I recently attended the Civil Liberties Public Policy Conference in Amherst, Massachusetts. Living in Boston and going to Amherst felt like entering a whole different world. There is so much land and open space, perfect for my 2.9 year old to run, get dirty and be a kid but since he did not travel with me, I took this time as a learning experience/mommy time )
Besides the nice red barns and cows we saw, the conference itself was incredible! Let me start off by talking about the registration fees. If you are a student, it’s free and there is a sliding scale where you pay what you can. It was really nice to know that you do not have to be the wealthiest person to attend the conference. This is nice because many people have the opportunity to learn about the reproductive justice movement and attend workshops of topics of interest at the even if they do not have the resources or money to prioritize.
The purpose of the CLPP conference is moving towards reproductive freedom, by discussing everything from abortion rights to social justice. This is a huge deal and very powerful because very often peoples basic human rights get abused and social/reproductive rights fall between them. To better understand that you must realize what reproductive freedom means or have a good understanding of it. To make it easy for myself, in my head I say, “The right to parent at any age is reproductive freedom.” On the other hand, reproductive rights means being able to make decisions about your body and not getting stigmatized for them, the right to parent or not to parent, the right to parent a child in a safe environment, the right to equitable access to healthcare and respect. Most beneficial to parents in the movement was that CLPP also offered childcare. Why is this helpful? This is helpful...
You’d think any self-respecting teen pregnancy prevention campaign would provide lots of information about how to use contraception and how to have healthy conversations with sexual partners - the best ways to avoid unplanned pregnancy. That hasn’t been happening.
During the National Month to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, it’s important to acknowledge that teen pregnancy prevention in the US takes a very simplistic approach — campaign after campaign shames young parents while telling young people that getting pregnant is a matter of individual responsibility. No information. No support. Just blame.
These campaigns scapegoat young parents and accuse them of being failures, not just as parents but at having a happy and successful life. But that’s not the real story. Young parents are trying to graduate high school against the odds. Trying to work and support their families. Trying to rise above all the shame… And succeeding.
In Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles, three organizations who are working in partnership with young parents have launched a new campaign for Mama’s Day (Strong Families). It’s not a “teen pregnancy prevention campaign.” It’s a campaign about respecting & supporting young parents.
My name is Joe Chavez and I am 24 years old. When I was 18, I learned that I was going to be a dad. I felt nervous and sick to my stomach. Carmen, my girlfriend, was also scared; she cried and went to sleep. At the time, I was also facing 15 years in jail. The charges against me were staggering: three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, home invasion, robbery, and breaking and entering. I was into drugs and had gone with a group of guys to retaliate against some guys who had beaten up one of our friends. I did not participate in the fight, but I damaged some property.
When six police officers came and took me out of class during my first year of college, I confessed to the crime, and they took me to jail. A short time before then, I had started going to the youth group at my church and made a decision to always tell the truth. Thus when the police officers asked if I had done the crime, I said, “Yes.” The day that I was taken away was the end of my old life. I did not know it then, but restoration and a wonderful life lay ahead. My girlfriend and I dove in head first to a life of teen parenting at 18 and 19; with no jobs, being a convicted felon and only a high school education.
Needless to say, we have had our ups and downs, but we are still standing firmly together, by the grace of God, married, with 2 kids and we run a blog/podcast called Empowering Young Families to share...
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the word advocacy? The first time I was asked the question two years ago, the first thing that came to my mind was Google. Why Google? Because I didn’t really know what the word meant. So after I Googled the definition, I started referring to it with different words like sticking up for yourself, expressing your thoughts, etc.
Advocacy work is done in three steps: 1. Giving the right information, 2. to the right people, 3. at the right time!
Advocating is very important and it is safe to assume we all do it in our daily lives without even knowing, all because we didn’t know what the word advocacy meant. As a Young Parent Policy Fellow, most of the work I do is advocating for young/teen parents in Boston, to help shape policies and change the perception around teen pregnancy. It is awesome! To me, these are five awesome things young people should know about advocacy and their impact in shaping policies:
- Your story is powerful! A personal, true story being told to help change policies is more powerful than assumptions or thoughts being made by people who are first of all not young, or parents.
