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Teen Pregnancy

Answers to many sex ed. questions



Baby Talk

Debbie Williams can relate with teen moms in the work that she does.  She was once a teen mom herself.

When you think of the future, what do you dream about? Do you see yourself with a college degree? Are you wildly rich and famous? Do you picture a nice house and a car, or enough money to travel around the world? Are you a senator or a scientist, an athlete or an artist? Dream Huge! Dream fabulous! For these wonderful dreams are important to have! They keep us motivated toward our goals and keep us reaching, working for bigger and brighter and better things.

Losing sight of those dreams can be dangerous because you start doing things that might get you off track, and prevent you from accomplishing what you want to in life. It happened to Karen Savill when she was a teenager. She began to do drugs, and she began to have sex, and she grew totally uninterested in school. Then, when she was 17, Karen became pregnant (even though she was taking Depo Provera shots, usually a very effective form of birth control.) The faulty birth control made Karen one of one million American girls that get pregnant every year, and with her decision to have the baby, she became one of over 500,000 teenagers that year that gave birth.

Karen was lucky to find the Teen Parent Project in Eugene.  She doesn't know what she and Kallie would have done without it.

Karen certainly had never considered becoming a teen mom. She was into doing hard drugs and partying, but not at all interested in going to school or being responsible. She wanted to have freedom and be young, so she was shocked to find out she was entering motherhood - a job she'd be tied to for the rest of her life.

Although she hadn't done any drugs since she found out she was pregnant, her boyfriend refused to quit. When Karen saw him grab her stereo and head for the door one day, she decided she'd finally had enough. Karen gave him an ultimatum: he had to choose between the drugs and her. He chose the drugs, so Karen and her baby moved out on their own.

Karen has done a lot of growing up in the past three years. She's given up drugs and drinking, enrolled in classes to finish high school, and is paying rent on her own apartment. She's dating a nice young man and she's taking care of the little details of her day-to-day life. Oh, and she's raising Kallie, a beautiful blonde, freckled girl (with a little help from her family and friends.) Stephanie and I met with Karen at the Adult and Family Services (AFS) office in Eugene, Oregon to find out what being a teen mom is really like.


Cousins, cousins, everywhere!

The most challenging part for Karen so far has been dealing with a three-year old's attitude. "I've been blessed with a good child," she tells us, "but there's still at least one conflict a day, if not two between us."

"It usually starts right after we get home from day care. Kallie wants everything right now, and she'll start screaming until she gets it. I have to send her to her room and go outside, shaking, to calm down."

Robin urges her teen moms to dream big at the Teen Parent Project

They are living on welfare right now while Karen finishes up her high school classes. The money is just enough to get for the two of them to get by, but there's never a chance to start saving. "She gets what she needs. I get whatever I need. Then we're broke!" Karen announces matter-of-factly.

When we ask her if looking back, she would have done anything differently in her life, she is quick to say that she "would want Kallie all over again, but I would have waited to have her until I was married and successful." Karen's advice for teenagers who are considering having sex is to try not to. "Think about it when you're laying in bed next to the man you think you're in love with. Think about the consequences," she says. "You could wake up the next morning... and be pregnant."

Debbie Williams, an employee for the RAPP (Reducing Adolescent Pregnancy Partnership) program at AFS, agrees. She hopes that teens today will consider the consequences that she didn't sixteen years ago. At 34 years old, Debbie is the mother of four kids, aged 7 to 16.


When Debbie found out she was pregnant she was only 18 years old, but she was immediately thrust into the grown-up world of decision-making. All of the sudden she had "so much to think about," and was on her own "for every single decision."

Even though Debbie's husband was abusive, she married him because she was pregnant and her parents expected her to get married. They eventually divorced, leaving her to spend the next ten years as a single mother of three. In order to make ends meet, she would often work three jobs at one time. "I was very self conscious as a young mom," she tells us. "I didn't want people thinking I was a welfare bum." She assures us that she only needed to go on welfare once in her life, but has been able to make ends meet on her own since then. "It was a pride thing," she says, and always made it a point to keep her kids "clean and well dressed." Her crazy work schedule however, left her with the constant dilemma of quality childcare.

