Tuesday, February 16, 2010

inapprorpiate mothers: radical reproductive justice for all

I edited this:

Every time I see an article or statistics about how teen pregnancy rates have gone up - I scream. “Why?” you may ask.

First, the reason may be because the lack of access to sex education, birth control, and abortion. This may be partly why rates have gone up. Teens are oppressed - they do not have full "legal" rights as say, I do. Often their choices are decided for them (and we can argue that be good or bad thing) and their autonomy is rarely considered.

Second, those statistics are negative (negative as in it's "bad", "unwanted," "disgusting", "not desirable."). Of course it could be negative if teen women are not offered reasonable education to sexuality (as I stated above). I certainly wasn't. But it is also negative because our society does not want teen pregnancy to go up. There is an assumption that being a pregnant teen or a teen mom is super bad situation. These young women need to be going to college, get married, and THEN have children. It assumes we have all agreed on some abstract "appropriate" age of a pregnancy. So if we talk about how the rates have gone up, people can automatically think - well, kids are having sex, kids are having kids, and so on. I never see statistics on the rates of women in their 20's or their 30's having children. Is it because society has assumed those are "appropriate" ages to have children?

The other thing I get frustrated is how these statistics view teen pregnancy, as a "problem.” So when I ask the question, “what is the ‘appropriate’ age to become pregnant?” I will not get an answer. I know some people choose to become parents after they are married and have careers, but it was still a HARD choice. I feel that the constant focus on teen pregnancy as an "issue" as opposed to just another population that may get pregnant, perpetuates the idea of the “ideal mother” is the one who is done with college, has a career, and is married (or maybe just married right out of high school and is a stay at home mother). Of course, she would have to be married to a man. (I want to note that these mothers are STILL mothers and are still important. However, I am focusing on "inappropriate" mothers.”)

As a group, teens are oppressed and (just like women, queer people, people of color and so on), have a right to sex education just as anyone else. But if teen pregnancy rates raise, let’s talk about it as an issue in regard to radical reproductive justice and rights for all, not blaming the teen for “fucking up” or “being a burden.” (Hello? Because didn’t and are not!) Sometimes a teen choosing to parent is a wonderful thing ... it was for me. And it took a lot of prying and searching on my part to find other people who thought like me about being a teen mom, unfortunately. The access to empowerment for teen parents (particularly mothers) should be like, right there, right here!! (Because it often is for mothers of "appropriate" ages, as it should be!)

Of course, most of these statistics focus on the one who is pregnant or has birthed or will birth. The teenager (or not teenage) men and male-bodied people are not being asked about their sexuality and/or sex lives. The mark of a pregnant belly will never happen to them that screams, "Hey guess what everyone? I had sex and I am in high school. See?! See?!" But apparently, isn't more cool for the teenage man to “get laid”, then for the teenage women to have sex and get pregnant? He's a hero, she's the whore.

Instead of being bogged down with statistics pointing to how it is a "bad" thing that teen pregnancy rates have gone up. I graduate in May with two majors (already have a two year degree) and am off to graduate school in the fall. I honestly probably would not have been so motivated unless I had a children because no one at home was encouraging me either way. I found other amazing single and/or teen/former teen mothers and knew I could do it. Solidarity!


  1. Heather,

    A few comments about your article.

    I liked it, and you make some good points, especially about viewing teen pregnancy as a "bad" thing, rather than an alternative to tradition.

    But you need to understand how the teen birth rate (TBR) works, the truth, as opposed to what society presents to everyone.

    There are 10 dynamics behind the TBR, which are girls 15-19/who give birth/per 1000 births for all women.

    They are the adult birth rate (ABR), which teens follow lockstep, and have since records were kept ( Bristol/Sara Palin), poverty (80% of all teen moms come from poverty), sex abuse (66-80% have been sexually abused, and that's just the ones reported and caught), violent/chaotic homes (about 70% have been physically abused), older/younger economic attraction (girl 15, man 21.5 average age, 80% are impregnanted by adult men)educational failure (of course), lack of reproductive health care as an un-pregnant female, lack of competing choices, male abandonment (80% of all men leave), and the true fact, as you point out, that having a child as a teen can be a good choice.