- Who better to advocate for what young/teen expectant and parents need than a young/teen that is expectant or parenting themselves! That’s right; YOU know what YOU and YOUR family need to be happy, healthy, and successful so YOU would be the best person to advocate for all those things.
- Advocacy is done in many different ways like sending letters, emails, using social media, making digital stories, publicly speaking at an event, making phone calls. It doesn’t matter how you do it...
The February 16 Journal Sentinel story “United Way’s provocative teen pregnancy campaign designed to get results” inspired me (again) to share my teen pregnancy story. When I was seventeen years old and in an abusive situation, I found out I was pregnant. During the birthing experience, I thought that I was giving life to the child who would ruin mine. Before my pregnancy, I often saw how organizations depicted babies as a negative outcome of teen sex or that “it” would ruin or control my life.
Despite being raised by a teenage mother myself (along with more than 2 million teens across the country today), I had internalized those messages and believed my baby would serve as a form of punishment.
Negative messages like these are perpetuated by organizations, like the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, who use resources to publicly shame teen parents rather than publicly provide teenagers with information on how to prevent an unintended pregnancy. The concept of using teen parents’ lives as a scare tactic is not innovative, educational or informative. Furthermore, United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County’s Vice President of Community Impact, Nicole Agresano’s comparison of teen pregnancy to obesity and smoking is incredibly offensive and dehumanizes the children of teen parents as objects of public health to be rid of, treating teen parents themselves as simple-minded, manipulated toys.
And even if your response is that you have EBIs (do you?) proving that stigmatizing teen parents is an effective method of birth control (which it is not), it is still morally and ethically wrong in every way.
We know that teen pregnancy rates are down across the entire country...
As I was submitting my first blog post, I was also thinking about what I would like to post next. The thought that came to my mind was “We made it”.
As I remember those comments of “You are just a baby having a baby,” and “Are you married?” I wonder where those people are who asked me those questions the first year I had my daughter? I honestly don’t even remember what they looked liked. They weren’t just asking me questions they were also judging me. Looking down upon me thinking the worst. That my daughter would not be raised right. That she would end up in foster care just like I had been. That I am going to live off the government my whole life and that I am going to keep on having more baby’s so I can continue to get welfare. That their tax dollars were going to yet another unwed single teen mother. What they didn’t know is at the age of 13 before I had my daughter I was already working and paying into the “system”. That I stayed in school to get my high school diploma, was working at the same time and graduated when my daughter was three and a half when I was 18. That we were in individual and family counseling and attended several different parenting groups as she got older because things were difficult. They were not just difficult because I was young, but also because my parents couldn’t be the support that I needed consistently when I was younger and in early adulthood. Because of this I did know how to parent. Like when and how should I set boundaries? What kinds of things should I be teaching her? It was also difficult because there were people who instead of encouraging me and providing solutions they would make comments as stated above and others like the ones in...
Until the age of thirteen, we went back and forth from my parents to foster homes. We were sometimes placed together in the same home, but not always. I was in three other homes that I can remember. I lived in one of them for a year. While I was there I contracted lice and scabies. Once when I was sick with a stomach bug, I was forced to eat my dinner–otherwise I was going to be sent to my room. It was awful! In another foster home, I remember there being a strict policy of how much toilet paper, one or three squares, you could use depending on what you needed to do. It was the strangest thing ever for me, because even while in the projects with my biological parents we never did that. My mom somehow always had enough to provide for us girls and even helped others who were less fortunate.
We did not have extended family that would or could take us in. We only saw them on some occasions except for my uncle (my mother’s older brother). We couldn’t live with him because he was working full-time. However, he did bring us out every Saturday for bowling, or a movie, or the park, and he always brought us out to eat. I remember thinking he was crazy because he always told us jokes and I was not used to that. I was more used to the depression, dysfunction, and fighting in the house with us girls, mom and dad. I argued a lot with my mom and oldest sister. My sister and I fought because my mom would not set limits with me. I believe she was too sick to. My sister thought it would be better if I stayed home and not spend time with my friends. I didn’t want to be home because I didn’t want to see my parents sick. I just wanted to be a kid and have fun. She tried to be my mom, but I didn’t like it because I felt she was too controlling. It got so bad that we started fighting physically, so when my sister turned eighteen my mom made her leave and she went into a group home.
