A Better Version of Myself

When I got pregnant in high school, I made the choice to parent at 18 years old. Though, the unpopular choice for a senior in high school I knew my life would be forever changed. Unlike what we are taught to believe, however, I didn’t think it would be changed for the worst.

Yes, I chose to parent after being told repeatedly that I had nothing to provide for my child. I had a job, but I was told it wasn’t enough. I had my high school diploma, but I was warned that that wasn’t going to suffice. I also had a relationship with my child’s father — but I was told he was going to leave me.

These cautions didn’t stop me. They inspired me to be better for my child — a better version of myself. And when I first began my journey advocating for youth, I can admit that I felt out of place.

I remember listening to other girls share their stories and thinking “Oh my gosh. I don’t relate to these girls, at all. My story is so different. I had the supportive mother, boyfriend and friends. I was not kicked out my home. How will we connect?” But then soon enough something in me realized it wasn’t a lack of support that made these girls and I the same… It was the constant scrutiny by onlookers and peers that connected us.  The unwarranted parenting advice, the display of obvious disapproval of our choice to parent, the questions — the inevitable “You’re a baby having a baby.”

I once tried to shield myself from these harsh realities. I used to shut down and shrink in size whenever I was approached by a naysayer who condemned my choice and my right to parent at eighteen. These people once made me feel so small. These people used to make me walk with my head down.

But then suddenly that changed and I traded in that protective shield for battle armor. I welcomed conversation by sharing my story and advocating for young parents whom readily identified with my situation. I started to challenge naysayers with facts that defeat their typical stereotypes. I stood up for myself and others fearlessly. And I did this because the girls that I met along the way have inspired me so incredibly with their stories of triumph and perseverance in the face of stigma, shame and stereotypes — I wanted to continue being in that business of inspiration.

This is why young parent led events like November 5th’s #HearOurStories are so important. They allow US to have a say, utilize our own voices, to speak up and be heard. They allow us the chance to step out of the shadows of the teen parent stereotype and shine light on our opportunities and successes.

On November 5th, the auditorium was filled with people willing to #HearOurStories. The night was powerful and at the same time, tear jerking for many because for many, the stories shared are the realities that have affected our everyday lives. The young women who created the visual pieces shown showcased only a clip of their lives as a young parent but each second was as powerful as the last. I broke away from the screen monetarily to scan the room, looking for audience reactions. I heard claps, I heard gasps, and I witnessed complete awe.

What is important to take away from #HearOurStories was the bravery, courage, honesty and most importantly first hand perception on what it is like being a teen parent. The panel of mommas allowed the audience to ask candid questions about their experiences, and the vent gave them the space to answer those questions in their own words. Teen parent stigmatization should not be the norm. It should not become instilled in our identities and forced upon us.  Though we are well equipped to use our voices in defense — we should not have to. So often we are asked, “What are your struggles as a teen parent?” But rarely are we ever asked about our successes — or even, our child’s favorite color. Favorite food.

#HearOurStories allowed young voices to be heard and heard loudly and share the highlights and joys of parenting. Thank you Paris Robinson, Daisy Rodriguez, Dashira Pomales, Lauren Singer, Ciara Mejia and Grace Garcia for sharing your stories.

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Relieving Stress Can Be Simple

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. 

  1.  cooking
  2. watching tv
  3.  writing
  4.  meditating
  5. listening to music
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Teen Moms Deserve Safe Spaces to Vent

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...

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Being in School as a Pregnant Teen

Going to high school as a pregnant and parenting teen led to many mixed emotions, negative thoughts, shame and stigma, but most definitely also an eagerness to graduate. That desire to graduate was only reinforced by all the negative things society had to say about young parents not graduating and dropping out of school. In my school the rumor went around after every vacation I tool that apparently I wasn’t coming back. Completely bogus. A lot of the mixed emotions and negative thoughts were the awkward things I experienced during the school day throughout the school year, not only pregnant but coming back after birth. Luckily I was able to graduate on time in 2013.

In May 2014 I submitted my oral testimony at the Boston Public School (BPS) policy hearing about my experiences in high school, and why the expectant and pregnant policy should be passed for the upcoming school year. With all the advocacy done towards the issue, on June 4th 2014 the policy passed! Now BPS has a great policy on expectant and parenting students. Pregnant or parenting students now have the opportunity to finish their high school education without being mistreated or unaware of their rights. I am very excited to see the results on how this policy improves the graduation outcomes for the BPS students.

After graduating high school I quickly enrolled in Bunker Hill as a full time student. Due to my child care inconveniences and lack of motivation I didn’t complete the fall or spring semesters for the 2013-2014 school year. I knew i wanted to go to school, but the pressure lead me to take on a college responsibility before I was really ready. After being out of school for two semesters I finally realized I wanted to be in school and i am ready to go back and kick ass! I am now motivated, something that I didn’t feel right after I graduated.

In my situation it took me...

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#TeenMomForever

When I got pregnant my senior year of high school, I honestly never thought much about how being a young mom would impact me in the ways it has. I remember growing up, thinking, I would NEVER want to fuck up and be a teen mom. To be pregnant in high school, not married, to be a single mom, those were not positive things for me to be. I grew up around conservative ideals of motherhood and female sexuality. I hid the fact that I was on the pill and having sex with my boyfriend. Of course, some of these would good boundaries, but I wasn’t hiding them to establish healthy boundaries with parents (I don’t think I really knew what healthy boundaries with parents was). I was hiding my sexuality because I was terrified they would hate me.

So, coming close to 14 years ago, I got pregnant. I was also on the pill. I had sex for the first time, literally, the month prior. My pregnancy was a horribly lonesome time. I hid my pregnancy from everyone. I wore baggy clothes and acted as if nothing was different. I felt ashamed and I blamed my morning multivitamin for my morning sickness. I would throw up in gym and band class. Band would end and here I was packing up my flute quickly, feeling the urge to puke, and running to the garbage can or bathroom … leaving class without permission. I was hiding saltine crackers and PowerAde in my locker, eating and drinking them quickly between classes. Trying to keep the puke down. Looking back, it is amazing how I survived. Seriously. When I see teen girls pregnant, I usually think: fuck, I hope you have support because it’s fucking rough. Now, I’m 32. If I...

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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—...

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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...

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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 &emdash; a sexual health peer education program for high school students. 

Shira Cahn-Lipman1. 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....

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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...

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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...

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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...

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