"I did a lot of crying through that time," Debbie tells us. It was so hard for her to find someone to take care of her kids while she went to work. "I needed someone to be flexible about my weird hours," but most babysitters weren't interested in working for Debbie while she took the graveyard shift each night.

Although that aspect of life has gotten easier now that her kids are old enough to take care of themselves, Debbie's on to a new phase of motherhood, which keeps her equally challenged and busy. Now, with all of the activities her four kids are involved in, Debbie sometimes feels "like a yo-yo up and down the freeway" as she drops each child off at soccer practice or a basketball game. She knows though, that this phase too, will soon be over and it saddens her to think about how quickly her kids will be out of the house and on their own.

Steph was overwhelmed by the amount of time and energy it takes to be a parent.

I tell Debbie that I am amazed by her strength, at all that she has struggled through to make a good life for herself and her kids. "Sometimes it's hard to be strong, sometimes you just want to unfold," she replies. "Kids can be annoying. They're time consuming, they're expensive. Sometimes you think to yourself 'I want a new car or a new house' but you never can because there's no money." Of course, Debbie doesn't regret having her wonderful children. Her personal desires fade away quickly when she looks at her kids, who truly are the light of her life. She does wish, however, that she had waited. Debbie looks back on the past 16 years with mixed emotions. She is quick to tell us that she would never want "to go through those experiences again," but at the same time she knows that the hard times have helped to shape her into the person she is today.

Currently, Debbie is an Americorps Volunteer working to develop programs that will help teens make educated decisions about sex. One of these is the "STARS" project - Students Today Aren't Ready for Sex. Through this program, high school students visit local junior highs to urge 6th and 7th graders to postpone sexual involvement until they're ready. They teach kids the important message that being ready is an individual decision, one that shouldn't be made quickly or based on what their friends think.

On the other side of the Adult and Family Services building sits a wonderfully warm woman named Robin Marks-File. Robin is a life skills teacher for teen moms. She is one member of the caring network that helps women like Karen to become successful mothers, even when most of them are still children themselves.

Robin tells us that her mission at the Teen Parent Program is to "empower young women to break the cycles they are in." She realizes that many of these girls are teen moms because their mothers were teen moms, and that the issue has become one of economics. Almost 85% of teen moms come from poor households! Why are these girls getting pregnant? She offers us a variety of reasons: "Many of these girls have really low self esteem. They often grow up in households where they aren't valued as people and are the victims of physical or sexual abuse. When they get to be teenagers, many of these girls look for an identity in a 'no-goodnik boyfriend.' Then when they think about being pregnant, they don't look at the lifelong consequences, but instead think that a baby that will give them the unconditional love and caring that they couldn't get anywhere else."


One of Robin's major goals for the program is to provide these girls with a sense of self-esteem for the first time in their lives. The curriculum is built so that the girls experience lots of successes, and are mentored by truly caring teachers, therapists and counselors. And it helps them meet their basic needs. The Teen Parent Program offers high school classes, life skills classes, transportation to and from the building, and truly personal attention to the struggles of each girl enrolled. Without this program (which is considered the best in the state), most of the teen moms there would be out on the street, and clueless on how to care for a kid.

Through their classes, Robin wants to give these girls more than daily survival skills. She wants them to see that there are other options, other paths they can take besides simply getting pregnant again. She wants them to go on to college! She hopes to show them that if they just settle for their GED, they're settling for a life of flipping burgers or other dead-end jobs. "What are your dreams?" Robin asks her girls. Some answer that they don't have any. "Well," Robin replies, "let's start dreaming."


Please email me at: rebecca@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - Putting a cap on violence in our schools
Neda - Thinking of having a beer while pregnant? Think of your baby and think again!
Irene - Righting a national wrong as old as our school system
Stephen - Forget classrooms! There are more things to learn and great ways to learn them
Rebecca - It isn't boot camp. It's teaching in America's schools