I felt like my mom was a broken record, repeating over and over...
Being pregnant at 16 was very emotional. Exciting, motivating, emotional, frustrating, and a whole bunch more! As a pregnant teen I had a lot of questions and concerns, worries and doubts, thoughts and plans. Maybe it’s just me but I felt as if I were going to annoy my doctor if I was constantly asking and questioning things so I would just Google some stuff. Sometimes Google made me even more worried and anxious, which was horrible. I’m the type of person to over think and stress about the smallest things; imagine how much stressing I was doing. I signed up on all the baby pages existing to get information and receive emails tracking my pregnancy. I downloaded about 20 apps on my phone that all said the same thing. Soo many questions and concerns and nowhere to go to for answers besides the internet. A first time mom has a lot to learn. I look back now and realize I was going crazy. I asked things like “why am I 4 months and barely showing, Google said my belly is supposed to be 20 inches and I’m only 17 so what’s up? What I do wrong?”. “I forgot to take my prenatal vitamin, is that bad? Should I take 2 vitamins tomorrow or drink extra orange juice?” Ones that depressed me the most were “What do I need to baby proof my home?” or “How mych tuna can I eat in one week?” or “If the roast beef on my sandwich isn’t preheated to 193748 degrees, will my baby get an infection?”
“Kill me now this is too much,” I thought, but then would I cry and take it all back and thank god for blessing me with my baby, but 10 minutes later be going crazy again, lol. It wasn’t funny in the moment though.
Thankfully I received prenatal care at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and they offered me the opportunity to become part of a group called Centering Pregnancy, where you would receive your prenatal care with other young moms and sit down as a group for 2 hours going over everything pregnancy related. I was excited to hear...
I am not 100% sure how to do it all. Juggling school, work, parenting a toddler, financials, and being a partner, and making sure there are date nights. Lately, I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed with everything. I sometimes just want to crawl into a ball and stay in bed all day.
But, then I think about how I should deal with these stressful times. Therapists are really helpful and it’s comforting to know you have someone to always talk to, besides a significant other. Taking walks outside and exercising can also help relieve stress. Doing what makes you happy and taking time for yourself is so important. In order for you to be the best for your child, you need to be the best you can be for yourself first.
Here are some examples of what people do to release stress. Hopefully, it can help some people who are reading this.
- watching tv
- listening to music
In the past few months, there have been a few new anonymous apps and websites developed with the intention of providing a forum for people to ‘vent’ and anonymously and share their secrets with the world. While millennials have used apps like Whisper to seek advice or share their stories with strangers, so have millennial parents. We know that some parenthood isn’t always sunshine and giggles, and this rings true for teen parenthood too.
I can imagine which feelings young parents share on Whisper, often times feelings that are regretful and wishful of a different outcome for their lives. Unfortunately, some were eager to pick up on the reality that young moms can feel regretful and overwhelmed by parenthood. Instead of asking, “Why don’t young moms have safe spaces to share their honest feelings and find support?” some chose to perpetuate the stigma that young moms are fighting against every day. Truthfully, our society hasn’t done a good job of creating a safe space for moms to vent about parenthood and our society certainly doesn’t provide a safe space for young moms to share the reality of what their lives are like without exploiting them for an unrelated agenda.
Here’s my secret:
“Mom, Mom…MOM!” All yelled within two seconds of each other. “What!” I finally respond, with a voice elevated enough to answer my neighbor’s children. I know my name is “Mom” I got it, but is it just too much to ask if I don’t have it shouted for immediate attention three times consecutively? I get, and I’m sure all moms have realized more in the last year that they will only be shouting “Mom” with loving intention and I will get annoyed by it. Does that make me a bad mother? Does my age determine whether annoyance is a valid feeling...