by Deborah Davis
If I have learned anything from hearing the stories of more than 200 women who became pregnant as teenagers and chose to raise their children, it is that young moms can be terrific. If you are a pregnant teenager and have decided to have the baby, there's a world of possibilities ahead of you.
That may not be what the people around you -- parents, teachers, friends, even strangers -- are telling you. Are you hearing comments like, "You've gone and ruined your life"? That's nonsense. No one can predict your future. No one has a crystal ball that shows what will happen to you from here.
So, why are young parents in our society regarded negatively? One reason is that you are at the juncture of three societal hot buttons: teenage-hood, motherhood, and sexuality. It's a triple whammy, because our society doesn't appreciate or understand teens, is not supportive of mothers, and has tremendous confusion concerning sexual issues. Add in that many young parents are short on money in a culture that denigrates the poor, and you've become a target of others' ire for a fourth reason.
Many of the negative assumptions and attitudes aimed at young parents, however, are unwarranted, unfair, and sometimes downright cruel. Recent studies are showing what quite a few young mothers have known all along: teen parents may have a rough start, but most eventually do well, creating stable families and learning to be good parents. You may have a lot of growing up to do, but you can do it along with raising your child. The important thing is to believe in yourself, take care of yourself and your baby, find the people who can love, support, and believe in you, and be aware of your rights.
It's time to make a list. Write down your every asset as well as every flaw. Count up your assets, and then look at your flaws. Which ones can become assets? You mouth off to people? Maybe that shows you're not afraid to speak up for yourself -- a quality you'll need as a mother. Your child will need an advocate in all sorts of situations. Perhaps you need to learn to speak up in a more respectful manner, but don't underestimate the importance of using your voice on your own and your child's behalf. Do you have trouble finishing things? Get easily distracted? Maybe you're interested in many things. Appreciate that. Then make a list of small goals you'd like to accomplish in just one or two areas. Give yourself a deadline. Tell someone you trust about the deadline. Start small, finish one thing, pat yourself on the back, and move on to the next thing you want to do.
Can't figure out what your assets are? Ask someone you trust to help you identify them. Or seek out counseling. Everybody has strengths and talents. To recognize and support your child's assets, it really helps to know your own. A trusted friend or a good counselor will help you do that. Contact your school counselor, HMO, or a local counseling agency to find out how to get counseling.
Prenatal care. Prenatal care. Prenatal care. If you're planning to continue your pregnancy and you haven't yet gone to see a midwife or doctor, now is the time to start. Now! Most pregnancies go smoothly, but sometimes there can be medical complications that threaten the health of the baby or mother. There's important information a pregnant woman needs to know about diet, exercise, sex, and more. The earlier you start prenatal care, the better your chances that you'll have a smooth pregnancy, a healthy baby, and a more comfortable labor.
Are you uninsured and wondering how to pay for prenatal care? You may qualify for Medicaid, which provides health care for low-income families. I highly recommend reading "Your Government, Your Rights" by Allison Crews. Allison's article includes information about applying for Medicaid and other forms of government aid like food stamps and housing assistance. Some people feel ashamed when applying for government aid, yet asking for help when you need it is a responsible thing to do!