I was 15 when I found out I was pregnant, and everything changed for me in an instant. I was terrified, and yet for me, like many other Latina teens, neither abortion nor adoption was an option. It’s not that I don’t believe in those options for others; but at that point in my life, the values of my upbringing were so strict that I didn’t even consider them. In addition to the discomfort of morning sickness, I walked around for several months in a bit of a daze. I didn’t even tell my best friends that I was pregnant. I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth.
There was shame and guilt for having gotten myself into that situation, as well as a completely new outlook. I remember having no idea what my future would hold, and yet knowing that from now on, every decision was going to center around the fact that I had to care for my child. I knew I had to do the best I could for myself in order to have the best life for my baby. I didn’t “give everything up” for him; rather, I made everything happen because of him.
TEEN PREGNANCY AMONG LATINAS DOWN
According to data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, birth rates for Latina teens have reached an “all time low,” and currently Latinas enjoy the lowest rate on record for them. In spite of this, Latina teen birth and pregnancy rates are almost twice the national average and have declined approximately half as fast as national rates. At present, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy (“The National Campaign”) estimates that 52% of Latinas will become pregnant at least once by age 20—compared to nearly 3 in 10 teen girls overall. That’s over half of us!
While falling neatly into that statistic happened to me, in many ways I was fortunate to defy other statistics. Specifically, less than half of teen mothers finish high school and less than 2 percent go on to finish college. Fortunately for me, I had an angel in the form of a high school guidance counselor who literally forced me to apply to college and to apply for financial aid. This eventually led to law school, a post-graduate fellowship, and I’ve been practicing law now for quite some time (currently as in-house counsel for a Fortune 500 company). And perhaps my most proud accomplishment (to date) is that my son graduated from Georgetown University in May of 2010. (Yes, I do realize that wasn’t solely MY accomplishment, but c’mon, moms, you know what I mean!)
COUNTING MY BLESSINGS
But why do I tell you these facts about my life? Am I somehow special or blessed? In certain ways, the answer is yes. I am special in that I had a number of support systems around me that helped me move forward in my life. I had a high school counselor who didn’t give up on me, and believed I could push forward, even as a single, teenage mother. I am special in that I received financial aid (as well as state aid) to help me support myself and my son and pay for school expenses. I am blessed to have had supportive family and friends that helped me.
And I am convinced that, in spite of my ‘success,’ I want to do everything possible to make sure that other girls don’t have to go through what I did. To the extent we talk about preventing teenage pregnancy—which means talking about sex (gasp!)—it makes a difference. The statistics above show we CAN in fact make a difference. The National Campaign offers a list of resources and programs that work. It also means not giving up on those girls who have had children at a young age. They can make it through, but only if they have help, support and encouragement (as well as resources!) like I did. As I’ve gone through life, I’ve met more women like me: Latina teen moms who went on to do incredible things.
As Latinos, teen pregnancy is an issue about which we should all be concerned. I lived it, and I know there are other girls that are out there now who are scared, feel alone, and unable to speak, like I did. As a community, we have an obligation to both support young girls to prevent teen pregnancy AND to help those young women who are already pregnant or are teen moms. Are you with me?