the more rewarding. It is tough, no question about that…

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you might want leave, so you can better understand that it’s normal to feel like you do:

  1. Feeling Inadequate
    So you feel like you are not ready to be a dad and that all the goals you might have had for your life are dead. Ok that’s a bit harsh but that’s what it feels like at first. Trust me when I say, the added pressure to take care of everyone and everything but feeling unqualified and inexperienced to do so is entirely natural. But it will also end up motivating you to focus on the things that will bring you closer to the place where you need to be. You’ve got to trust in your ability to grow into your role no matter how far you are from where you want to be. Just give it time.
  1. Feeling The Pressure
    Feeling the demand from a baby and mom. This is normal but don’t trick yourself into thinking that you need to focus all your energy and attention on their needs. You are better off bettering and maintaining yourself so you can better support your young family. It’s easy to obsess over the things you are failing at as a young dad and the fact you aren’t sleeping well won’t help. It’s a trick; don’t fall for it. I am not suggesting you ignore your family’s emotional needs; instead, I am advising you to be a leader through every single conflict and sleepless night you go through. Stay focused, young dad.
  1. Feeling Trapped/Less “Me” Time
    At first your time gets cut in half. Yes, you are going to have to change diapers, sleep less and be annoyed because you are still trying to find out what the heck you are going to do with your life. Trust me, it gets better. Give it six months and, as you adjust, I am sure your love for your family will overshadow any feeling of being trapped. Also, it will only be a matter of time until you adjust to having less time for yourself as you learn to make the best and most of your time as it becomes more and more precious with each passing day.

Some of the Things I Struggled With As A Young Dad

  1. My Relationship With My Wife
    I didn’t realize that my communication sucked. I found out pretty quickly once I was sleep deprived and all over the place. Luckily, we had great friends close by and they helped us through a tough time in our marriage.
  1. Priorities

    I was putting a lot of emphasis on things that I thought were important. Then I felt like crap and really guilty when they didn’t work out as I would imagine them doing so. My intentions were always to improve things for my family. Sometimes, that part of it didn’t matter.
  1. Taking the Lead in My Household
    You are the head of your household. Make it count. When I first became a young dad, I was scrambling between the expectations of others and my own perceived obligations and I wasn’t aware that, in addition to it all, I also needed to lead my household; or what that even meant to begin with. I thought that was only for men like pastors, presidents and football coaches.
    I soon discovered that someone is always needed to lead. I volunteer as tribute.

Take Action
*Today

Take 15 minutes to think about why you are capable of being a young dad:

  1. Write down the one thing you rock at that sticks out most to you.
  2. Write down the one thing you can improve at that sticks out most to you.

*The next couple months

In the next three months, focus on the thing that you can improve at and keep doing the thing you are already doing well; block out the noise of negativity and self-doubt.

Ready. Set. Go.

EYF Website About Photo 500x500

You can connect with Empowering Young Parents or follow Joe on social media:
http://www.twitter.com/empoweryoungfam

http://www.instagram.com/empoweringyoungfamilies

Five Ways My Teenager Has Influenced My Parenting Style

So, my oldest son Elijah, is nearing his 18th Birthday, which means he is almost an adult. In many ways, he is already like a little adult. He drives himself to work & school, manages his own schedule, and has an active social life outside of the family. In addition to this man-child, I also have three younger children who are 12, 8, and 4 years old. Basically, I have children all over the developmental spectrum. But the manner in which I parent the younger three has gradually shifted as my eldest grew and taught me a thing or two about mothering. Things that once seemed important to me when Elijah was little, are trivial matters to me now. Over time, I’ve also learned to place more importance or other aspects of parenting that I didn’t give much thought to when I started this journey some 18 years ago. When you have an almost-adult at home, it changes the way you view your other children. Elijah is a walking reminder that my little ones will only be little for so long. That’s an obvious clique, I know, but one that is hard to comprehend in it’s entirety when you are cradling your first newborn and time seems to be standing still. Here some are the things I’ve learned as a parent of a teenager:

