We know the stereotypes and prejudices that teen parents have to face — but we also know the truth. We know that teen parents can be capable caregivers and fabulous role models for their children. We know that, with support, they can achieve academically and professionally. We know young families can be successful.

This space is to push back against all that ignorance, bitterness, and prejudice and show what young parenthood really looks like.

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Admitting The Truth Hurts

Mommy, when can I see nana or papa?”

The words cut me as glass. How I want to respond “because they are not fundamentally good people that pushed me out of their life, all my life, in many different ways … but as a lost puppy I would return only to be tossed out, cast away, shamed, and made to feel that their failures in life were my own and somehow my responsibility to fix”. What I really say to my son is that “you know that saying if you have nothing nice to say than don’t say anything at all … well that’s kind of the decision I made with continuing this relationship I have with them."

Blank stare. That’s all he does. No words.

So I continue, “mommy doesn’t think they are really bad people to everyone… they never have done anything horrible that you know about or remember … but basically I just don’t enjoy the time we share, or, the way you or I are treated by them. As kids we are forced to respect our parents even if our parents don’t respect us. There’s a difference in not getting everything you want as a child and not getting everything you need. There’s an emotional bond me and you share that I always wanted with my parents… “

I stop because at this point I’m talking about so many raw feelings it hurts and I’m getting emotional and teary eyed.

Dyl looks up at me with squinty eyes and just says “okay, I love you… but are you going to cry?

I start to laugh… Literally hysterically …then wrap myself around him and just snuggle him. Even when it hurts to think about the pain and hurt I feel from my parents— he makes me serendipitously happy.

You may not have been able to choose the childhood and life you had as a child but you can change the childhood your child will have by breaking those chains and building even stronger ones with your children. Even if you don’t have many things in mind that your parents did right by you that you want you to do in return for your children; there are the things that you know you don’t ever want to do. So use the negative as a guide of what not to do and instead teach them boundaries, teach them responsibility, teach them the power and value of not only an education but the idea to stay hungry for knowledge, teach them what’s right and wrong, and most importantly say “I LOVE YOU” even after the day they say “MOM I KNOW “.

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What I Fear Most

Ever since the day I found out I was pregnant the number one question everyone asked was, “how are you going to prevent him from becoming a teen parent like yourself and his father?” I never knew the right way to answer that so I would just say, “we have a couple more years to figure that out.” I would constantly think of ways of how I can prevent my son of being a teen parent, how to talk to him about sex, and when it will even be the right time to talk to him about these things. So much that it would stress me out, and because I felt like I didn’t have the answers I felt like I was failing as a mother; in a sense setting my son up for following in my footsteps.

For over 3 years this question has been over my head, stressing me out, and being such a fear of mine. But then I came to the realization that preventing Xavier from being a teen parent is not what scares me the most, him becoming a drug addict, alcoholic, in a gang, in jail, or his life taken away from him too early is my #1 fear and what I should be preventing him from! But yet I have not yet been asked the question of, “how are you going to prevent your son from drug, alcohol, and or violence?” Since when did teen pregnancy become the biggest fear in society and the only thing society cares about preventing –shaming people along the way?

There are TV shows, movies, magazines, billboards, social media photos, games, and so much more all trying to prevent teen pregnancy with shame and stigma. And in no way am I saying teen pregnancy is not an issue, it is a issue that we most definitely need to prevent, but how about the ads on preventing youth on becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol, getting involved in a gang, going to jail, or losing their life too early. Why are their faces not plastered everywhere being shamed like we are? Why is sex on TV, in songs, in movies, in ads, etc… okay as long as you don’t get pregnant? And if you do, you’re made into a public figure as a mistake? Is it socially acceptable to do drugs, drink excessively, be in and out of jail, and kill people because it’s in every new hit song, TV show, and ad; but very few to prevent it? Because as a mother those are the things I fear the most, and those are the things I am going to try my upmost hardest to prevent my son from, ON TOP of preventing him from being a teen father.

