Those that know me know I can be passionate about the issue of teen pregnancy, especially logic models, service learning and access to contraception, but now that I am a mother, my passion has had a new awakening.
After my first daughter Ella was born, my respect for teen moms tripled. I remember the day we brought her home and the terrifying feelings I felt just holding my newborn—the baby I had prayed for my whole life. The fear, worry, anxiety and nerves unraveled me to the point of developing a horrible rash that lasted 16 weeks. My mom was with me, “oohing and aahing” over her fifth grandbaby and so excited for her daughter who she had been praying would get pregnant for over a year. My husband Josh held me tight and fought me over holding his baby girl and was adamant he could handle the all nighters. We were forever changed as individuals and as a couple on September 29th. It was hard, and for those of you with kids, you know just how hard. For those of you without, words cannot express exactly what it was like. Only the grace of God and our commitment to God has kept us together. There have been days when I have never loved or hated Josh more (all in one day).
My baby was wanted, planned and prayed for. My pregnancy was celebrated and received with great pride. I was not alone and my husband has been my teammate and best friend for every tear cried, every steam shower at 2 am, every motor skill milestone where we cheer like it’s the Super Bowl, every moment of pride when we realize our kids are loving and polite. We teach constantly; behavior, sign language, colors, reading, numbers, phonics, potty time, sharing, art, pretend play, motor skills. It is the most challenging thing I have ever done and everyday it is my commitment to not let parenting “break me”. I can’t imagine having this experience unplanned or alone.
When Ella was just over a year we found out we were pregnant again. Not planned and yes, every colleague of mine is gasping for air right now. I confess, I was not trying to get pregnant so soon after Ella! I know how to prevent pregnancy; I have spent 13 years preventing unplanned pregnancies, however, life is not simple. Carrying a 10 lb baby and toting a 2 ½ year old, I literally thought I was going to die. I even wrote a letter to Ella telling her I wasn’t going to make it. The exhaustion was overwhelming and yet again, as an individual and couple we were forever changed. The “oohs and aahs” and “I can handle the all nighters” were gone. Baby Wren is adored and loved, but the excitement from others is not the same. She has been a challenge since she was born, and I can’t wait to see this little mama as an adult one day.
Some of you may be “grasping your pearls” (as my friend Rena would say) at this point, feeling I have exposed too much or been too honest about my parenting experience. However, every time I hear 6,024 gave birth in 2011 and almost 30% will become a parent twice; I cringe and in a different way than before I had kids. Only a parent can understand what these girls will face. They are not bad parents; they are overwhelmed parents, oftentimes without support from a loving partner or their families. Don’t get me wrong, families can be supportive, but the experience is different and the support is never enough to bring back the innocence and fun of their adolescent years. Reality will soon set in that the responsibility of teacher, mother, nurse, cook, breadwinner, caretaker, and partner all falls on their shoulders. Some will say, “Well her mom will take care of the baby”. My response to that is always, “how would you feel if your mom took care of your baby?” Like a failure as a mom? Like you have failed your family? Like you lost your baby to your mother? Who do you want your baby to cry for? No matter the age, the answer is YOU!
In my field I despise the comment, “Didn’t she learn her lesson the first time.” I could go on for days about how this comment is idiotic. However, I assume for most readers of this blog, I would just be preaching to the choir. Programs like Nurse Family Partnership, Second Chance and Birth Outcomes are needed for first time moms, and one of their key approaches is to educate and counsel on contraception. Unfortunately, these resources are very limited in our state and only serve a very small group of teen moms. Life is not simple, often birth control is far down the list of priorities and we moms have been there; forget a pill, miss a doctor’s appointment, forget what day it is to take out the ring, and the list goes on. It’s not that we are trying to get pregnant, but we often forget about ourselves because our children and surviving are the priorities.
What is the point, Polly? There is a light at the end of this tunnel: better technologies and better access. One of my biggest frustrations in my field is lack of awareness of how far we have come in South Carolina around methods and access for teens. DHEC in SC is amazing and prioritizes the teen patient; the best in the business when it comes to reproductive health! They work hard to educate and counsel young women in Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC). These contraception options are new, cutting edge and highly effective. According to national and state data, young women know very little if anything about LARC nor that they have the right to access confidential reproductive health care. And unfortunately most young women’s first visit to DHEC is for a pregnancy test not contraception. One of my favorite quotes comes from Sarah Brown CEO of the National Campaign, “Respect Life: Use Birth Control.” I can’t agree more!
At the SC Campaign, we continue to work to remove barriers for teens to be able to obtain 3 to 5 year birth control methods (including access during postpartum care in the hospital). Inter Uterine Devices (IUD) and implants are the newest technologies and aren’t your moms’ old methods. Educate yourself, talk to the young women in your life and help them plan for the greatest experience of their life!
by Polly Edwards-Padgett, Senior Program Advisor, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy