Healthy Teen Network Conference- #NoTeenShame in Austin

On Tuesday, October 21st, the #NoTeenShame mamas descended upon Austin, Texas to recieve the Spirit of Service award at the Healthy Teen Network conference. We traveled from Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, New Mexico, Florida, & California.  Night one: We spent the evening getting to know each other better, as it was the first time all of us have been together in one place! Up until this point, the majority of our collaboration has been mainly through innovative virtual platforms, and late night conference calls.

From left to right: Marylouise, Natasha, Consuela, Gloria, Lisette, Jasmine, Christina

From left to right:
Marylouise, Natasha, Consuela, Gloria, Lisette, Jasmine, Christina



6th street shenanigans. Bonding w/ the Zoltor.

6th street shenanigans. Bonding w/ the Zoltor.

Out on the town

Out on the town

Day Two: We were treated to a delicious luncheon, and were presented with a beautiful award which we briefly entertained shipping from coast to coast every year, ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ style so that each of us gets a chance to house it. In the afternoon, we were able to get in a productive strategic planning session, where we outlined our goals & steps for the future, among other things. Evening came with the chance to explore the city, feast on some amazing food, visit the State Capitol, and get a taste of the 6th street night life. There may or may not have been some bull riding.

#NoTeenShame be like...

Spirit of Service award, Healthy Teen Network conference


From left to right: Christina Martinez, Marylouise Kuti, Natasha Vianna, Pat Paluzzi, Consuela Greene, Lisette Orellana, Jasmin Colon, & Gloria Malone


My big cheesy happy smile


Marylouise ❤


Our awesome name tags


Strategic planning session in full affect

Strategic planning session in full affect

It's work, but it's fun work

It’s work, but it’s fun work

We also to manage to get in a small group therapy session. Some tissues were needed :)

We also to managed to get in a small group therapy session. Some tissues were needed 🙂

We kinda like taking pictures

We kinda like taking pictures

Strategic planning session moved downstairs because, food.

Strategic planning session moved downstairs because, food.


Marylouise + Twitter

Some selfies were taken...

Some selfies were taken…

Okay, who am I kid

Okay, who am I kidding. Lots of selfies were taken.


Sisterhood ❤

At the State Capitol

At the State Capitol

So exciting!

#NoTeenShame be like…


 "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;, 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


no-teen-shame- SG

“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.


Join the movement:


Follow on Tumblr






Identity Foreclosure

26 years old, attending to my 3 children. Monterey Bay, California. 2006

26 years old, attending to my 3 children. 2006. Monterey Bay, Ca.

During my 12 years in college, I sat through many courses and took part in countless academic discussions. There are a handful of classes I remember quite vividly, including one particular child development course  during which I had a profound epiphany about my self-identity. I can recall the moment rather clearly, right down to the outfit I was wearing and the classmates who were sitting around me that morning. The course content we were reviewing was Erik Erickson’s developmental stages, which describe human development as it occurs throughout the lifespan. I was tired beyond belief that morning…my second son was suffering from yet another ear infection, and I had spent most of the night cradling him in an upright position, as that was the only way he was pacified.  That would have been fine, if I were a horse. But sleeping upright is not my normal mode of op, so by the time the alarm clock sounded, I was seriously hurting. Somehow I managed to drag myself out of of the house, assignments in hand, and drop my oldest off to kindergarten before battling the mess of morning traffic, darting across campus in search of the shortest coffee-house line, and into my seat at the lecture hall all before 9 a.m. One of my single, childless classmates began complaining to me about how hard it was for her to balance college social activities with school work and  I resisted the urge to drown myself in coffee to escape her petty complaints, or at the very least inhale  caffeine into my lungs to resuscitate me from my zombie state. Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary because we immediately launched into a debate that brought me out of my sleep-deprived stupor. That morning, my professor introduced us to the concept of identity foreclosure. In short, people in identity foreclosure have committed to an identity too soon, without ever having thoroughly explored their other options. We usually think of identity foreclosure in a negative sense; as in, the person who has settled for less than they might have been. We assume that this clipping of the wings is something unnatural and restrictive. But that day, as I wiped the sleep from my eyes and glanced around the university campus, I realized that for me (at the time, anyway), foreclosure was my biggest asset. 

According to Erikson’s theory, my life was foreclosed upon the day my son was born. Gone were the days of normal adolescence, typical high school life, and the freedom of youth. I was a mother. And though I was also still daughter,  sister,  friend, and student, it was motherhood that consumed my every waking minute. There was no time for youthful exploration…heck, I could barely find the time to shower. And when I did get a moment of “me” time,  it just wasn’t the same. I realized this the first time I tried to leave my infant son at home and go for a girls night on the town. While everyone around me carelessly laughed the evening away, I found my thoughts were with my baby. Was he eating okay? Would he fall asleep without me? Did I pack him enough diapers? Did I remember to leave an extra set of clothes? During a bathroom break, the girls  around me were busying themselves in front of the mirror, reapplying lipstick and whatnot while I quietly dipped into a stall to make sure my nursing pads were still in place. I just couldn’t quite bridge the gap between normal “social” teen, and young parenthood. So I kinda skipped out on it altogether. The social teen thing, that is.

For the remainder of my high school years, and most of my undergraduate college life, I threw myself into role of mother, student, and significant other. There was little room for anything else. But you know what I realized that day in class? That wasn’t necessarily a negative thing.  It allowed me to focus strictly on my family & studies without being distracted by the enticing “what-ifs” we sometimes get caught up in when we allow ourselves to wonder what might have been. You see, unlike some people who have children later in life, I never struggled with the feeling that motherhood cramped my style. Motherhood WAS my style. I owned it. I thrived in it. and I’m certain my children have benefited because of it.

I was chatting with a couple of mothers the other day who had their children later in life, and they were reminiscing about “the good ol’ days,” you know, the ones where they got to sleep in till noon, take off on spontaneous weekend trips, never worrying about babysitters or child-imposed curfews. The days before the tiresome task of care-taking for little children became the center of their universe. My “good ol’ day” fantasies circulate around the years I had only ONE child to manage, as opposed to four. There were never any weekend whims or lazy mornings to look back on longingly.  Since 16 and on, my life was about compromising my needs to meet those of my child’s.  And for me, that’s okay. You see, when my other children came along, I never felt suffocated, or resentful, or nostalgic for easier times. Does that mean I never get stressed, or weary of the day-to-day demands, or frustrated when my kids do things like pee their pants in the middle of a crowded department store on the day that I happened to forget  to bring a spare change of clothes? Absolutely not. I’m human, after all, and parenthood is not for the weary. I have my moments of impatience, and exhaustion,  and maybe even the occasional meltdown. But it is always with the underlying understanding that this is who I am. This, is who I was meant to be.  Did I mention that my other job is that of teacher? Yeah. I’m in my element when I’m nurturing children.

So here’s my latest realization: Someday my children will all be grown, and when I am retired, I will no longer be in the classroom with students. Which is why, I’ve just recently embarked on a new kind of soul-searching. One where I define myself apart from the role of mother, and teacher, and baby whisperer. It’s been a little over a year now, and I’m beginning to see glimpses of who I am during moments of quiet solitude. When I’m alone and free to do whatever I please. When no one is tugging at my pant leg begging for a juice box, or shouting across the playground, “MomMomMomWatchThisWatchThisWatchThisMooomAreYouWatching?!?”

I’m reveling in the fact that I’ve got a new lease on life, and the possibilities are endless. Whoops. Did I say lease?

What I meant was, I’m about to own this sh*t.