NEWS / EVENTS

Teen Mom, Ph.D, and TOPS Supporter Shares Her Thoughts on Teen Motherhood

“The hardest thing about being a young mom is dealing with the way that others treat you.” I wrote that in an essay for my creative writing class at the University of Arizona. At the time, my daughter was 2, and I was wrapping up my sophomore year at college. While motherhood, work, and college were each their own challenges, it was the constant skeptical glances and snarky remarks that made being a “teen mom” a problem for me. It is hard enough to get respect as a mother, a woman, or a student without people around you seeing the culmination of all three as a good excuse to talk badly about/to you.

Because of the widespread belief that we need to always and only prevent “teenage pregnancy,” many people think it is acceptable to explicitly harass or judge young parents (particularly young mothers) every day. Attending school or even making a trip the doctor’s office can render a young mother vulnerable to comments from her teachers, peers, or doctors about her “mistake” and the consequences it has for the rest of her life. As an example, when I was pregnant, a security guard at my school asked me if I even knew who the father of my baby was when I walked by him in the school parking lot. A pregnant friend of mine in college was told by boys on campus that she “should of used a Trojan [condom]!” Young parents need organizations like TOPS that provide judgment-free spaces to gather information, resources, and support of happy and healthy pregnancies and parenting experiences.

A bit about me

I became pregnant with my daughter, MJ, in the spring semester of my junior year at Flowing Wells High School. With the support of my family, state-funded healthcare, childcare arrangements, and flexible teachers, I finished my senior year at high school while working part-time at the local Home Depot. I wanted to go to college because I wanted to be the first in my family to graduate with a college degree and I wanted a good income that could support MJ and I. A career counselor taught me how to fill out a FAFSA form that helped me get grants and loans to pay for college. Choosing classes that accommodated my work and mommy schedule was tough, but with the help of supportive friends and family I was able to arrange babysitters or daycare. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing, I decided to continue my education to become an English professor so that I could teach others to write while also researching and writing about the injustices young moms face.

Now I am a mother of two and in a couple days I will graduate with a doctorate in rhetoric, composition and the teaching of English and a minor in gender and women’s studies from the University of Arizona. My scholarship focuses on the implications of the negative rhetoric about “teenage pregnancy” and the strategies young mothers can (and do) use to resist gendered stereotypes, popular misconceptions, and inequality. After graduation, I will become an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell where I can continue to research pathologizing representations of women while bringing attention to the need to support parenting students through higher education.

Making informed and valued sexual and reproductive decisions is hard work when you are a teen and when everyone else likes to tell you what you should or should not do. But there are safe spaces where young people can find guidance and support—even if a family home or school are not those spaces. I am grateful that I had my family’s emotional support the whole way through. My story is not without struggle: MJ’s father was unstable and, for a time, a real problem in our lives. I had to seek help from police and lawyers to help me get rid of him. Since my family did not have much money, I always worked—from the time I was fifteen—to support myself. When I had MJ, I would sometimes have to act tolerant of really judgmental people who would not listen to my wishes as a parent, just because they would offer safe and affordable childcare for MJ. I had to prioritize, arrange, negotiate, and . . .breathe. Even later, as a 24-year-old graduate student with a house of her own and a partner, it was hard to have a baby. I had to negotiate teaching schedules and find someone to watch my son while I attended grad classes. Parenthood (especially motherhood) always has its joys and hardships, no matter the age. But ask for help; fill out a FAFSA if you want to continue school; demand your right to respect, support, and breaks; and keep growing as a person as you help your little one grow too.

A NOTE FROM TOPS:

Jenna would like to make it clear that her journey as a teen Mom is her own. It is easy to lump the struggles of pregnant and parenting teens together but, there is no single, “right way” to achieve success.

 

“I think all loving moms who make it to the end of the day (regardless of their age) in this mommy-blaming world are heroes.” – Jenna Vinson