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Empowering Teens to Educate Peers: An Interview with Shira Cahn-Lipman

Shira Cahn-Lipman, MEd is the Manager of Youth Education at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. In that role she provides professional training to adult educators on the Get Real: Comprehensive Sex Education That Works curricula and runs the Get Real Teen Council – a sexual health peer education program for high school students. 

1. What is Planned Parenthood’s mission for Boston youth and how do your personal experiences intersect with that?

Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts believes all young people deserve access to health care services and medically accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality education that empowers them to make healthy decisions. Last year we launched a brand new sexual health peer education program for high school students called the Get Real Teen Council. 

The mission of the Get Real Teen Council, which I co-facilitate, is to empower teenagers to educate their peers, families, and communities about human sexuality and healthy decision making and to inspire teens to use their voices to advocate for just and humane sexual attitudes and practices. Through the power of peer education that teaches accurate, unbiased, comprehensive sexuality education, we can work to end ignorance, promote acceptance and improve communication between teens and the important people in their lives. 

Prior to my experience co-facilitating the Get Real Teen Council, I was lucky enough to work with thousands of young people as a PPLM educator. This particular experience cemented for me the importance of empowering teens to take ownership of this important material. It is one thing for me, as an educator, to walk into a classroom and talk to students about sexuality and relationships and protection and STIs and decision making. But it’s been a far more powerful thing for me to watch students teach those same lessons both inside and outside of the classroom and assume leadership roles within their own communities. That’s a powerful moment when they are able to offer factual information to a friend in need or to answer a tough question that a friend was embarrassed to ask anyone else.

 

2. How does Planned Parenthood work to ensure all young people are equitably served and represented? 

Young people can rely on Planned Parenthood for non-judgmental, confidential, affordable health care. We recognize that teens of color and low-income teens are particularly at risk for unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Through our clinical, educational, and advocacy programs, we work to ensure all people have access to the health care and information they need. One of our highest priority goals during recruitment for the Get Real Teen Council was to find a group of tenth through twelfth graders who were not only dedicated to our mission but also represented the racial, socio-economic, ethnic, social, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity of the communities we serve. 

 

3. We often hear that teens are more likely to make safer and well-informed choices if they have strong relationships with their parents. If a young person doesn’t have a safe relationship with their parents, what are some alternatives? 

We encourage young people to find a variety of trusting, respectful, and caring adults in their lives whom they can turn to for support, advice, and resources. Young people can first think about what makes an adult trustworthy and then brainstorm a list of adults they can go to with questions or concerns about sexuality topics. This may be a relative, teacher, coach, youth group leader, physician, school nurse, school counselor, or another person in their lives. Everyone needs, and deserves, to have an older person in their life they can feel comfortable discussing their feelings and concerns. In addition, Planned Parenthood offers a range of website and hotline phone resources for young people and I suggest you reach out to professionals in various organizations, health services, and support groups for help in negotiating life. For more information go to www.pplm.org or call our counseling and referral hotline: 1-800-258-4448, option 3.

 

4. What tips would you give young people for talking to their parents about identity, sex, and relationships? 

The Get Real Teen Council collaborated with our Manager of Education back in October 2013 (during “Let’s Talk” month) to create the following tips for teens who want to talk to a parent or caregiver:

Think about what you want/need. Information? Support with a problem? Do you want to talk to them about decisions you’ve made or are thinking about? Do you want them to bring you to the clinic? Sometimes writing down ideas can help you prepare.

When and Where? Talk to them when they are relaxed and not in the middle of something important or in a hurry. Some people like to talk face to face and some feel more comfortable when they can be walking side by side or in the car. If this takes a while, don’t give up.

Getting started. You might tell them that you’d like to talk and ask if it’s a good time. Ask them to let you talk. Remind them that sometimes it is hard to get feelings into words and if they interrupt ask them to wait.

Be prepared to listen to them as well. They might have some good advice for you even if you don’t agree with everything they say AND, remember, it is often just as difficult for adults to talk about sex and other challenging topics.

Be honest. Being honest creates trust. Trust can make life happier and be a foundation for healthy relationships and communication.

Allow for mistakes and assume best intentions. Although they may not say the perfect thing, or say what you want them to, or even have an immediate solution – keep talking. No one is perfect so allow for mistakes and try to see where they are coming from and then: keep talking.

