As the school bus doors slowly open, she takes a deep breath and carefully descends the stairs. She opens the big metal doors and tries to hold her head high, but the hallway goes silent as she enters the building. Everyone stops doing whatever they’re doing and all eyes are on her.
She looks at the ground and tries to avoid eye contact, but she can’t ignore the whispers. Instinctively, she puts her hands on her big round belly to protect the little human growing inside. Embarrassment rises from the pit of her gut and reddens her face.
She knows first-hand what it’s like to be one of the 750,000 pregnant teenage girls in America.
Teen pregnancy statistics are sobering
The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the Western industrialized world. Lately, you can’t turn on the television without hearing a story about another teen mom. Shows like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom shine the light on the once-shadowed subject of teen pregnancy. According to pregnantteenhelp.com, the United States also spends $7 billion annually on teen pregnancy, proving that this issue affects all Americans whether they know a teen parent or not.
One huge concern for teen mothers is how they are going to take care of a child and finish high school. Statistics show teen mothers are less likely to complete high school. Only one-third will receive a high school diploma, and only 1.5 percent will have a college degree by age 30.
The statistics on the children of teen moms aren’t very cheery either. According to the Robin Hood Foundation Special Report, sons of teenager mothers are 13 percent more likely to end up in prison, while daughters of teenage mothers are 22 percent more likely to become teen moms themselves.
However, high schools across America are providing services to teenage mothers to help them finish their education and prove the statistics wrong. Fairmont High School is among those high schools that help young mothers achieve the goal of getting their diploma.
Project empowers young parents
Project Empower is a non-profit organization in partnership with the United Way that helps support young moms up to the age of 22. The group meets every Tuesday across from the South Unit Office at Fairmont.
Jen Davis and Courtney Donati, Project Empower social workers, focus on teaching young mothers a myriad of life skills to help them be the best mothers they can be. The group meets to discuss many topics, including healthy relationships, drug and alcohol avoidance, making wise choices, going to college, getting a job, housing and stress management.
“Project Empower teaches young mothers to form friends and create bonds with other mothers who are going through the same thing,” Donati said.
Junior Emma Morgan participates in Fairmont’s Project Empower. She works hard to balance taking care of her 6-month old child, Xavier, and finishing high school. “It’s very hard,” she said. “I don’t like coming to school because I miss him a lot, but in the end I know it’s for the best.”
Morgan says support is a huge factor in coming back to school after having a child. It is even more difficult for her because her fiancé and father of Xavier is away at boot camp for the Marines. Doing it all on her own and coming to school every day poses its challenges, but Morgan insists she won’t give up her education. “You have to keep your head up and always remind yourself that getting your education is what is best for your child and for yourself,” she said.
Dealing with judgmental peers
Morgan also had a hard time facing judgment from her peers. “One thing other students should remember is that it is very hard for us moms to go to school and have a normal teenage life because that’s really not possible anymore. It’s all about our children and what’s best for them,” she said. “We live a very different life and struggle every day to provide for them.”
Heather Kline, who graduated in January, was also a part of Project Empower when she was at Fairmont. She had a very difficult time attending high school and taking care of her 4- month-old daughter, Lilly. Kline was surprised to find out she was pregnant at such a young age. “I was super scared, nervous and worried about how to financially support myself and a baby,” she said.
Kline also had the strong belief that finishing high school would not only benefit her life, but also her daughter’s. “Finishing high school was one of the hardest tasks to complete. Without an education, moving forward in my life would be nearly impossible,” she said.
The bills start adding up
Having a baby is expensive for parents of any age, but it can be nearly impossible for teenagers who don’t have a full-time job and are still trying to go to school. As soon as a mother finds out she is pregnant, the bills start adding up.
First, there are all the baby supplies: cribs, car seats, strollers, swings, toys and clothes. Then come the hospital expenses and stays, which can add up quickly, especially if the baby has health problems.
According to the U.S Census Bureau, the average hospital stay for labor and delivery costs $5,000 to $10,000, depending on insurance. If the baby is premature or has complications, costs can range from a few thousand dollars to $200,000 for a long stay.
Then, once the baby is home, the cost of diapers, wipes and formula can skyrocket.
According to lovetoknow.com, a newborn will go through 300 to 400 diapers a month. That will cost about $75 to $125 a month. If the baby is on formula, that’s another $100.
The next difficult aspect for teen moms is not only finding someone to baby sit during the day but also affording it. “Finding a babysitter every day of the week was a hard task,” Kline said. “Also, time to do my homework between feeding and changing diapers was not easy. Professional day care was way out of my price limit, so I had to rely on close friends and family to keep after her. Sometimes, I had to miss school if I couldn’t find a sitter since Lilly’s father works a full-time job to pay the bills.”
Not all parents are lucky enough to find free child care, however. Professional day care can cost any where from $100 to $800 a month. Many young moms find it impossible to pay that kind of money especially when they are still in high school.
Teacher making a difference
Shelley Heaps teaches the classes Child Development and Relationships for Life at Fairmont. She often works with young mothers before and after they have their babies. She focuses on educating young parents about family, parenting, pregnancy, fetal development, housing, marriage and parenting through all stages of the child’s life.
Heaps says another crucial aspect for mothers who return to school is support. It can be very difficult for young moms to come back to school and face ridicule or judgment from their peers for having a baby. “New moms need encouragement and support from everyone in their lives. If you don’t have anything nice to say to new moms when they return to school, don’t say anything at all,” Heaps advises.
Along with seeing teen parents who overcome the odds, Heaps has seen the downside of teen pregnancy. “Often times, statistics are true. Many teen parents go on welfare and live in poverty. Teenage moms tend to run in families while boys of teenage moms tend to be in jail. Being a parent at any age is such a challenge; it is definitely not for the faint of heart.”
Teen moms’ advice: Don’t give up
Being a teen parent is no easy task. It becomes an even bigger struggle for moms who try to finish their education. Morgan gives advice to other teen moms based on her own experiences. “Keep your head up and always remind yourself that getting your education is what is best for you and your child,” she said.
Kline also has advice for other teen moms. “No matter how hard it gets to juggle school and raise an infant, don’t give up. It will be worth the fight in the end. Without a job, raising a child and becoming independent will seem impossible.”