Saturday, August 2, 2008

Pregnant Teens: Part 2

I'm sure I'm not the only person who had an adverse reaction to the cover of OK! Magazine with Jamie Lynn Spears. Just the subtitle of "Being a mom is the best feeling in the world" is enough to make me roll my eyes when it is coming out of a teenager's mouth. Now, I realize most celebrity parents aren't like Angelina Jolie, who -in a fit of complete honesty- told reporters that Shiloh looked like a "blob" when she was born. I realize that new mothers are pressured to feel like motherhood is always the best feeling in the world, and reacting in an opposite way -admitting fatigue, feelings of despondency and depression, not immediately 'clicking' with the infant, being overwhelmed- oftentimes leads to a less than pleasant reaction. This is one of the reasons that postpartum depression is such a hot button issue, and why Brooke Shields is something of an inspiration by writing her book "Here Comes The Rain" and writing an op-ed for the New York Times about it -and Tom Cruise, of course. We as a society do not like to believe that mothers are capable of not feeling instantly connected to their children. Those feelings are complicated when there is a teenage pregnancy involved. Oftentimes, the initial reaction is to condemn the teen mother, to react to her in revulsion and disgust; to demand chastisement and punishment. The documentary about a high school basketball team, "The Heart of the Game", demonstrates that amply after its star player, Darnellia Russell, gets pregnant, has her child, goes back to high school, and returns to the school team. She was the subject of talk show radio, where concerned callers denigrated her for having premarital sex and expressed concern about "the baby", what with Russell's return to school and basketball. Which is why I'm torn about Jamie Lynn Spears.

I can commiserate with OK!'s executive editor's statement of "We didn't go down there to slap this girl on the wrist and tell her off". Jamie Lynn Spears shouldn't be treated like dirt, and she shouldn't be sequestered away from the world just because she had  sex and got pregnant. At the same time, I am against normalizing teen pregnancy. It is a fine line, and I don't think that covers like this one walk it. I loved Juno; I liked the message it sent about how getting pregnant as a teen wasn't the end of the world, and the movie was able to return Juno's life to how it had been pre-pregnancy by having her find a home for her child. But real life isn't like that. Teen moms are less likely to get a high school education and more likely to remain a single parent. A sizable amount of Newsweek readers, though not a majority, are for examples like Jamie Lynn, because it shows a successful teen mother. But Jamie Lynn Spears isn't an example of a successful teen mother, but of a teen who was commercially successful and then became pregnant. That isn't just a horse of a different color but an entirely different species. If the media held up examples of actually successful teen mothers -people like Darnellia Russell- juxtaposed with people like Candi Johnson, who hasn't yet been able to balance motherhood with success, I would be happier. When Jamie Lynn Spears and her pregnancy are held up as an example that teen mothers "can live a perfect, happy, normal life", something has gone seriously wrong.

What is also wrong is the part of the discussion that is absent. Contraceptives aren't mentioned. No "Did you think about using condoms?" No "I was on the pill but was also taking some antibiotics". Sex=babies. No caveats, no conditions, no way to circumvent the fact that sex=babies. And that is a travesty, because teens getting pregnant isn't just a product of sex, but a product of sex without protection, or without adequate protection. I would expect a part of the discussion to be about education; to be about pregnancy prevention. Too often, what is discussed is the pregnancy itself, and not what came before (the sex) or after (the 18+ years of child care). And that is wrong.

What is also wrong is the fact that another aspect of teenage pregnancy is maligned: the abortion. 1/3 of all pregnant teens have abortions; but the only way a teenager can "take responsibility" is by having the baby. As society rushes out to avoid ostracizing teen parents, they neglect a whole other portion of teens. Their rush to accept one group relegates another to the screw up pile. And that is also unfortunate. These teens, anonymous as they may be, deserve to be a part of the dialogue as well, to have their choice be acknowledged as one that may have been the best for them, even if fetuses do have finger nails.

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