‘How Did You Become a Teen Mom?’

“How did you become a teen mom?”

I never quite understand how to answer that question.

My immediate response is usually, “Sex—unprotected sex, to be exact.”

However, the real answer is far more complex, and some individuals may see my reasons as “excuses” so I usually don’t bother to explain it. But I will now.

As a poor colored girl living in a white low-income trailer park community, I was the strange embodiment of two teen pregnancy stereotypes: a young woman of color living in rural, white, low-income America.

Circumstance #1: I was lonely, had low self esteem, and the attractive older male neighbor didn’t make me feel as lonely and unlovable.

Circumstance #2: Comprehensive sex education isn’t taught in lower-income communities like it is in higher-income communities. My abstinence-only-until-marriage “education” taught me that condoms always fail, sex outside of marriage is something un-ladylike girls do, and my female purity is important to god—a god I didn’t have any relationship to. If I even had questions about sex, sexuality, and relationships, I was a rogue and sinful human being. This same education has been found to have positive correlations with teenage pregnancy, births to teenage parents, and higher rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in youth.

Circumstance #3: Birth control was not accessible to me, and the public school teacher in charge of my sex “education” told me it didn’t work.

Circumstance #4: The economic structures in place that force parents to chase low-paying jobs and be out of the home more hours than not made me and several other children in the United States latchkey kids. Because of this, my mother wasn’t always available to talk. This lack of relationship between parents and their children is a common side effect of the latchkey phenomenon.

Included in the role of this latchkey child was my parent’s expectation that I would take on more of the household responsibilities to make sure things still ran smoothly. In taking on very adult responsibilities with little-to-no supervision, my teenage instinct to test the limits kicked in, and I figured since I was treated like an adult, I was ready to engage in “adult activities.”

Circumstance #5: My forced nomadic upbringing—attending approximately eight elementary schools spanning three states, the constant shuffling of my family, and the fact that I was never asked what I wanted for dinner, let alone how I felt abut moving—taught me to go along with whatever was happening and not question why. And so it was in my relationships.

Circumstance #6: Ads, commercials, public service announcements—just about everywhere I looked I learned that teenage parents are garbage, low-performing students, drug dealers, or addicts, and since I was none of those I figured teenage pregnancy didn’t happen to “people like me.” I didn’t bother or know how to protect myself from unintended pregnancy or STIs, so I continued having unprotected sex because my secular, public school teacher falsely taught me that condoms and birth control are largely ineffective.

I became a teen mom because of all of these factors—some of which I had nothing to do with, and some of which I did. Any of these realities in isolation may not have resulted in my parenting as a teen, but put all of them together in the way that so many young people of color have to face, and you have a recipe for not only teen pregnancy, but poverty, miseducation, and chaos. The problem isn’t “America’s youth today” as public campaigns and some corporate foundations would have you believe. The main problems are absent parents chasing pennies on the job, educational disparities and misinformation, adults who scapegoat youth while they hold the policy-making and financial decision-making power, and the lack of opportunity for poor youth and youth of color.

Why is it that youth are bombarded with inaccurate information about sex by adults and are then taunted by those same adults whenever “it” (pregnancy) happens to them? Instead of attacking teenagers (especially low-income teenagers, as I was) and blaming parents that society perceives as failing and whichever scapegoat we have been trained to hate, how about we channel these energies toward federal and state governments, pushing them to stop funding abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that have been proven ineffective?

While I take personal responsibility for having sex, the United States uses taxpayer dollars to fund abstinence programs that set children up for a future they may never have intended. While young people like me get side-eyed, some major private and public organizations and institutions are spending millions of dollars on inaccurate, disrespectful, and hate-perpetuating ads about teenage parents with apparently no plan of actually advocating for something useful like the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, access to contraceptives in all communities, or support for teenage families.

How’s that for an answer?

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact press@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • Meli

    This is a wonderfully written essay. Thanks for sharing!

  • suzyx

    As a teen in the South, I stayed abstinent because of that lack of access to information and resources. My boyfriends often resented me for not “going all the way,” but they had no idea how scared and disempowered I felt in those situations. It wasn’t a healthy or positive way to grow up. But I know I could’ve very easily been a teen mom too, and don’t expect (or want!) anyone to just sit with the fear that I had. Whether abstinent or not, I just want everyone to have access to resources that would help them make informed decisions. Thank you so much for writing this!

