Unlike what alarmist government-funded programs and conservative-religious lobby groups will try to tell you, teen motherhood is neither a crisis nor an event that will destroy or ruin the life of a young mother.
Old studies that supposedly proved that teen pregnancy was a crisis were based on biased data with confounding variables (race, culture, social class, etc.). But this supposed “research” fulfilled the right-wing, socially conservative, political purposes of the time.
New data proves what people knew up until 50 years ago: teen pregnancy is natural and is NOT a crisis. (When was the greatest rate of teen pregnancy during the past century? During the 1950s. These were the mothers of the Baby Boomers!)
Here are some quotes from recent studies, illustrating the new knowledge about young motherhood:
“.. a review of the research evidence finds that the age at which pregnancy occurs has little effect on social outcomes. Many teenage mothers describe how motherhood makes them feel stronger, and marks a change for the better. Many fathers seek to remain connected with their children.” (Duncan, 2007)
“Moreover, we find that teen mothers may actually achieve higher evels of earnings over their adult lives than if they had postponed motherhood. Finally, we find evidence that while teenage childbearing does seem to increase public aid expenditures immediately after a teen birth, this “negative” consequence of teenage childbearing is not a permanent one, in that teen mothers use less public aid in their late 20s as their earnings rise and their children age.” (Hotz, McElroy, & Sanders, 1999).
Of young mothers who had left foster care: …”becoming a parent meant a positive change in their otherwise chaotic lives. Their experience of motherhood brought about love and enjoyment,
and it signified continuity and fulfillment of a void. For some young mothers, the child provided a focus in their lives and a drive to achieve a position.” –Barn and Mantonavi (2007, page 236-237)
Look at your family trees. My guess is that almost all of your female ancestors prior to 1900 were teen mothers when they had their first babies.
And, existing social class that a woman has grown up in indicates that social class she and her child will be in — NOT the age at which she has given birth! A mother who has grown up middle-class does NOT automatically become a “welfare mom” just because she started a family when young:
“Teen mothers’ life trajectories reflected legacies of unequal life chances that began in childhood and persisted into their 30s. Mothers with childhood advantages fared better over time than impoverished mothers, and a legacy of advantage contributed to a cushion of safety and opportunity for their teenaged children. Conclusion: The powerful legacy of social class and racial divisions on teen mothers’ long-term outcomes challenges the view that teen mothering leads to a downward spiral with negative repercussions for mothers and children” — SmithBattle (2007).
Not only this, but recent research has shown that there’s no good reason to postpone childbearing, especially postponing it until you can no longer conceive. Nature made women to be their most fertile between the ages of 16 and 26. Age-related infertility begins it’s slow climb at around age 27. So, whey are women waiting until their 30s or even 40s to try to conceive? It is their individual choice to do so, but if they do, then I do not believe they “deserve” another woman’s baby to fill that need. It was their own choice to wait, and to take the risk that conception would not possible.. Whitley & Kirmayer (2008) mention that the average age of first births in Canada in 2003 was 28, compared to 22 in 1972.
“Don’t be selfish! Think of that poor couple who can’t have a baby of their own!”* — my father’s words to me when i was crying my eyes out, wanting desperately to keep my baby.
We as young mothers were (and are) supposed to put the wants and needs of adoptive parents before our own, to give away our babies in order to allow them to “build their families.” We are called selfish, self-centred, and immature for wanting to keep our babies. (But does anyone apply these adjectives to older, married mothers who have children? No, because it is only teen mothers who are considered “not worthy” to have babies at all.)
Is it any wonder that a teen parent not only has to fight for the right to raise her baby, but also for her basic human right to the support to keep her family together — and on top of that, she has the social stress of the stigma against her? To show how incredibly unnecessary and inappropriate this stigma is, Whitley and Kirmayer (2008) found that it is now being applied to women in their early 20s!
“Anglophone Euro-Canadian mothers in their early 20s may now be experiencing aspects of social exclusion traditionally associated with ‘teenage mothers.’ This may have a deleterious effect on health.”
