I already know the answer to the question I’m posing, but the way it came about was so organic that I didn’t think of it as controversial until I brought it up with a colleague of mine. In my two decades of teaching and being an administrator, I have seen my share of teenagers expecting a baby. Sometimes both the potential mother and potential father attend the school where I work. Sometimes, they don’t. In all those years of working in both middle and high schools, I have seen the teen pregnancy rates in our area drop. The data and research tells us that is mostly due to early intervention and teaching students about safe sex. However, there are also times when a girl has been taken advantage of by an older male. The most heart breaking case I’ve ever seen was an 8th grade girl in special education self-contained classes who was most definitely taken advantage of by a male family member. She was a low reader and had trouble in regular education classes, but it was her continued thumb-sucking that nearly undid me. When she went into labor I had to tell her that was what was happening to her body. She complained of back pains and a “tightening” in her stomach and was incredulous when I finally told her, “Honey, you’re in labor right now. You’re going to have a baby soon. Today.”
That case notwithstanding, the conversation that’s come up recently concerned students who have baby showers. I’ve witnessed the exasperation of teachers who witness students passing out invitations to a baby shower and it’s honestly perplexed me. Why shouldn’t we celebrate a life coming into the world? Why wouldn’t we support a student who probably needs diapers and yet still doesn’t really know how to put one on a baby? These discussions happen in cycles and, each time I am a witness to it, I am astounded at the level of judgment by the adults.
I don’t want to give the impression that this happens all the time, but often enough to make for controversial conversation. And often enough for me to address it publicly. Our school district isn’t an isolated case where this occurs. According to the Office of Adolescent Health, the trends in teen pregnancy has steadily been on the decline in the last 20 years. These facts include data across all racial and economic demographics:
The teen birth rate has declined almost continuously over the past 20 years. In 1991, the U.S. teen birth rate was 61.8 births for every 1,000 adolescent females, compared with 29.4 births for every 1,000 adolescent females in 2012.
In the nearly 30 years since I was a teenager, I have met my fair share of girls (and women who were teen mothers) who have varied experiences of teen pregnancies. Some of them told their parents right away and others waited until it could no longer be kept a secret. Some stayed with the father of their child and others broke up but worked out a parenting relationship with them. Some, like me, found themselves singular in every meaning of the word and raised children all by themselves. I felt lucky in that my friends threw me a baby shower. My best friend at the time, a guy named Andy, convinced his mother that they needed to help my daughter enter the world with a celebration. I remember getting things like receiving blankets (What the heck is the difference between that and a regular blanket? I wondered.) and a year-long cloth diaper service (the best thing in the whole world!) as well as baby clothes and toys. There was cake and punch and my friends, also Freshmen in high school, wished me the best of luck and couldn’t wait to see her once she arrived.
While every situation is different, it’s hard to be so cold and unfeeling so as to deny this to new parents. Every baby is a celebration and every new mother is in need of support no matter what her age. Remember how hard it was when your first child arrived? I don’t know any mother who found it easy or who understood every noise her infant made or what a baby should be doing developmentally at 18 months. But I do know that when I had children later in my 20s that it was hard every time. With my friends gathered around me I felt the powerful support that gave me the emotional energy to do all the work that a baby brought.
Instead of judging those teens and not giving them any information about the incredible changes that will take place, we would all do better to inundate them with knowledge and books and yes, baby showers. Why would we withhold something like that?