Today one of my favorite students stopped by school to drop off her last statistics project for the math teacher. She finished everything else in December, but she has been dragging her feet on these projects. Math has never been her thing; she was SHOCKED when she passed the math portion of the graduation test. It was the very last one she had to pass, and when she did I was determined she was going to graduate. She's one of my advisees in addition to being one of my favorites.
She's had a tough life, as so many of our students have. Her mother died when she was very young, and she's never had a relationship with her father. She lived with her grandmother, but their relationship was often rocky as well. The girl has a volatile temper, but she can be one of the sweetest people in the world. She never speaks to me without saying "yes m'am" or "no m'am," and even in her darkest moments (in the throes of a violent physical fight last year, started by the other girl), she has NEVER been anything other than polite to me.
She started living with her boyfriend last semester, and she often had trouble getting to school. He is one of our former students also, and while I'm not sure their relationship is a healthy one, at least he has a steady job and is apparently taking care of my girl. And their new baby.
She came by to let me see the baby today. Audrina (isn't that a beautiful name?) was born on March 25. I held the baby, cuddled her and played with her tiny feet (I LOVE me some baby feet), hugged the mama and told her how beautiful the baby is.
And now that I think about it, I don't think this particular mama is one of the ones I'm writing this post about. She may not be married, but she is with the baby's father, he has a job, and she has finished school. (Baby daddy wasn't as successful with us.)
Teen girls get pregnant all the time (it seems more so in our county than other parts of the state, but I'm probably wrong about that), and it has become okay. We take care of them, make sure they get the care they need, steer them in the right direction to getting the social services they need, allow them flexibility in scheduling when they need to be out to have the baby or to take care of it.
Some of them have come to expect that. PROUD grandparents assist in the caretaking, even babysitting while mama and daddy go to the prom or to a football game. We coo and kiss the babies, telling the mamas how precious their babies are, ask how they are doing, fight over who is going to hold the baby. I'm as guilty as anyone else.
There is no stigma to having a baby in high school anymore.
But I don't know what the answer is. When I was in school, a girl either "went to live with relatives" or she "had" to get married. A girl who got pregnant was no longer included socially, even if she tried, which most didn't. The times have changed drastically, and I don't know that we aren't doing these teen moms a disservice. I don't mean we should turn our backs on them, but it has become waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too easy for some of them to depend upon society to take care of them. And their babies. We currently have a student who came to us because she had a young son and needed the flexibility we offered so she could graduate and take care of him. Oh yeah, and she's pregnant again, due in July. We dutifully fill out her paperwork so she can get assistance, I allow her to print out applications so her baby daddy can apply to technical school, we talk about due dates and heartburn and whether or not belly bands are helpful (I don't know - never had one).
Some schools have daycare for babies of teen moms, and that's an extension of the conflict I feel. By offering daycare we make it possible for the moms to finish their education and hope that it gives them an opportunity to go beyond high school, or at least gain the skills they need to take care of their children. But I'm afraid we also send the message that it's okay. Go ahead....get pregnant as a teenager, LOTS of people will take care of you.
I know when I had Sweet Girl, I had NO IDEA what I was doing. And I was married, college educated, had a full-time job, and she was PLANNED. It still was a crap shoot on any given day whether or not I would do something that would maim her for life. (She might argue that I did that MANY times.) I had lots of support from my mother and my sisters, but I am STILL amazed that Sweet Girl survived her childhood relatively unscathed.
And these girls? Some of them don't have a clue. They have no idea what happens when the baby stops being cute and cuddly and starts talking back. They are blissfully unaware of how nightmarish the toddler years can be. And I would be horrified at the idea of some of them helping their children with their homework.
I don't know where I'm going with this. There is no solution. They're not going to stop having sex just because we stop accepting them and taking care of their children. As long as they get acceptance from their parents, grandparents, social workers, and us - the TEACHERS WHO HAVE BEEN TRYING TO TEACH THEM BETTER ALL THEIR LIVES - they're going to keep having babies.
And going to the prom.