1) Our children do not belong to us.                                                                                      When my Elijah was little, I spent a lot of time dressing him up, showing him off, and delighting in the fact that he showed interest in the fads and hobbies I introduced him to. I can’t say I thought of him as a possession, but I certainly felt a sense of ownership over the little guy. Not so much anymore. Though I can see that many of his attitudes and beliefs about the world are a reflection of the home in which he was raised, he also has a mind and will of his own. As he should. Soon, very soon, he’ll venture on out of the nest and into adulthood. The days in which he was my default sidekick are a thing of the past. This realization is constantly on my mind as I watch my younger children grown into their own unique personalities, and it gives me the patience & perspective to deal their increasing bursts of autonomy. Yes, they are in my keeping now. But someday soon they’ll be independent of me with lives of their own. Last week, Elijah randomly text me during the middle of the day asking me if I was busy that evening & if I’d be willing to accompany him to his friend’s soccer game. I wistfully remembered the days in which I made all his plans and accepted invites on his behalf. Then I smiled, and cleared my schedule for the evening. When your teen invites you somewhere, you accept. Graciously.

2) No matter how cool you think you are, you’ll never be one of them.                         I had Elijah when I was 17. Which now makes me 34 years of age with a 17-year-old kid. Which means I sometimes fool myself into thinking I’m still kind of hip in terms of pop culture & trends. But boy, do teenagers have a way of humbling us. Soon after Elijah entered middle school I realized I will always be ten steps behind in terms of what’s “in”. Though we largely share the same taste in music, fashion trends, and some aspects of pop culture, my son still views me as out of touch & jokingly refers to my friends and I as “old.” He cringes every time someone asks if I’m his sister. In his own subtle way, he has reinforced the fact that he values me more as a parent than as a friend. Because I’m not his peer, nor does he want me to be. I’m here to enforce rules, impart wisdom, and provide guidance. And every now and then, he’ll hint at how grateful he is for the relationship we have.

3) Be mindful of your screen time. What are you reaching for?                       Teenagers are really into their electronic devices. But I’m sure you already know that. I preach moderation, and have always put limits on screen time though it’s sometimes difficult to enforce, especially as they get older. I’ve filled their days with a multitude of alternative activities including outdoor excursions, trips to museums, libraries and other such places in an attempt to show them the world beyond screens. But still, when he’s not playing baseball or at work/school, that teen of mine has his smartphone in hand almost always. A while back, we were talking about what a clingy toddler he was, and I quipped that he now reaches for his phone more than he reaches for me. Minutes later, the profoundness of the statement hit me. What do my younger children see ME reaching for? Am I more likely to be holding a device, or their hand? I’m already self-conscious about this, as I work with families on a daily basis, and I constantly see parents with faces in screens while their children attempt to get their attention. But this conversation prompted me take a hard look at my own behaviors, and make a concerted effort to put the problematic ones in check. Have you reached for your child today?

4) YouTube can be a great teaching tool.                                                                          Speaking of screen time and technology, I’ve noticed that Elijah and his brothers use YouTube for all sorts of things besides watching pointless viral clips for entertainment. They’ve taught themselves everything from how to repair a bicycle, to updating smartphone software, to creating their own incense holders. After watching my son plunk away at the piano keys using a YouTube tutorial video, I got an idea. That week, my toddler suddenly developed an aversion to teeth brushing. After a few nights of literally holding her down while struggling to clean her teeth amidst thrashing and flailing limbs, I decided to take a more logical approach to her dental hygiene. The next evening, right before bedtime, I sat her in front of the computer and searched for images of  “toddler tooth decay.” Video after video popped up of children with teeth in varying states of decay. I explained to her why it’s important to brush her teeth, and showed her the cavities that form when we don’t. She was cured. That night, she willing opened her mouth for her nightly brush, without a peep. I’ve used this method for other things as well, including the time my two youngest began complaining about seat-belts and booster seats during a long road trip. After watching a video of crash-dummies being ejected from cars during an accident, they smartly made the decision to stay buckled, noting that it’s far more comfortable to be strapped in than to be injured in an accident. Kids are pretty logical. When we began to show them the reasons behind our rules, you’d be surprised at how well they cooperate.

