I was 17 and a senior in high school when I got pregnant with my son.
Even though I was getting great grades, was involved in plenty of extracurricular activities and had just gotten accepted into college, it happened. I got pregnant at 17.
When those two pink lines appeared on the pregnancy test, giving the "positive" result I was dreading, I was instantly overcome with fear. Not so much because I was going to have a baby, but because I was afraid of the stigma associated with teen pregnancy. I knew people would never treat me the same way again.
I worried that my parents, siblings, friends, teachers — everyone — would forget about the girl with the bright future, and see nothing but a teenage mom who wasted her potential. To be honest, I did get a little of that response in the beginning. But with time, those closest to me turned into my support system. Now I'm 34 with two college degrees and a steady career. My son is 16 and I'm proud to report we're doing quite well.
That's not to say it was easy. On top of the practical challenges I had to overcome, I also heard lots of awful, judgmental things from people — social workers, pediatricians, teachers, complete strangers, even people I thought were my friends — that shook my confidence or broke my heart. It took everything I had to not get discouraged, and to keep working hard to build a good life for myself and my boy.
Being a teen mom doesn't automatically equate to being a failure. So on that note, here's a little PSA from a once-teen mom who hopes this will spare the young parents out there from a few unfair judgments and mean-spirited remarks. Being a mom is hard enough. Let's put an end to the shaming, shall we?
Here are seven things to not say to a teen mom:
1. "Wow, you're so young."
Believe me, she knows. There's really no reason to state the obvious. Saying this will only make her feel more self-conscious and inadequate than she already feels. And frankly, it's just rude. You wouldn't say, "Wow, you're old" to a 40-year-old mother, would you?
2. "Didn't your parents teach you about sex?"
I realize some may disagree with me on this one, but blaming the parents for their teen daughter's pregnancy is unfair, regardless of whether they taught her about sex. Not everything can be attributed to "good parenting" or "bad parenting." Even a teenager who had "the talk" with her parents and took sex ed in school can get pregnant. I did.
3. "That child is going to ruin your life."
What a horrible thing to say. For a teen girl (even many adult women), learning you're pregnant is already terrifying. But this phrase, an easy thing for a distressed mother to believe, can plant a toxic seed that could take a serious toll in the future.
Not only does the comment instill a fear of the future, but when life inevitably gets harder, she might be more likely to blame her innocent child for the difficulties, which is just tragic. I hate to admit I've had a few of those moments in times of weakness when I was just looking for something to blame. It's not a simple thing to erase from your psyche.
4. "You could've gotten an abortion or given him/her up for adoption."
Yes, that's true. But, I didn't. I chose motherhood. I never understood whether people said this in order to provide "insight" or some kind of "solution" to my tough situation, but I always found it a bit insulting. Even beyond the pro-life/pro-choice debate, choosing to be a mother is a very personal, deep-in-your-soul kind of decision. When I got pregnant, I knew what my options were. I chose the one I knew to be right for me.
5. "You've set a bad example."
Unnecessary shaming. Making her feel bad about herself isn't going to help anybody.
6. "You don't know how to take care of yourself, let alone a child."
In no way am I condoning being a teen parent, but what first-time mother or father, adult or otherwise, actually knows what they're getting into when they have a child? Nothing can prepare us for all the challenges parenthood brings. We all learn as we go, and that includes teen mothers. Instead of scolding her, teach her something useful or lend her a helping hand.
7. "You had such a bright future ahead of you."
This is by far the worst thing to say to a teen mom. It's the same as saying "what a shame" or "what a waste." It implies that just because she had a baby as a teenager, her once-bright future is no longer bright — only troubles and storm clouds from here on out.
Again, why even plant that seed? Yes, finishing high school, attending college or going after your dream career is insanely difficult when you're a teen mom. But it's not impossible. And that's what she needs to be reminded of. Encouragement and support leads to better outcomes.