 

5. How can young people get more involved with Planned Parenthood’s work in our communities?

We’re fighting for change in Massachusetts, but we can’t do it without you! The Get Real Teen Council is one way to get involved with our work. More information about the program can be found at www.pplm.org/GRTC. You can also join the Sex Ed Matters campaign to increase access to comprehensive sexuality education in Massachusetts: sign the petition, share your story, or take a photo and share it online. If you want to learn about upcoming events, like walking in the Boston Pride Parade, email ajohnson AT pplm DOT org to learn more.

 

READ NEXT: Empowering Teens During Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, an interview with Jasmin Colon and Ciara Mejia on the Planned Parenthood blog.

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No Mistaking Mama's Love

Every day is Mama’s Day, in a world where children are identifying with a woman showing her love, undying commitment, whose selfless love unconditionally cures the aches and pains associated with a world often hard to understand. This woman is Mama. What is it that makes a Mama so incredible? It’s not her age, her socioeconomic status, her marital status or where she lives. What makes a Mama so incredible is that she sees the soul of this amazing human being that has graced her life, knowing that one day her showering of everything short of the moon for her child will yield the most incredible gift of all, one that cannot be written in a card or bought in the form of a bouquet of flowers. This gift is the child who enters our world innocently, and grows with such power and grace to represent their Mama’s legacy long after she is gone, bringing their own uniqueness mixed with the grace and timeless character of their Mama. 

Young mothers are supremely capable of great love! Their soft malleable hearts, being molded to give so much to that beautiful soul at a young age, setting aside her own innate needs, to provide the nourishment and care this beautiful baby needs. Many times alone, in a world whose common greeting comes with the disappointed shake of a head, a shielded stance to avoid that ‘contagion’ of teen pregnancy or sometimes the judgmental comment that often times attacks this beautiful Mama’s core. 

May is recognized nationally as Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, a message that may come with hurtful, shaming, stigmatizing and desensitizing messaging and imaging using young mamas as a negative example. #NoTeenShame is a movement of 7 mamas across the nation whose journey into Mamahood began young and was accompanied with the harsh anti-teen pregnancy campaigns. 7 mamas who were sometimes alone, shamed by society and filled with disappointment and guilt from the hurtful judgments caste by family, friends, educators, and healthcare professionals. 7 mamas who believe that young families are sacred, deserve respect and should be honored. Mamas who share the belief that young families are working so hard to grow as individuals while completing their education, working to feed and clothe their babies, all while fighting a daily battle of prejudice, shame and painful judgment. Mamas who believe that young families should be treated with dignity when taking their child to the doctor, when bringing their child to daycare, when asking for help from a world who makes it sometimes impossible to parent without support, however continues to humiliate and dehumanize this Mama when she accepts that help.

Mamas representing #NoTeenShame whole heartedly believe that teen pregnancy prevention is possible without the blame, hurt and shame; that teen pregnancy prevention can be accomplished through the sharing of true experiences of teens parents with non-parenting teens in a safe, homogenous environment where their experiences will be respected and valued, and they will be recognized as educators and influential stakeholders in the future of our nation’s youth.

#NoTeenShame is a movement led by 7 young mothers, Natasha Vianna, Gloria Malone, Lisette Orellana, Marylouise Kuti-Schubert, Jasmin Colon, Christina Martinez, and Consuela Greene, to improve strategic messaging campaigns and conversation around young parenting to a non-stigmatizing and non-shaming approach, while highlighting the importance of comprehensive sex ed. 

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A Dark Path of Bad Memories

On February 19, 2014, I was in a bad car accident. I was driving straight through an intersection, on a green for me, while the other person decided to take a left coming from the opposite direction, and smashed into the driver’s side and pushed my car so hard it went into a pole. I do not know if I have been so scared in my life, but at the same time, I found myself thanking god that my son was not in the car. I just felt like everything shattered in my world. I did what the doctor said, I took time off work, did physical therapy, took medication, and did not pick up my son. This not being able to work and not doing what I usually do, has led me to start to go back on the path of depression. I felt like doing nothing, sometimes sleeping too much, just not taking care of myself. It made me feel awful to know I was not being the best mother my son deserves. It brought back memories of being depressed back at the end of my high school years and a little after.  I became depressed because of underlying issues of adoption, a break up with an ex-boyfriend, whom at that time I loved, but what pushed me over the edge was being raped and dealing with the trial and testifying… Just that dark black path of bad memories and places I just did not want to revisit. 

