Yes, Virginia, there ARE teenagers who want to have a baby.
Yesterday Mommy B sent me to this story about Gloucester High, where the fad last year was to try and get pregnant. Is this a new trend? Nope. Is it surprising? Maybe, if you haven’t been paying attention. And will the school’s attempts to offer free birth control without parental permission help the situation? Absolutely not. But they should do it anyway.
I am not surprised by a group of girls making a pact to raise children together. High school girls have been trying to get pregnant since I was in high school fifteen years ago, although I doubt it was a new trend then. I understood the draw of deeply wanting a baby in high school, although I never went so far as to actually try and conceive one until just a few years later.
And here is where this issue gets deeply personal for me. I was young, by many standards, when my partner and I started trying to conceive. I was 21 when I got pregnant, but perhaps I looked younger. I got many snide comments from strangers about making choices because of what I wanted rather than what a baby would need. I got crass questions from acquaintances about whether I knew what caused this sort of “thing.”
And I have never taken well to anyone who calls my daughter a “thing.”
So I was a young mother. And many took me to be a young teenage mother. So they asked me, rudely, why I wanted to have a baby. I tended to give vague answers I thought would get them off my back as quickly as possible about wanting to care for the younger generation, etc. But the truth was, I wasn’t really sure why I wanted to have a baby. But I knew it in the same way I knew my partner and I were meant for each other. Could I justify myself? Not really. How can you ask someone to justify something that there is no justification for? When it comes down to it, what is the “right” reason for wanting to have a baby?
Two Gloucester High students who were willing to be interviewed postulated that the girls were trying to get pregnant because:
“They’re so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally.”
“No one’s offered them a better option.”
And those are probably not great reasons to want to have a baby. But as I’ve said: when it comes right down to it, what is a great reason?
Teenage girls who want to have babies will probably give much the same rambling, unsure answers to the “Why” question that I did. Some might say something vague about wanting someone to love and someone to love them back. But what do much older moms-to-be say about why they want a baby? Oh, that’s right, they’re not asked. It’s assumed that an older woman either has her reasons for wanting a baby or that it’s rude to ask. My point is that, unless you’re the woman’s therapist or partner, it’s rude to ask or conjecture about why teenagers or older women want babies.
However, there are often serious underlying issues when young women decide that they want to get pregnant. It is rarely a teenage woman who feels happy, supported, and loved who decides she wants to have a baby. But nothing can be gained from judging these young women’s choices - they have probably had their choices judged far too often already in their lives. And a pregnancy can not be stopped by providing a mother-to-be with birth control, because she won’t use it, regardless of her age.
So what to do?
Young women need to feel that they are (1) in control of their lives, (2) can make a positive impact on the world, and (3) that they are loved for who they are and who they are becoming. For that matter, young men need the same thing. And note the careful wording: Teenagers need these things, they are not casual desires.
Part of providing the control in need 1 is having access to free, effective birth control without parental knowledge or consent. Another part is providing more extensive sexuality education beyond the first year of high school. And there are lots of really cool ways to engage young women to meet need number 2. (Feel free to e-mail me if you need some suggestions!) As for need 3, I am sad that this is not among the most understood and most often met needs for teenagers. It can be parents, teachers, friends, siblings. Each of us needs someone to love us completely, but teenagers are in such a state of identity flux that they particularly need that kind of encompassing and supportive love.
Regrettably, the answer I am giving to the Gloucester High problem is not simple or easy to dispense for free (unlike condoms). But it is potentially life-changing for everyone involved.