    • Jonathan Kuperberg

      “I stayed abstinent because of that lack of access to information and resources”-
      Exactly what I and other pro-family folk have said. Stopping the condom-pushers and the SIECUS/AFY lobby *will* keep at least some young people from fornication. If you had been at my school with outright extremist opponents of traditional values all around the staff room (and the lunch counter- they like to be “approachable”) you may have ended up acting impurely *without* your parents ever knowing.

      And I am disgusted by the writer of this article because of her offensive use of a lowercase “g” for God, her rejection of God and her total disdain for sexual morality. Lying is a sin, and so whoever told her birth control doesn’t work had better get repenting. But one wrong doesn’t justify another.

      • Anywolf

        That would be YOUR godd, not hers. And that would be YOUR morality, not hers. Your morality apparently includes “hate thy neighbor” and deliberate ignorance of the FACTS about the consistent, statistically confirmed, tracked-over-time FAILURE of abstinence-only education. Children who receive comprehensive sex-education are MORE LIKELY TO WAIT. Your godd seems to want girls to be manipulated into powerlessness by the very system that affected this young woman.

        • Jonathan Kuperberg

          No, actually- God is the Sovereign Lord who rules all of us. He is NOT personal, so drop your personal pronouns- they are inappropriate.

          Oh, and morality is absolute as well. Yet another inaccurate attempt at relativizing the absolute by another anti-moral extremist. No surprises there. God does not want anyone to be manipulated- your fantasy personal construct might do.

          • Barbara

            Nope, you’re wrong on this one. Each person has their own set of morals. For example, some people are pro-life, some people are pro-choice; some people value making educated decisions about sex, some advocate absolute abstinence. Similarly, each person has their own beliefs about god(s); they may be Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, etc, or atheist. So actually, your God might not be the same as someone else’s.
            I’d agree with Anywolf… I find abstinence education quite manipulative of young girls and it has been proven to be ineffective. Some adolescents are going to have sex, some aren’t, but all of them should have the education and resources to make smart decisions and have protection.

          • Jonathan Kuperberg

            People have their own *beliefs* about spiritual things but I believe that Truth is absolute and Jews are half-correct while Buddhists and atheists, for example, are totally wrong. Thus I reject your relativistic view: I believe God- Father, Son and Holy Ghost- rules all Creation and every soul whether that individual believes it or not.

          • cjvg

            “but I believe”
            Exactly, you believe that, as is your right!
            However it is NOT your right to force others to live and believe as you want them to according to “your believes”
            This country still has freedom from imposed religion and as such everyone has the same freedom you have to chose what they believe!

            It is not your right to superimpose “your believes” on her or the rest of us!
            You got to make your own fully informed choices as you keep reminding us, why does she not have the same right?
            Why are you not fighting for her to make a fully informed and voluntary choice?

            Or did you make choices you now regret and blame others for so you do not have to take personal responsibility, and you feel comfortable denying these same choices to others because you “know” what is best for them

            Obviously she is still very unhappy with the believes of such as you, who intimidated her by fear, dishonesty and withholding to live by choices she did NOT voluntary and fully informed get to make!
            Is your god and his religion really so weak and unconvincing that the only way you can make others live by his words is intimidation, dishonesty and lack of choice?!

            Is this the level you need to stoop to and actually feel perfectly justified and comfortable to stoop too?
            This says volumes about you and your religion, none of it good.

          • Jonathan Kuperberg

            But God isn’t “my” “god”. You are legally free to believe otherwise- I have never doubted that. I will continue to believe God rules over everyone (in the sense He can intervene in any person’s life and will judge everyone after death, NOT that the present US government will enforce all His laws) and that it says *nothing* about ME let alone Christianity that I hold this position.

          • cjvg

            It certainly is your god if you are the one who claims him as yours, I do not.
            Please refrain from forcing those like me, who did not, and never will chose your god under his dominion.
            You are like the Mormons who baptize deceased into their religion without their permission or even a slightest indication that they would have been alright with that!

            Your bible clearly states that there are those who have different gods then yours!
            All your god states about that is that you who see Yahweh as your god do not worship the gods of these others!
            You are very rude and disrespectful by continuing to insist that all belong to your god and must be forced to live their life according to the rules you claim your god determined appropriate!

