May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. This is a time when many pregnant and parenting teens are inundated with shameful advertisements that try to place them inside a box and make them feel as though their lives are destined for failure the moment they receive that positive pregnancy test. These advertisements contain very derogatory and shameful statements, such as the following from The Candies Foundation:
“Get pregnant, and you won’t be moving out of your parents house anytime soon.”
“You think being in school sucks? You know what sucks a whole lot more? A baby – almost every two hours for feeding time. Guess school doesn’t suck that badly, huh?”
“…but you got pregnant, and now you’re stuck pushing a stroller around while your friends are kickin’ it without you.”
Yes, parenting is extremely challenging. It is ideal to become a parent when you are financially and emotionally stable, which isn’t typically during your teenage years. It truly is the most difficult job in the entire world, and it is hard for anyone to grasp this concept until they are actually living it. Then again, an unplanned pregnancy shouldn’t sentence you to a life of shame. Those of us who have selflessly chosen to raise our children shouldn’t be punished and made to feel like failures. We should be uplifted, supported, and pushed to succeed for the sake of our children and ourselves.
Shaming isn’t the answer. Inspired by Boston activist and former teen parent Natasha Vianna, my nine-year-old daughter, Hayley, and I are ready to speak out. Hayley might be young, but she isn’t immune to the shaming and stigma that come along with having such a young mom. She has been told more times than she can count that I look far too young to be her mother. It doesn’t matter that I’m now 27, a college graduate, married, and financially stable. The shaming never ends. When she sees these ads and realizes that she, a beautiful and thriving young girl, is the “problem” they are trying to “solve,” it is hurtful. She isn’t a problem; she is a human child.
Becoming a teen parent doesn’t seal your fate. If I had listened to The Candies Foundation when I was a teen parent, I might not be where I am today. You aren’t destined to a life of poverty and shame. We all have the power to work hard and better ourselves, parenting or not. The Candies Foundation says, “We should be changing the world, not changing diapers.”
I say: why can’t we do both?
I, too, am the result of a seventeen year old’s unplanned pregnancy. My mother and I were best friends growing up and are still best friends to this day. I know she will always be there for me and I will always be there for her. The value of a child’s life is not determined by the age of their mother nor the manner of their conception.
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