Friday, November 9, 2012

Upside Down and Against the Odds

This week's issue of the The Kernal, East Bakersfield High School's newspaper, featured a set of articles titled "Pregnant and Parenting Teens."  The two featured artilcles were captioned "Couple looks forward to birth of son," and "Young moms face challenges." 

Teenage pregnancy is so common in my hometown that I guess I'm rarely struck that it doesn't happen as frequently in other parts of the country.  When my law school classmate asked incredulously, "You had daycare for the students' babies on your high school campus?" my equally incredulous response was, "You didn't?"  Looking at this week's issue of The Kernal, I see that little has changed at East High in the 13 years since my graduation. 

East High, populated predominately by Hispanic students in a county with the second highest teen pregnancy rate in the state, seems to be a place where stereotypes flourish.  The notion that Hispanics are a bunch of fertile and hormonally-driven breeders just fulfilling their destiny with each teen pregnancy is fostered by the subjects of the first article, which tells the story of a couple whose glowing smiles in their Homecoming dance photos indicate these two really don't know what kind of struggle they are about to face. 

First, I want to take moment to commend teenage parents who carry their children to term.  These days, every unborn human life is reduced by the law to a choice.  Every unborn human life is seen by our culture as expendable, and I applaud young parents and their families who support them for being examples of love and life in this world where we permit the lawful killing of our own children.  None of these teen moms and dads have to be moms and dads; they are given "options" do the wrong thing, and they choose to do the right thing.  I particularly admire the young anencephaly moms and dads who continued their pregnancies despite their exceedingly challenging circumstances.

But we can't ignore the obvious.  Most teen moms will not graduate from high school.  Most teen moms won't go to college or have the types of careers that are likely to put them in a position to provide better for their children than their own parents were able to provide for them - a generally agreed upon requirement for achieving the American dream.  And these facts are the facts not for lack of support, but because being a parent is fucking hard, and it's even harder when you're doing it alone, when you are doing it without a job, with little education, and with little life experience.  I know a lot of people who were teen parents and they all love their children, and none of them could imagine life without those children; but I also don't know a single teen parent who doesn't wish they'd done things differently for the sake of their children.  My hat is off to the men and women I know who not only made it work, but surpassed all expectations. 

I know it's not hip to say this, but teenagers don't have sex because everything in their life is great.  We'd like to chock it up to hormones and impulse, treating teenagers like the only distinction between them and wild animals is their opposable thumbs, but I think our teenagers deserve more credit, and deserve a closer look at what's driving them. 

As adults we realize the emotional complexities of sex, sexual relationships, and what drives us to engage in them.  We know that we find in sex and in our partners something more than just the act.  We find an escape, or release, or acceptance, or affection, or love, or whatever we may be looking for.  We know that we aren't just "doing it" because we simply can't help ourselves; in fact, we've learned that we can control ourselves.  So, why is it so hard to believe that teenagers can do the same thing?  Why is it even harder to believe that as much as their hormones are racing, their emotions are also governing their actions, further blurring the lines between sex and love? 

I'll be the first to admit that I have an evolving view of sex that wasn't always as healthy as it is now - if it even is healthy now.  I managed to escape high school as a virgin (it CAN be done!) primarily because I was too afraid of hell to be anything but.  Since then sex has been forcefully taken from me, freely given for fear of again having it used as a weapon against me, and the act that resulted in the creation of my chidlren which forever changed for the better my views of my body, sex, and love.  Years of experience and reflection have led me to these conclusions - things I simply didn't have when I was 17. 

The local propensity towards teen and early pregnancy continues to influence me in an indirect way.  I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't want to be a mother; I also can't really remember a time when I didn't feel pressure to become a mother.  Everyone around me was doing it.  College, law school, a professional career sometimes feel like a waste of my "prime" child bearing years - in my community and in my family, about age 16 to age 30.  Common sense tells me this is absurd.  But the intense shame I feel at having miscarried my first child evokes an emotional response that tells me otherwise, as does the shame I feel that my parents each had to be the last of their siblings to become grandparents.  Add to that the shame I feel for not being able to provide them with living grandchildren by this point in my life and I realize that I've put an irrational and tremendous burden on myself, when I know that in reality I've given them reasons to be proud too.

Maybe it's because in my family teenage pregnancy hasn't really been treated like a phenomenon.  We celebrated teenage pregnancies with baby showers and rippled phone calls announcing births, treating each new life like a miracle.

Because each new life IS a miracle. 

The Bakersfield Pregnancy Center is a local crisis pregnancy center that provides support for women facing unexpected pregnancies by giving them assistance in carrying that pregnancy to term.  They do not provide references for abortions.  They do provide assistance in applying for MediCal; information on adoption; counseling and support throughout the pregnancy; and when the center has the resources, necesseties for raising a child such as clothing, carseats, cribs, diapers, and more. Currently the Bakersfield Pregnancy Center has more clients than donation.  Hint, hint.

Crisis pregnancy centers are at the heart of the pro-life movement, for those who think all we do is sit around and condemn women.  The goal is to give love, encouragement and support to the girls and women who aren't so very fortunate to find it in their homes.  The goal is to not just speak, but to demonstrate that every human life is precious, and valuable, and wanted in this world.  Our hope is that as we change hearts and minds, we save lives and change lives. 

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