    The TBR has nothing to do with sex, or contraception, or values, or responsibility on the part of the teen. It's tied to the economy, that's why it's going up. A graph would show 3 roughly parallel lines going up, the TBR, the ABR, and the unemployment rate. This is a trend that has been followed throughout history. Today's poverty rate can predict the TBR in roughly 10 years.

    Lastly, the TBR is an adult problem, not a teen problem. Teens are pushed into social corners, forced to make the best of bad choices, and pregnancy is one of the responses.

    Rick Machado
    Public Speaker on Teen Pregnancy

  2. You certainly answered some of the questions I presented. Thank you. While I understand what you have stated, I still think the points I made are valid. I am still in poverty, my kid's dad left, he was abusive (sexually, emotionally, and mentally), I come from an alcoholic home & so on.

    The thing I get frustrated with is like, okay: the dad left. For me that was a GOOD thing. Yes, it has made things harder and without another income - has resorted me to be in poverty. However, I was in poverty when he lived with us, he rarely worked. Currently, he is $5000 behind in child support.

    If it is an adult problem, then I think it needs to be addressed. Those social conditions that teen womyn come out of, need to be addressed, too. Even with the age rates (man being way older) - that needs to be talked about, too.

    While I agree with what you're saying - these things are often put upon the mother. I never knew about the men being older - that's disgusting and no one ever talks about it. It's all put on the teen mother. And yes, we can go on and talk and talk and talk about these statistics, but what can we do about it? Tell people in high school not to have sex with older men? Tell them that if they are from an abusive home, that they are likely to get pregnant in high school?

    No, we need more programs and education to start addressing these issues. Of course, they are there. But with all these statistics, it's nothing is being addressed.

    And like, I said, it took a lot of prying for me to find out that I COULD do something with my life. When I went to my guidance counselor senior year, she looked at me as if I was crazy because I wasn't going to college right away. I was pregnant! Guidance counselors are also not equipped to handle these situations and I felt like shit. The huge social pressures of mothers are already there, for teens it's bigger.

    I like that you said the TBR is an adult problem, not a teen problem. However, it's never presented that way.

  3. Hi Heather,

    Your points are valid, and will remain valid, as well as true.

    Let me address some of your concerns.

    You are still in poverty because history and records show that women born and/or introduced into poverty tend to stay that way. That's why we say "teen pregnancy doesn't cause poverty. Instead, poverty causes young women/womynn to bear children earlier".

    Your experiences with men, alcohol, sex abuse, emotional abuse, etc, are almost always because you follow a role model. Jamie LynnSpears followed her's , her sister Brittany, as did Bristol Palin, as did thousands of girls. This is what we do, follow our mentors. You learn what is "right", through someone who taught you, whether right or wrong.

    The younger/older thing? The younger the girl, the older the man. Orange County, Cal, bastion of conservatism has the most middle school pregnancies with adult men. Middle School.

    Yes, you are absolutely correct about your male partner leaving. It's good he leaves, he's often a serious problem. But the loss of a paycheck leaves you in poverty, and reliant on the welfare system. This is why we say the pregnancy doesn't leave you poor. It's the male abandonment that does.

    No, no one presents these facts, except Mike Males, who taught me. Get a used copy of "The Scapegoat Generation".

    What to do?

    1. Tell kids about sex abuse, stats show almost 80% of all females have unwanted sexual attention, and they don't know what to do. And don't have men teach these classes.

    2. Address poverty as a limiting factor. The TBR will skyrocket in the next 10 years.

    3. A teen that chooses pregnancy over another future can't see something diffeent. Present something bigger.

    4. Abstinence as a birth control method is a form of sex abuse. Teens need a reason to abstain, and the reasons given are horrific- "to avoid pregnancy" , "to avoid STD's", " to avoid heartbreak".

    There are reasons to abstain, but not the ones presented. Teens know the BS. What they want is a bright, shining future- something they currently don't have. That's the best contraception- a vision of something better.

    Rick Machado

  4. I never had a second income. My kid's dad rarely worked. And being poor is way better than being with him.

    I was born into a poor family, but my mom remarried and my step-dad was well off. I was living on my home in high school, however, shortly after I got pregnant. My dad was abusive to my mom, so yes - that is what I grew up with. No one taught me differently, true. Our society teaches that those things are "okay" ... no one is teaching girls empowerment. Which is what I teach my daughter.

    Agreed with your what to do?
    Many of this is what I teach my kid now.