5) In the end, your influence does matter (but there is no magic formula).                                        Just as we spend 18+ years watching over them, they are observing us as well. As Elijah enters adulthood, I can clearly see the way he is a product of his parents, step-parents, and extended family. All of our collective habits, hobbies, conversations and attitudes are downloaded into our children’s brains during their formative years, and they without a doubt influence the people they become.  Here’s the catch: it does not necessarily mean  they are doomed because of certain circumstances or redeemed due to others. I’ve been working in the field of education for 15 years, and during that time have worked closely with hundreds of families. I’ve met children who have come out of “broken homes” to become grounded, whole, and productive young adults. On the flip side, I’ve seen children from affluent two-parent, religious households slide into depression and addiction. And in between those extremes I’ve witnessed a wide array of stories play out which have lead me to believe that there is no magic formula to raising a child. But there is one thing that continually arises as I hear the individual accounts of children and their families: we internalize the realities of our childhood. We absorb the environments we are raised in. But we come out of them with our own unique understanding and strength. And no one, not even our parents, can predict what that will look like when all is said and done.                                                         

Lovebirth

 "Regardless of our age, every woman deserves to experience the empowerment birth gives with the right support."  -Melinda Lugo

“Regardless of our age, every woman deserves to experience the empowerment birth gives with the right support.” -Melinda Lugo

By Melinda Lugo of Lovebirth.     

I am a butterfly.

Sixteen years of age and midway through my junior year in high school, the store-bought pregnancy test read positive. Recently kicked out of my dad’s home, I had just moved in with my mom. There were many emotions, excitement the predominant one. I wasn’t afraid, probably because of a dysfunctional childhood that had numbed me from believing fear even existed to begin with. Maybe, I just wanted to love the baby in the way I had wished I had been loved as a child. The thought of not continuing the pregnancy did not even cross my mind despite my mother’s determination in persuading me to have the abortion, too young, too inexperienced, too early in my life. However, I knew I was going to give birth; I believed in birth. I believed my body was created to do it perfectly and I trusted the process. Despite everything else around me being unstable, giving birth was the one thing I knew I could do right.

I moved out of my mom’s home and in with my boyfriend. We searched for prenatal care through a midwife that offered homebirth though unfortunately our search was unsuccessful. It was as though the very thought of a 16 year old seeking out untraditional prenatal care was so unsettling that nobody appeared to be very eager to come to the aid of a foolish, ignorant young girl. We were not able to find a homebirth midwife due to not having a permanent address which forced me to accept prenatal care through a nurse midwife at a local hospital. The hospital rejected my birth plan. I had to be confined to a bed with monitoring straps and unable to walk around. I made it clear to them I did not want any of the pain medication they offered but they felt the need to remind me there was still time for an epidural. Nurses literally yelling at me, telling me to shut up was the hospital staff’s idea of “kind” support. I was being too loud, they said. But next to me, my son’s father gave me power with soft words of encouragement. He believed that I could do it. He, too, believed in the process of birth. On December 20th, 1995 at 3:25pm, I gave birth to our son naturally.

Four years later, at the age of 21, I was pregnant again with our second son. This time I refused to give birth in a hospital, ensuring I would get the natural birth I desired. I also refused to let my voice go unheard.   After many attempts, I was able to find a homebirth midwife that treated me with respect, in spite of the circumstance of having a second pregnancy at such a young age. I attended childbirth classes and learned about a doula, someone, usually a woman, who supports an expecting mother emotionally, educationally, and physically during her pregnancy and labor. I thought to myself, my son’s father had been my doula. I knew I was more ready to give birth with all the new knowledge of pregnancy and birth that I had gained this time around and, on August 19th, 1999 at 3:15am, surrounded by family and friends, I gave birth to our second son in the peace of our home. I walked around, ate, laughed, and most importantly, listened to my body, allowing it to guide me through the process. What a difference this birth experience was compared to my first!

The contrasting experiences made me question the foundation of prenatal care; why was it difficult as a teen mom to have my ideal birth? Why did I have to look so hard for options in having holistic prenatal care and not have alternatives to routine procedures? Why didn’t MY voice matter for MY birth? Why should any woman feel so alone at such a profoundly powerful moment such as birth? I reflected on my births and remembered the role of my son’s father, and the term doula. I thought of how wonderful women could feel during labor with a supportive birth team.