          • Jonathan Kuperberg

            Sorry, I still disagree with you, and “my” “god” with a lower-case “g” did NOT determine ANYTHING, **GOD** determined moral absolutes. You ARE under God’s dominion (not “my” “god” with a lower-case “g”, but God) and He WILL determine your eternal fate and one day every tongue will sing and every knee bow to Him and not to any idol. If you do not choose to do this before you die, you will afterwards. God does NOT need “permission” to have dominion over humans or the Earth. He is Almighty Sovereign Creator. Whether you “claim” Him or not He is still Almighty God, NOT “my” “god”.

            You are wrong about the Bible- all people everywhere have been commanded in the New Testament to repent and believe in Christ. Even in the OT it is clear there is only one God who actually exists- and those who worship false deities are idolaters, not other people with some equally-valid spirituality, but spiritual liars who need to repent. I am an exclusivist, as I have said many times before.

            You can call me rude and disrespectful as much as you like but I still believe you belong to God, NOT “my” “god”, just God, and every other person in the world does as well, no matter what their personal views are, because the Holy Bible is Absolute Truth unlike lies such as the Qu’ran, Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, secular humanism and postmodernism.

          • cjvg

            No I do not, obviously your god agrees since he gives everyone FREE WILL!
            And that does not mean that people like you get to circumvent that free will by insisting that we must worship your god so it validates your choice to do so.

            You have never once answered a single question I have placed to you
            Not one single bible quote (you know that little book that you like to disregard although you continue to claim you love your god and follow his word) that contradicts your ridiculous views has ever even received an attempt at an answer!

            All you have offered is rude disrespectful (towards me and your god) insistence that you can interpret and twists your own gods words to mean what ever you like. Apparently, your god’s written word can be denied, ignored or explained to mean the exact opposite of what it literally states, as long as it can be used in your attempt to declare that you and your views dominate all others.

            You are exceptionally arrogant (a sin) worship false gods (a sin) self-righteous (a sin) and just flat out uninteresting and obviously plain ignorant (benign explanation, maybe you are just deceitful) of your own bible!
            And worst of all plain boring, nothing but “because I say so” is ever offered up as an argument.

            In short, not worth an effort
            bye bye

          • Valde

            He is also ‘pointing the finger’ at others, which means he is placing himself in the role of god, which is a big sin.

          • cjvg

            Thanks, at least i’m not the only one having trouble containing my disgust at this arrogant little snot.

            He is just the typical self-righteous Christian crying about us not respecting him and his god while insisting that I must fall under his gods dominion because he says so?!

            The really amazing part is that he sees absolutely no irony or disrespect on his part by trying to insist against my most vocal objections that I must pay respect to a god that is not mine and I must certainly do not acknowledge.

            And they wonder why people despise them.
            It is not because they are Christians or are religious.
            It is the complete disregard of their own gods commandments to interpret it to mean :” I can tell you what to do, how to live and be smug about it” self-righteousness that makes people despise them.

            Apparently he is physically incapable to actually see the monster mountain of feces he is peddling, and I for one have had enough of expending effort on this dud.

          • Valde

            BTW cjvg, i really enjoy your posts, especially when you 1) educated a forced birther on EEG and the lack of fetal brain activity in regards to sentience and 2) demonstrated that Mr_Cris can’t possibly be Dutch.

            I am sad that you hid your activity, now I can’t find your latest posts;(

          • cjvg

            I’m sorry about that.
            That was mostly because certain individuals seem to get obsessed in converting me, and then continue to address my every post with their preaching.
            Apparently there is no such thing as a happy content Christian since they just can not feel pleasure in their faith unless they keep rubbing it in the nose of those unwilling to drink the koolaid.
            I don’t mind a good informative discussion but I get very bored and tired of the constant “my god is your god , now bow down” rhetoric that has absolutely no informative or amusement value.
            It would not be bad if these people would actually think and answer the questions posed to their views, but it is just a waste of breath and time.
            However, I will un hide it in a week or two when my two new personal priests have moved on.

          • cjvg


          • Jennifer Starr

            Those may be your beliefs but you cannot demand that others accept your belief that your faith is absolute truth and capitalize the words you want them to. You’re not just asking others of different faiths to respect your faith, you’re asking them to pretend as if they believe it’s the one true faith for your personal comfort.

          • Valde

            You are atheist about every other religion but your own.

            And none of those other religions believe in your god.