Those feelings and actions, of cutting yourself, sleeping too much, not eating or eating too much, isolation, no motivation, and the worst feeling of all, the feeling of being suicidal, because you feel you are not worthy enough to be in this world and a couple of times getting so close to ending your life.  Throughout the many years, I have worked on myself and dug into those issues of being adopted and how I felt different from my peers and friends, the break up and how it affected me, and conquered my feelings of the whole rape case. Through time, being adopted did not bother me. I have been able to speak up about my assault and feel strong to say that I am a survivor, and that feeling of healing is so amazing and empowering. Issues of the break up, I realized there wasn’t anything wrong with me, it just was not a good fit in the end and I am glad. I am so happy how my life has turned out and where it is headed. I might not be able to work for a little, but I have an amazing job, I have great friends. I am going to college to eventually become a Dr. I have the best family who are so supportive and amazing, I have a partner who loves me for me and supports me in absolutely everything I do, works his butt off, and we created the most incredible, intelligent, kind hearted, sweet, lovable, etc. I can go on forever, little boy! The most absolute best part and life changing is being a mother. Therefore, in regards to being depressed about the accident, I have picked myself up, decided to not go down that dark path again, and just realized this is just a little bump in my life journey. My family and everybody around me deserve to see a happy and healthy Lauren, but most importantly, my son and I deserve it the most.

My message to anybody who is going through depression is you can heal and be happy again. Work through those issues that are making you feel this way. Whether it be sexual or violence abuse or assault, bad break ups, adoption or foster care issues, the list goes on.  If you have children, do it for them, but more importantly, do it for yourself. So, you can be the best person you are meant to be. It is very hard, I will never say it is otherwise, but the reward you get from healing makes everything worth it. People do believe in you, but YOU have to be the first one to believe in yourself.  No matter what it is, you can pick yourself up, dust your knees and hands off, walk towards the light at the end of the dark tunnel and achieve whatever you set your mind to in life. 

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5 Ways the New Policy For Parenting Students in Boston is Awesome

Boston Public Schools has been working with the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy and several supportive organizations across the city on a very comprehensive policy for expectant and parenting students. It’s pretty amazing and nostalgic for me as I was brought on as a young mom during a roundtable discussion with Councilor Ayanna Pressley at Boston City Hall in 2010 (here’s my recap) and it’s been history-in-the-making since!

In 2010, Councilor Ayanna Pressley, Chair of Committee on Women and Healthy Communities, scheduled a meeting with organizations across the city who work with expectant and parenting students, Boston Public Schools, and young mothers to talk about the 1988 version of the policy. In 2010, Councilor Pressley presented the motion to revise the School-Age Parents Policy of the Boston Public Schools and the revision process began in 2013!

I have attended every single meeting and ensured that my voice was and is both being heard and used to entirely change and improve a policy that will impact the lives of young families. My experiences may be unique in some ways and my narrative does not represent an entire community, but my lens can help shape something more appropriate for people like me. 

Here are 5 awesome points we cover:

1. Throughout this new policy, “expectant student” is defined as any student, regardless of gender identity, who is either pregnant or is the partner of a pregnant student. This matters to young people who are often misgendered and misidentified. 

2. Discrimination and harassment from school staff is highlighted! Yes! School leaders, teachers, and other school staff are held accountable for leading the way in treating all students, including expectant and parenting students, with respect, and recognizing that all students have the potential to succeed, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, relationship status, or marital status.

3. And just as Title IX mandates, expectant and parenting students who feel their civil rights may have been violated for any reason are encouraged to file a report with the Equity Office. Principals, Superintendents, and staff are all held accountable for violating a young parents' rights.