If all women, regardless of age, could have that one advocate at their side to trust them, believe in them and say something positive like “You’re doing awesome!” … can you imagine how empowered women would feel, knowing they have a voice, a choice, and, perhaps most importantly, the capability to give birth the way they want? Educating and supporting women in giving birth became my passion and is how I began my journey as a doula and childbirth advocate.

This was the beginning of lovebirth. Through lovebirth, I am able to help teen moms have the strength and knowledge to give birth their way, to trust birth, to know that they are not broken because they are pregnant and that all of their dreams are still attainable. Regardless of our age, every woman deserves to experience the empowerment birth gives with the right support. That they, too, are butterflies, unique and able to fly!

 

Melinda Lugo is a doula, childbirth educator, mother to 2 boys, and childbirth advocate in Tampa, Florida. She has been supporting women of all ages since 2005, specializing with teen moms and young parents. She is the founder of lovebirth, LLC. Through her doula practice, she empowers young women to build trust within themselves so they may experience the art of birth that has been given to them. You can follow lovebirth on Facebook; http://www.facebook.com/lovebirthllc, Instagram; @lovebirth, and on Twitter; @lovebirthllc. You can also find and connect with Melinda using #teenbirth. lovebirth…women are made to do it.

      

Not the Business. #NoTeenShame

 

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“You have no business raising a child.”

These were the words spoken to the young mother of one of my students as she was shopping for nursing pads late one night at the neighborhood grocery store.

Her milk had just come in, she was tired and achy, and she had her 1-week-old son in tow.  She was 16 years old.

“I remember being stunned. That a random person would have the cruelty to call me out like that. That not one of the other mothers in that aisle stood up for me. That on some level, I believed him. I just shook my head and cried,” she recalls.

Her son, now five, is one of the top performing preschoolers in my class. His kindergarten readiness skills are on point, his vocabulary is that of a 2nd grader, and his social skills are so highly developed that I’m quite sure he’ll make a positive addition to any school he attends. I’d say his parents have done an amazing  job in his upbringing  so far, even if they are on the younger side.

As a former teen mother myself, I’m no stranger to the public shaming that young parents face as a result of the social stigmas surrounding teenage pregnancy and parenting. I too, faced unwelcome comments from people I barely knew. I too, began to internalize the negative messages I received in regards to my pregnancy, and my perceived inability to parent.

The shaming of teen parents is by no means a new phenomenon, although some might argue that there has been an uptick of negativity (at least in the social media world) since shows such as 16 & Pregnant, and Teen Mom have brought the issue directly into our living rooms. In addition to the questionable images of young parents portrayed in the media, young people are also likely to be subjected to dire predictions surrounding adolescent pregnancy at school assemblies, in YouTube commercials, and through largely publicized teen pregnancy prevention campaigns such as New York’s controversial ads last year.

The web of campaigns being created to prevent adolescent childbearing routinely expose youth to messages warning them of the likely ramifications for themselves and their children should a teen pregnancy occur. The premise of the majority of these campaigns is that teen pregnancies have undesirable outcomes for all those directly involved, especially the children. Consequently, young parents are portrayed as failures, and are often held up as warning to their non-parenting counterparts.

So what’s the issue?

While we would all like to see a continued reduction in the number of teenage pregnancies, we also need to be cognizant about the fact that many efforts to address these numbers are done so at the expense of young parents and their children. When we marginalize a group of people using campaigns that shame and stigmatize, it makes it that much easier to dehumanize that group through policies and institutionalized practices that prevent them from gaining access to the resources and supports they need.

We need to work together to create a culture that empowers adolescent parents through positive messages and comprehensive education. Because they deserve it.

Because their children deserve it.

And because, when all is said and done, the public shaming of young families has no business being  incorperated into teen pregnancy prevention campaigns.

#NOTEENSHAME.

Join the movement:

Elevate #NOTEENSHAME on THUNDERCLAP

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