Natalie Nichols is a parent who allowed Love Productions, the company behind the show, to ‘borrow’ her two children – who were two years and six months old at the time of filming – to be watched over, temporarily, by a teen couple. Natalie has two other children ages thirteen and eight, and lives outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, who works for the government.
How did you get involved in the show?
The casting agent contacted me through my MySpace page. I guess they saw the photos and the background story.
What is your background story?
I was a teenage mom on purpose, I thought I knew everything and moved out when I was sixteen and still a student. I got pregnant on purpose and got married really early – I was married at eight months pregnant. I was a good kid, didn’t drink or anything like that. But after my parents suddenly decided they didn’t like my boyfriend, it sparked a rebellion in me. So I said, I’ll show them.
It didn’t turn out so well. I wasn’t emotionally prepared at all. My older son is now thirteen and he got the brunt of the deal. He heard us arguing constantly and yelling at each other, and neither one of us was ready to be a parent. So I thought it would be a good opportunity to help other girls not go down the same road.
It sounds like there was a legitimate reason for you to do the show.
For me, just changing one girl’s life was enough. The teens that had our children were Sean and Kelsey, and Kelsey wanted to have a child at eighteen. She reminded me of me when I was that age. She wanted to prove to her boyfriend that she could do it, but I kind of think she wanted to prove to herself as well. It’s a perfectionist mindset. I thought it was good. I’ve gotten numerous letters from other girls who’ve also said that it’s been meaningful for them.
Can you see yourself helping more teens?
I’m hoping that this will open up other opportunities. I’ve never been in a position to speak publicly. I honestly and truly am doing this to help others. I really don’t think this is an entertainment program. It’s a bit entertaining, but that’s how you get kids to watch. The parents are watching as well. And all the controversy is a good thing.
Was it difficult being on set?
The parents went three days with each child. I was on set about seven days. I didn’t find it hard. I co-slept with Etta at home, but then I didn’t see her for three days on the set except through the monitors. I pumped milk every night. The teenagers did not sleep with the kids. Nothing was staged. Because of editing it may look that way. I stayed awake for almost three days. Etta was so young, I could not sleep. It is part of being a mom.
Were your children treated properly?
The two-year-old got a diaper rash and the producer completely halted production. A paramedic was called and I was called in and the producer consulted me about the diaper rash. You don’t get that at a daycare center.
Did you have to intervene at all?
I did go over twice, but more as a mentor for the teens. I guess I gave them a bit of tough love. They just were not getting it. Sean had mentioned that maybe they could just let Etta cry. I think the scared straight idea is just what they needed, so that’s what I gave them.
Is teen pregnancy, to you, a problem in the society?
I see it in the media – Jamie Lynn Spears was the cover girl for OK! magazine, but they are quoting people as saying that she’s a natural born mother and she’s happy. Nobody should be hiding the fact that her life as she knows it is over. She’s a mother now. Little girls out there, sure they’re smart, but they don’t think logically or down the road. You think of the cute outfits and cute pictures, but you don’t think about the vomit on the clothes or the sleep deprivation. It doesn’t go away. You’re always a mother.
Do you think that TV is a good medium for what you’re trying to express?
I think this medium is great. People are talking. A lot of people are saying that I’m a horrible mom, but I didn’t do the show for them. It’s not just the kids down the street, it can be anyone’s child. Whether they are using birth control or not, they could become a parent. Realistically, I am thirty-one and my child is thirteen.
Natalie’s son with Kelsey I’m trying to shed some light on the issue as a whole. I challenge you to find the thirty-something mother who wouldn’t want to look back and change things. I’m happily married and my husband has a great job. But still, teen pregnancy didn’t work for me because my thirteen-year-old remembers the screaming and crying and slamming doors. Those things really write on the canvas as a child. At that age, you aren’t emotionally equipped to deal with that. Adult mothers know how to deal with it a bit better.
Honestly, I feel like it takes a village to raise a child. I’m an attachment parent (AP). Some parents don’t know how an AP mother could let their kids go on the show. I want to open everyone’s eyes so they will feel the same about the kids. You have to look out for everybody and be concerned.
How did Sean and Kelsey do with your children?
I felt the teens did as well as could be expected. Everyone’s going to have those moments. I was shocked that the boys stepped up as much as they did. Maybe it was because it was only for three days why the boys stepped up, but they did.
Were you paid?
There is absolutely no compensation whatsoever. Love Productions sent us a sweatshirt.
So if not money, what was the reason for doing the show?
We did it for the lesson. We’ll be able to use this to teach our kids the same lesson. My thirteen-year-old has watched the show too. He doesn’t want to be a parent at this age now. He also appreciates what I did. I’m constantly saying sorry to him for what happened as he was growing up. I’m hoping to make some good out of the bad choices that I’ve made, so that everything I’ve done wrong is not in vain.
Alicea Davis, now 19, from Houston, Texas, went on the show with her boyfriend Cory Davila, now 21, at the urging of Cory’s mom. Alicea is now at college taking a degree in fashion merchandising. After doing the show, the couple decided that would both like children, just not right now.
How did you come across the show?
Cory’s mom found it. She was on the NBC website and she thought it would be interesting. She signed us up for it. Usually we’re just hanging out in the house and not doing anything. We always talk about how if were rich, we would have kids at a young age.
Does being rich help you raise a child?
We learned that it’s a lot more to it than being rich. Just because you’d be able to support the kid, that’s not enough. We learned being a parent is about a lot more than just money.
Like you need to learn to work as a team. That was a big part of it, the communication.
How was the experience for you?
I’d never been away from home. My mom and I are really close, so it was a really big thing to not talk to my mom. The whole situation is really stressful. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for that. I couldn’t contact anyone except my boyfriend for three weeks. They made an exception for me to call my mom. The baby’s mom put me in a bad mood, and other things. We were there for three weeks.
Which age group did you enjoy taking care of the most?
I’d have to say the toddler was the funnest – I could talk to him. But there was never an easy part of it. It was all hard, and each stage had its challenges.
Have your feelings about being a mom changed?
I still want to have kids for sure, just not anytime soon. We have a lot of growing up to do.
What did you friends think of you going on the show?
All my friends were very supportive. They didn’t have the same mindset as us. Cory and I are really close to our moms. My mom was 19 or 20 and Cory’s mom was 18 when they had us. My mom wants me to wait, of course. She struggled a lot after having me.
Do you know friends your age who are having children? What would you say to them?
Practice safe sex, of course. I have a handful of friends who are pregnant. You have to be supportive of them. They made a mistake, but they have to take the responsibility. I mean, they are just kind of saying, if we could plan it, but we didn’t. But they are taking care of their responsibilities.
What did you and Cory learn?
I think we turned into a really good team and we learned a lot about ourselves. I think the show can help a lot of people out. The parent also learned something. We were with the toddler and the parent came to us and said, you taught me that I should get down on the ground with my child more.
How do you respond to critics of the show who think it’s irresponsible for the teen parents to handle these infants?
First of all, the whole thing with the babies, there were nannies on set and the parents were right across the street monitoring every room, and there were paramedics on set all the time. Any time they wanted to intervene, they did. The babies slept at our house. Half the time the parents didn’t get any sleep. Basically, it’s one hundred percent safe.
Was it worth it?
I think it was worth it. Towards the end it was more fun. Our relationship grew stronger.
Photographs by Tommy Baynard.
Copyright 2008 NBC Universal, Inc.