I was forced to leave high school in 1979 when I became pregnant – that’s what girls did. I worked on courses by correspondence. It wasn’t even an option to stay in school. This exiling and ostracization was barbarous to do this to any woman — and I thought that this inhumane, discriminatory, and backward practice had ended — but then I read this, written in 2008:
“Girls are forced out of the mainstream education system because they are pregnant or have given birth. The consequences for the young mothers and their children are dramatic… there is a los tgeneration of teenage girls who hve become pregnant in the last two to three years and have effectively ‘fallen through the net.'” (Lall, 2008)
What we need are strong programs that support young mothers, without exclusion, without limitation. Programs that recognize that young children NEED their mothers at home, and that mothering as a career is JUST as important as any other career. Not only that, but recognizing that becoming a mother can be a powerful incentive for a woman to advance her education. Here is one study’s recommendations about helping young mothers:
We suggest that the UK Government adopts a broader approach to addressing social exclusion associated with teenage pregnancy, and one which: values and supports full-time mothering as well as gaining skills; affords teenage mothers the same rights as less vulnerable mothers; fosters supportive social networks and enables the young women to engage actively in the process of their own inclusion. (Austerberry & Wiggins, 2007).
Austerberry, H., & Wiggins, M. (2007). Taking a pro-choice perspective on promoting inclusion of teenage mothers: Lessons from an evaluation of the Sure Start Plus programme. Critical Public Health, 17(1), 3-15.
Duncan, S. (2007). What’s the problem with teenage parents? And what’s the problem with policy? Critical Social Policy, 27(3), 307-334.
Gibbs, N. (2002). Making time for baby. Time Magazine, April 15, 2002. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1002217,00.html .
Hotz, V. J., McElroy, S. W., & Sanders, S. G. (1999). Teenage Childbearing and Its Life Cycle Consequences: Exploiting a Natural Experiment.
Hope, T., Wilder, E. I., & Watt, T. T. (2003). Pregnancy, pregnancy resolution, and juvenile delinquency. The Sociological Quarterly, 44(4), 555-576.
Lall, M. (2007). Exclusion from school: Teenage pregnancy and the denial of education. Sex Education, 7(3), 219-237.
Luker, K. (1996). Dubious conceptions: The politics of teenage pregnancy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Oberlander, S. E., Black, M. M., Starr, R. H. (2007). African American adolescent mothers and grandmothers: A multigenerational approach to parenting. American Journal of Community Psychology, 39(1-2), 37-46.
Richards, J., Papworth, M., Corbett, S., & Good, J. (2007). Adolescent motherhood: A Q-methodological re-evaluation of psychological and social outcomes. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 17(5) 347-362.
Shanok, A. F., & Miller, L. (2007). Stepping up to motherhood among inner-city teens. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31(3), 252-261
Smith-Battle, L. (2007a). ‘I wanna have a good future’: Teen mothers’ rise in educational aspirations, competing demands, and limited school support. Youth and Society, 38(3), 348-371.
SmithBattle, L. (2007b). Legacies of advantage and disadvantage: The case of teen mothers. Public Health Nursing, 24(5), 409-420.
Solinger, R. (2000). Wake up little Susie: Single pregnancy and race before Roe v. Wade. New York: Routledge.
Whitley, R., & Kirmayer, L. J. (2008). Perceived stigmatisation of young mothers: An exploratory study of psychological and social experience. Social Science and Medicine, 66(2), 339-348.
Zeck, W., Bjelic-Radisic, V., Haas, J., & Greimel, E. (2007). Impact of adolescent pregnancy on the future life of young mothers in terms of social, familial, and educational changes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(4), 380-388.
* The sad irony is that this “poor infertile couple” that i was supposed to give my child to, to satisfy THEIR needs, then went on to have two children of their own. So there was absolutely NO reason for this adoption to occur. They could have children of their own – they did not need mine.
Hi! I haven’t written any posts lately, and I apologize to my readers for the delay. I’m spending every spare waking moment finishing off a large report for the clinic I volunteer for, as the final requirement for my practicum work term there. And, following “Cedar’s Third Law” (or “Cedar’s First Law of Project Management”:) “Every project will take twice as long as you originally estimate.” And, indeed, this one has. So, wish me luck. The finish line for my Masters degree is finally in sight … !
Meanwhile, as most of you know, I am a support and advocate for young mothers. I want to share these two sites with you:
Promoting Respect for Young Mothers at http://prymface.yolasite.com
and Moms and Mentors Society at http://www.momsandmentors.ca
Maureen Hobbs, who coordinators Moms and Mentors, wrote an excellent Masters’ thesis for her Nursing degree, written on how support for young mother can make so much difference for them. (Frankly, this support is something that older mothers take for granted!). On a discouraging note, I heard from another mother in Vancouver who spoke with the coordinator or a support group for young mothers — she said that young mothers are still openly insulted to their faces and yelled at on Public transit in Vancouver — there is still a huge amount of stigma against a woman having a child during the first half of her most fertile years, the time when Nature intends us to give birth.