My climb through poverty induced pregnancy to privilige
My mother is a product of teen pregnancy; I am a product of teen pregnancy; and my daughter? She’s a product of teen pregnancy too. By age 15, I had disengaged from education, and was preparing to give birth to my first child. Age 22 found me immersed in a world infused with hardship and chaos. By that time I was a mother to two children, a survivor of domestic abuse, a survivor of my father’s suicide, and living well below the poverty line. I was also saddled with trying to figure out how to support my children after their fathers were no longer a means of support. My daughter’s father had been sentenced to 10 years for attempted murder charges a few years earlier and I had just filed for divorce from my son’s father.
To tell you truthfully, during all of these years I never realized the full extent of the chaos in which I lived. To me, all of these hardships were just natural conditions of life. I had been desensitized and conditioned to hardship. I never imagined that there was a place in the world for me outside of the poverty stricken circumstances in which I had lived all my life. In school or outside of school, no one in my world had ever talked with me about opportunity or higher education. When at 15 years old, I walked into the clinic for a pregnancy test, none of the staff or social workers even asked me if I was ready to become a mother. No one even took the time to let me know that I had options or that I was in charge of the direction that my life took. They simply signed this little girl up for an ultrasound and welcomed me to motherhood. Maybe they could see that I just wasn’t worth the effort. I was after all just another predestined welfare mother.
So at 22, when my world was crumbling all around me, and I was faced with the choice of either sinking lower into poverty or trying to improve the lives of myself and my children, I finally took control of my life and returned to education. Within a few quarters and some exposure to a very influential instructor, I began exploring the world and found that it was a very dark place that needed help. I began to develop a passion to become involved and lend my life to bringing down the patriarchy present in our world, but I found that I could not be a present mother and be as involved as I desired to be. I went through a process of anger, resentment, and bitterness for my place in the world and the realization of my own oppression as a child born to a teen mother who lacked the skill to guide me in any other direction than teen pregnancy. I began questioning the systems of oppression in my family lineage that leads to teen pregnancy. I wanted to understand why every female in my family had been a product of teen pregnancy and then went on to become teen mothers themselves. I wanted to understand it so I could prevent it from happening to my own daughter. I wanted to make sure that I wasn't passing on the virus to her.
This preoccupation of trying to figure out how the virus of teen pregnancy was spread within our family lineage led me to discover some very ugly truth about me, my family and where we come from. For the first time I was able to see poverty from an outside perspective which enabled me to develop a concept of what poverty actually is and how it works as a system of oppression. What it means to grow up in poverty and the effects of poverty on a person’s human capitol. I also learned how the virus of teen pregnancy is spread thru poverty and the conditions of life that accompany it. Conditions such as absent parents who are working 50+ hours at their minimum wage jobs so they can scrap just enough money together to keep the bills paid. Parents who are so caught up in the hardship and turmoil that poverty produces that the children simply become side factors who are forced to care for themselves.
Besides absent parents, there are many other conditions of poverty that lead to teen pregnancy, but it is my belief that there is one single condition of poverty that puts that final “nail in the coffin” so to speak. That condition is the lack of education. If girls who grew up in poverty had access to an education system that showed them their full potential, put all of their options on the table for them, showed them that they are the directors of their life, and gave them both the academic and life skills to navigate life, I believe that all of the other conditions of poverty could be surmounted.
Developing this theory has given me optimism and hope that I have found the answer to exterminating the virus of teen pregnancy from my family lineage. Looking back upon the choices that I’ve made since taking control of the direction of my life and the lives of my children, I can see a stark contrast to the conditions in which they live compared to the conditions in which I lived at their ages. In the home there is a pronounced emphasis put on education and learning, with frequent conversations and activity that encourages higher education, world travel, and skill acquirement. Outside of the home, through some creativeness of my own, I have managed to get my children into the highest scoring public school in Portland by making sure that we live right across the street from it.
If my theory proves right, my daughter who is now 12 years old, will grow into an intelligent woman and make it through her adolescents without the shackles of poverty induced motherhood and go on to live a life that is full and enriching. If and when she decides to have children, it will be because she has chosen to, not because it has happened to her. What’s even more of a victory is that if she does at some point choose to have children, her daughters will not be susceptible to the same virus that I was, that my mother was, that her mother was, and that her mother was. Together, we’ll have succeeded in breaking the cycle of poverty induced teen pregnancy.
This concept came to life for me after viewing a posting on the WP blog http://www.worldpulse.com/node/36826 where a woman posted a link to a project called The Girl Effect. After watching the video explaining the project and reading up on it, I knew that they were fighting the same fight that I was. I was inspired and felt that the theory that I had developed all on my own had some validity. It also caused me to return to and rethink some of the work that I had done and tried to do with Planned Parenthood. Some years ago I had envisioned a curriculum that focused on pregnancy prevention and education for pre-teen and teen girls. Curriculum that would focus on educating girls on the effects of teenage motherhood on their lives, something that went beyond giving them a fake baby for a week. At the time I was volunteering for Planned Parenthood handling intake appointment for girls between the ages of 13-16 who had tested positive for pregnancy and needed to be informed about their options. After inquiring around the clinic and trying to figure out what I needed to do or who I needed to talk to to get my vision realized, I was told that the public school system would never allow this type of sexual curriculum to be taught to their students and even if they would, the parents would reject based off of age inappropriate content. I found this line of thinking as ignorant and detrimental to young girls. Based off of my own experiences and from the experiences of the countless girls that I have counseled, by age 12, the majority of them are sexually active in one way or another and ignoring this fact only hurts these girls. If we were to accept the facts and develop a curriculum that would educate them on how to safely engage sexually instead of focusing on the fact that they “shouldn’t” be engaging sexually at all, we could potentially eradicate teen pregnancy.
Sadly my voice was never heard and as a single mother of two children myself who was also a full time student and volunteer, I never had the time to push this issue and bring it to a place where I could go to battle for it. This project, The Girl Effect has given me a little bit of juice to continue developing this curriculum so when I do have the power to push for it; it’s ready to be taught.
Why is this my fight?
I believe that women have the ability to see the world through a humanistic view and are not motivated by profit. Our actions are motivated by the desire to create a better world. If we are going to be able to bring down the patriarchy of our world, during our “fighting” years we need to be free and unburdened by children so we can give our lives, our voice, or energy to our work. We cannot be on the front lines if we are changing diapers and cooking dinner. We must free ourselves from domestic imprisonment if the world is to get the help from the warriors it needs. Young girls need to be exposed to the concept that being born a female does imply motherhood. They need to be told of the injustices in the world and of the power they hold to take a stand against it and deconstruct the systems of oppression.