NEWS / EVENTS
NO TEEN MOM ALONE
TOPS Helps Teen Parents Have Healthy Pregnancies, Healthy Babies
By Claire Louge, First Things First Parent Awareness and Community Outreach Coordinator
Yavapai Regional Partnership Council
“There’s such a big change from being in charge of just yourself to being in charge of another life,” says Faith Hillis, speaking about her experience as a mother. “Having a baby changes everything.” Faith, now 20 years old, learned this life lesson early. Two months before her 16th birthday, she found out she was pregnant.
Faith is not alone in her experience. Though teen pregnancy rates have slowly decreased in Yavapai County over the last few years, the percentage of babies born to teen mothers is currently 12% , which is above the national and statewide average.
Between the social stigmas they face and the fact that pregnancy and parenting is challenging at any age, adolescent mothers can feel very alone. When Faith got pregnant with her second child, Addison, now five months, she chose to enroll in Teen Outreach Pregnancy Services (TOPS), a program funded by First Things First, which offers free services to pregnant and parenting teens to ensure healthy pregnancies and a healthy babies .
TOPS offers home visits from a nurse, a case manager, classes on birth and parenting specifically catered to teens, and a support group for pregnant and parenting adolescents.
Faith says that having children changes everything, from her sleep patterns to her social life to her volume of bills. But through TOPS, she doesn’t feel that she is navigating these changes alone. “TOPS is one of the best places I’ve been to,” says Faith. “People there aren’t going to judge you because they’re going through the same thing,” she adds. “TOPS doesn’t look at me as a teen parent. They look at me as a human being.”
Faith says that this kind of non-judgmental support is key in helping teens through the challenges of pregnancy and parenting. When Faith told her parents she was pregnant, they were clearly disappointed, but Faith’s father told her something she would never forget.
“He said: This is going to be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But, it’s going to be ok. We’re not going to raise this baby for you, but we’ll do everything we can to help you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.” Faith is grateful for these words, which she says have helped her become the mother she wants to be.
When her first daughter Hannah , now 3 years old, became a toddler, Faith was also able to access a scholarship from First Things First to send Hannah to preschool. Faith says that preschool is helping Hannah build the skills she needs to succeed in school and beyond, including learning the alphabet, building social skills, and correctly identifying shapes. “She knows more about shapes than I do,” laughs Faith. “You’re super smart, huh?” Faith asks her daughter. Hannah grins, bouncing the pink bows on her pigtails as she nods.
In addition to ensuring her daughter receives quality preschool, Faith is committed to continuing her own education, a goal encouraged by TOPS. Before she found out she was pregnant, Faith knew she wanted to go to college. After having a child, many adolescent mothers give up these kinds of dreams.
Faith has not given up. In the Fall, Faith is getting married to Addison’s father- her boyfriend of two years- and will attend college to become a Physical Therapist’s Assistant, a degree she intends to use to work with veterans.
“Now, my life is better than I ever thought it would be when I was 15 and pregnant,” says Faith. “I used to think, ‘I’m never going to finish school; I’m never going to have the life I wanted.’”
But now, with the help of TOPS, Faith is confidently pursuing the path to success-for her and her children. “I’ve figured out how strong I am,” says Faith.