4. Schools should also be sensitive to new mothers’ need to express breastmilk and should work with students to identify a private and sanitary location for this purpose. Because of my experience in high school, this was actually one of my own key policy suggestions. Elevating every young moms' right to pump and giving them the time to pump, space to pump, and support to pump is vital.

5. And of course, all expectant and parenting students have the right to choose how and when they seek services and support from school staff. Staff cannot push their noses into a young parent's business and no one can force a young parent to participate in a program or apply for something they do not want to apply for. Young parents are not forced into any class or program that perpetuates the idea that they are incapable of succeeding without it.

As you can imagine, the policy is both long and comprehensive so there’s a ton more that isn’t posted in this blog and while it's not in its final state, I am so proud of it already.

Please leave a comment below with your thoughts on this policy or feel free to ask a question. I’ll answer them myself! 

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Not The End

Not the end—but a new beginning to my world.”

Dear Teen Parent,

Becoming a parent at a young age means that you and your baby have found each other a little earlier than expected, but it also means that you will get to love them longer! I guarantee that many have said and will continue to say your life has ended. Do not let this lie become a reality to you. Reality is, your life has just begun. A baby certainly does not take away our, or anyone’s future. They give us a new one. As teen parents, it is up to us to show the world the amazing young men, women and parents there can be. Things may be hard but definitely not impossible, even though you may feel it is because of all the stress. Just know it is not the end of the world. It is a new beginning and a blessing. I guarantee you will never love anyone as much as you love your child. And no one is going to love you and look up to you as much as your child will. There’s a type of love no one experiences until they have a baby and we are lucky to have experienced it at a young age. Do what you have to do for you and your child. Keep your head up high and do not let anyone tell you you’re not a great parent because of your age. Also know that there are people out there who care and live the same struggles, and your child is going to love you no matter what.

Sincerely,

Ciara Mejia

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It May Be Hard

It may be hard but not impossible!”

Dear Young Parent,

Back when I was 16 and first found out I was pregnant this is the quote my cousin, who was a teen parent, told me to get me through. This quote helped me when I was scared, when I didn’t know what to do, or when I felt like giving up, and still does to this day. Whenever times get tough I always keep this quote in mind and it makes me want to keep pushing and to not give up. And today I am giving you this letter to tell you that yes things are going to be hard. But with hard work and dedication you can get through it; it’s not impossible! And I know that for a fact, because I went from being 16, jobless, in school, homeless, depressed, and struggling to 20 years old with 3 jobs, my own apartment and car, starting college, and happy with who I am today and where I am headed!

Best Wishes,

Jasmin Colon

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The Journey Starts Today

Dear Young Parent,

If there was only a few words that I had heard when I needed it—something to hold onto—it would sound like this:

Listen I’ve been there. I got pregnant at 16 and 99% of the people I knew and cared about thought I wouldn’t become the college educated, healthcare worker I am today. I just want you to know that on your weakest days you will (eventually) be fine- just keep doing what you have to do.

1) Evolve- life changes –be able to evolve and change with it. Do what you need to do to fit your dream and get you and your child to that finish line.

2) Follow your heart- you know what’s best for you and your child.

3) Every day is temporary. Most importantly,

4) You’re never too old to start dreaming a new dream and NEVER too young to start to make it happen.

Long story short I BELIEVE IN YOU! Just because you’re a young parent, doesn’t mean you’re any less of a mom or dad. You can and will be able to achieve a great life for you and your kid(s). The journey starts today. 

Love, 

Jacqueline Raetz

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Shoot For the Stars

 “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you'll land amongst the stars!” 

Dear Young Parent,

When I was pregnant, I lost my friends. At that time I felt alone and isolated. Now my son is 2 years old and it doesn’t bother me that I don’t have them anymore. In life people change. Now, I have different friends and I have a big support system. I am stronger and realize who is important and who isn’t. Don’t let anybody ever tell you, you are not capable of being successful, because you are. You can go to school, you can work, and you can be great parents. If you do lose the people you love, know that there will be other people out there who will care about you. Just know that I think you’re amazing for being exactly where you are, even for just being here at Lobby day!

From,

Lauren Singer 

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