by Nancy Sepulveda
I was 17 when an at-home pregnancy test revealed that, like countless other Latinas, I was unmarried and pregnant before my 20th birthday – before even the start of my senior year of high school, and all that came with it: prom, class trips, SATs, college applications…
Of course, there were those who doubted my ability to succeed after having a child; the assumption was that I, like many of my primas before me, would simply drop out of high school and be pregnant with another child before the ink on the welfare application was dry.
Instead, I chose to use the welfare of my child as motivation to graduate with my class (as that child, just three months old, cooed in the audience), receive several notable scholarships, and go on to obtain a baccalaureate degree in Journalism & Mass Communication before finding professional employment in higher education. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but, ‘toot.’ It was definitely a challenge juggling young parenthood with school and the transition into adulthood – but I persevered, and am confident that other young mothers (and fathers) can too.
The statistics surrounding teen pregnancy are dismal; teen parents are more likely to drop out of high school, end up in poverty, rely upon public assistance, and raise children who will go on to become young parents themselves. I don’t deny the very real hardships and consequences of teenagers and pregnancy.
But I’m kind of over the doom-and-gloom message that we constantly spit out about ‘babies havin’ babies.’ We tend to flatten and simplify this very complex issue; teen parenting becomes merely ‘Teens + Pregnancy = Immediate and Unavoidable Failure.’ Perhaps we create a societal “self-fulfilling prophecy” in which girls who do become pregnant at a young age are so hard-wired to believe that teen pregnancy equals lifelong failure that they automatically give up on themselves and their dreams for the future.
Or perhaps the factors that typically contribute to teen pregnancy (such as lack of an adequate support system, low self-esteem, engaging in risky behavior, etc.) would have contributed to a teen not finishing high school, and ending up in poverty, with or without that unintended pregnancy. Some teens who get pregnant do so as a direct result of behavior that would have prevented their academic and economic success regardless of being a teen parent.
Having a child at a young age is a definite obstacle that should be avoided, and thus I would never advocate for teen pregnancy. But maybe we should use a combination of preventative measures to ward off teen pregnancy, while acknowledging that it does still happen and that those teens can still make something of themselves. Getting that message out may be the first step.
Contributor, Nancy Sepulveda
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.