            Who is right?

            Oh hey, I know, let’s fight wars over who has the right god. That’s all you fuckers ever do.

      • fiona64

        She stayed abstinent out of fear, not out of real choice. You advocate keeping people in the dark and ignorant, and that’s nonsensical.

        • Jonathan Kuperberg

          I don’t support ignorance, I believe in sex education, just so long as it is done with moral standards. Here is a response from another forum some months ago when I was asked how sex ed should be taught:

          “Schools should avoid religious references if they are secular schools but teach the following based on SCIENTIFIC evidence: all the biology of sex and how pregnancy occurs, the importance of consent, debunking of stereotypes (“sex=love”, “virgin= not grown up”, “everyone’s doing it”, promiscuity is fine for boys, etc.); complementarity of male and female, benefits of lifelong commitment, methods of contraception [with failure rates], STD effects and risks, evidence for babies having a better chance with a married couple, embryo/foetus development- plenty of pictures of preborn babies and NO explicit diagrams of syphilitic penises etc. which my class were exposed to in year 10. Perhaps pornography addiction/ sex addiction and testimony from people who have suffered emotionally as a result of promiscuous behaviour (no explicit detail) can be included too.

          Thus a mature and responsible sexual ethic of abstinence until marriage can be taught. A teacher who is either celibate themselves (but not a monk/nun as they would run the risk of being laughed at by non-believer pupils) or more realistically, faithfully married should be used to provide a good role model.

          The following should be prohibited: subversion of morals of pupils and their parents; referral for STD clinic, abortion, etc. (pupil + parents’ responsibility or pupil’s alone if >16- schools should not interfere); promoting sex before marriage; doling out condoms, particularly in secret which encourages a secrecy culture and immorality; teaching “values-free” education; explicit diagrams and photo images; explicit detail, especially of perverse practices.

          Pupils who have intimate problems involving their sexual development or experimentation should be warned to speak to parents or a medically qualified person with teachers refusing to engage any pupil in one-to-one discussion. Repeat offenders (ie pupils who continuously attempt to discuss their private sexual issues and/or use inappropriate explicit language with staff) could have the information placed on the wall or read out at assembly as an unassailable deterrent. Youth wouldn’t start trying to bypass parents by “confiding” if they just stopped keeping confidences!”
          How is that ignorance?

          • fiona64

            Well, I would have to say “yes and no.” Teaching broad spectrum/comprehensive sex education should be factual *only,* IMO. There is no need to get into moralizing, especially with the “complementarian” concept that you advocate. If you have a class of 30 kids (where, for the sake of discussion, we are talking about children in school), at least one of them is gay. Thus the complementarian paradigm is not relevant to them, and is really kind of inappropriate anyway as not all males prefer to work on automobiles and mow the yard and not all women prefer to cook and dust; in other words, it is my opinion that complementarian philosophies encourage stereotypes.

            I do, however, wholeheartedly concur that scientific information should be shown, contraception be taught about (including, as you state, failure rates) and such. I just advocate a strictly fact-based curriculum. I also don’t think that the teacher’s marital or personal life status is relevant, as it is none of the student’s business.

            PS: To answer your question, the reason I said that you were supporting ignorance was your apparently delighted response to the poster who said she stayed abstinent because she was scared, due to not having enough information and resources. Your response was Exactly what I and other pro-family folk have said. Stopping the condom-pushers and the SIECUS/AFY lobby *will* keep at least some young people from fornication. Surely you can understand how this might be read as promoting ignorance.

          • Jonathan Kuperberg

            Well, I believe in lifelong abstinence for homosexuals as you know- the whole point of teaching complimentarity of man and woman is to show that man/man or woman/woman relationships are inappropriate without having to be more explicit. And not every class will include an exclusive homosexual anyway.
            It is not intended to enforce overall stereotyped gender roles- I should have qualified it as “sexual complimentarity”. Oh, and morality is very different from the negative term “moralizing”- which far left antifamily secularist Sidney Simon regularly used (“all that moralizing crap”) when he took up Louis Raths’ argument that schools should not bother teaching values but get children to “develop their own morals”- approved of far more by godless Harvard professors than pro-family parents.

          • fiona64

            And I believe that it’s not my business what consenting adults get up to in their bedrooms, as you know.

            I do think that declaring one’s personal morality to be the only appropriate morality is moralizing, but you are free to disagree.

