How to Help is a series of thoughtful and practical reader submissions. If you would like to submit a "How to Help" post for consideration, please contact me. This guest post is by Darcie Maranich.
What I most remember about being sixteen and pregnant is the wayward looks from strangers. I remember the downcast eyes or all-out gawking stares toward my bulging belly. I remember walking into a class where the rumors preceded me and having to tell my teacher—in front of a room full of peers—that I was switching to a different school. No explanation was necessary.
I was hesitant to attend that second school. Even though it was located just across the street from the high school, the “alternative” school, as it was called, seemed worlds apart. I went in that first day hoping somehow to fade into a sea of faces that—like mine—showed signs of disillusionment. Regret. Despair.
I was assigned to homeroom in Mrs. Rambo’s class. Right away, she looked at my transcript and my lofty plan to graduate a whole year early and scoffed. “What’s your plan B?” she asked. I didn’t have one. There were few options for a girl like me. A girl without a job and with no options for childcare. A girl whose mind was made up, nonetheless. A girl who was keeping her baby no matter the cost.
She sketched out a plan for acquiring all those credits and sent me on my way. Little did she know that I would use her skepticism as fuel for my fire.
During my five months at that school, I was automatically enrolled in a support group for teen moms. I lamented having to attend because it took precious time away from my classes and set me further from my goal of graduating. I dutifully attended, though, and—over time—came to appreciate it. That weekly meeting was the one and only chance I got to interact with true peers—other girls with babies growing inside of them. I became close friends with one of them and we went to a local frozen yogurt shop after school one day. We’d just arrived and were in the parking lot, heading to the door when an older man stopped his car behind mine and rolled down his window. “I hope you’re giving up those babies,” he said, addressing both of us. “You’re too young.”
He was right about that; we were.
Here’s the thing, though: neither of us set out to become pregnant. I venture—now—to say that it was likely the furthest thing from either of our minds. Health Ed was only a four-week class in my school and—quite honestly—I was too busy passing notes during it to pay attention to that lesson on birth control. And though I take full responsibility for my own actions, as a mom, I’ve witnessed firsthand how important it is for those lessons to start at home. Mine never did.
Yes, I was pregnant. But also? I was just a girl. I was lost and lonely and maybe a bit broken. Only a girl.
If ever a strange time warp opened a window for me, I’d go back to those two young girls with bellies bulging. I’d let that angry old man say his piece and then as he drove away, I’d shake my head and cast a dismissive hand his way. I’d slip those girls a ten dollar bill and tell them that the yogurt was my treat. Because it wouldn’t matter how or why they came to be pregnant, or what their intentions for their children were. What would matter most would be the hearts and minds of those young girls. Girls who were on the brink of shaping the hearts and minds of a new generation. There are moments in our lives in which we have two choices: to pass judgment or to extend compassion. And in those instances, there is only one right answer.
If ever a window to the life of a pregnant teen opens in your world, there are things you can do to be the change she needs:
In case you’re dying to know, I did indeed graduate as I had hoped to. I handed those last five credits over to be recorded in Mrs. Rambo’s book and—after tallying them—she was downright shocked that I made it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take great pleasure in proving her wrong. I did. But moreover, that experience taught me something important—a lesson that, quite possibly, changed my future. That is, external opinions didn’t define me. Becoming pregnant at such a young age would definitely shape my path, but it didn’t have to lead me down a dead-end road.
I wish every teen mom believed the same.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Darcie Maranich was a teen mom long before MTV made it the next big thing. In the eighteen years that have passed since, she has gone on to build a life bold and beautiful. A self-described rebel with a lifestyle blog, her posts at Such The Spot reflect on her life as a mother to four, including one daughter who rocks three 21st chromosomes (or has Down syndrome, in boring terms). Her passions for hand-crafted food, inspired travel, and back-to-basics living make her someone to keep an eye on.