          • Jonathan Kuperberg

            Yes, I disagree. I am, as you know, no fan of the “your personal belief is as good as mine” school of thought; I oppose the false view that morality is *in the eye of the beholder*.

            The “none of your business” thing I’ve already discussed- I believe it’s God’s business because He owns our bodies.

          • fiona64

            Well, you are free to hold that belief. No one is stopping you.

            I am an independent human being, owned by no one.

          • http://alittleitchy.blogspot.com/ brista

            Why are you on this site? You obviously disagree with everything posted on it. Go argue about religion somewhere else. May I suggest your church? I’m sure you’ll find like-minded individuals.

          • Jonathan Kuperberg

            You can certainly suggest my church, or Mississippi, or Saudi Arabia, or a fundamentalist web site, or anything else that comes to your mind. But my answer is: NO. Because I have the right to express my religion in the PUBLIC square, I will continue to do so, and that is that. I am not hiding my light under a bushel. We are to go out into the world, being salt and light, not hiding in our churches.

            I am tired of “privatizationists” who think religion should be an at-home, in-church, closed-doors affair that they have some sort of “right” to live in “freedom from”. (And no good quoting Jesus about praying in secret- He Himself and the Apostles frequently preached and prayed in public in Scripture, that specific passage was a rebuke to those who did not truly have a relationship with God but wished to sound impressive with their lengthy speeches, just as the “judge not” pertains to not judging in a hypocritical way but is thrown at me as a proof-text by unbelievers who think they know Christianity better than I do when they want me to “not judge” their fornication or their blasphemy or their worldliness.)

            You have the right to not be forced by government to believe in or practice a religion, but NOT to never hear from religious people- you can always ignore us if you hate us so bad. In the same way I am not (and shouldn’t be) guaranteed when I am in public that no-one will preach atheism to me or tell me that my religion is false, but I do have the right to not be forced to give up or change my faith. Fair dos?

          • http://alittleitchy.blogspot.com/ brista

            Your religion IS false. It’s made up.

          • Jonathan Kuperberg

            You think so, I believe otherwise. That’s the point.

  • Anywolf

    Thanks for sharing. I can really relate–those same sorts of factors played in to my having a baby when I was 19. Scarcely a teenager anymore, but just as unprepared as any girl who was not ready to have a child. I should not have had a child, but I love her dearly–those are not opposing statements, they’re two separate realities. Having a kid seriously set me back in my life-course, and it made it so that my daughter had much less than I wish she had in life. But she’s a great kid, and I’m happy to see the person she’s becoming–among other things, with all the sex-ed she could wish for, and raised by an atheist mother not pushing all that absurd woman-hating sexual “morality” on her, she is still abstinent at age 19. She knows that sex is only okay when you’re with someone who RESPECTS you, and when you want it, and when there is birth-control available. She has so much more support than I did … and if she ever has kids, she’ll pass that on to them.

  • Kika

    I identify the most with this line: teenage parents are garbage, low-performing students, drug dealers, or addicts, and since I was none of those I figured teenage pregnancy didn’t happen to “people like me.”
    I used to think girls who “let themselves” get pregnant were dumb, promiscuous, with loser boyfriends, NOT like me. Then there I was, freshly turned 18, freshman year at a prestigious university, positive test on my hand like a slap to my face!
    I was also “pro-life”, until I was the one with a decision to make.
    I chose to terminate that pregnancy, and waited to become a mom until I was ready at 29. I learned about real birth control after my abortion, and I was shocked at the lies and manipulation I had been fed by my parents, boyfriends, family, and peers. I wish my parents had given me the tools to protect myself, both physically and emotionally, because other than that they are amazing parents. I also learned not to judge pregnant teenagers, and that the blame (should there be any) doesn’t rest solely on their shoulders.

    • cjvg

      I’m glad that you came through that a more understanding person.
      I would like to add that it is never the child’s fault, you can not blame a child for not taking precautions against something that the adults in their life do not even have the courage and honesty to address.

      How can we hold a child that does not have nearly a fraction of the maturity or live experience of an adult responsible for something that no adult in their life bothered to address.

      You can not learn what you have never been taught, so subsequently some of these poor kids will learn these lessons in a very hard way.
      At least your parents did well enough in raising you to think and decide for yourself, and learn from the experiences that you had/have