Read these four stories that examine the challenges that teen moms face, from the particularities of the pandemic to broader cultural stigmatization.
Rainesford Stauffer writes for The Lily about the pressures the pandemic placed on women who were both young adults and mothers. One woman expresses her feelings of isolation, as though it is her and her son “against the world” as she struggles with the workload of being a full-time parent, full-time student, and full-time worker. Another mother reflects on her difficulty finding childcare for her son while a third mom describes how some of the solutions offered by schools--like providing free wifi to those parked in the school lot--were impractical for students with children. Many struggled to find work while others had difficulty stretching their meager paychecks to cover their family’s expenses. The piece touches on some systemic solutions, like raising the minimum wage, expanding SNAP benefits, making affordable housing accessible, or on-site child care, that could ease the burden for these moms. It also refers to the work of Generation Hope, a group that “focuses on a two-generation solution to poverty, by helping teen parents thrive in college through scholarships and by helping their children thrive in kindergarten.”
This project from The New York Times includes photographs from Jillian Freyer and writing from Christina Caron as it narrates the stories of several teenage mothers navigating school, work, and parenting during the pandemic. These moms faced a “unique set of stressors,” as the pandemic exacerbated depression, forced them to give birth without the presence of their support networks, and left them riddled with anxiety over both their children’s and their own isolation. While some of these pandemic factors are universal in that most populations have seen worsened mental health, these moms were tasked with both overcoming these challenges and balancing parenting and schoolwork, as each expresses how highly they rank completing their education as the pathway toward a better future for themselves and their families.
In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Tracey A. Wilkinson, Brownsyne Tucker Edmonds, and Aaron E. Carroll write about the contradictions inherent in how American society treats teen moms. As a parent, they occupy a position of authority over their child yet need their own parents’ consent in order to receive an epidural or long-acting contraceptive. The authors point to the contraceptive example as especially alarming; it restricts a teenage mother’s ability to plan the remainder of her family, subjecting her to an increased probability of unintended pregnancy. They make a strong case for counteracting laws that deny teenage mothers agency over their health, concluding that “once a woman is pregnant, regardless of her age, she can no longer be treated like a child. We need to treat her like a mother and allow her to be as responsible for herself as we demand she be for her child.”
Bitch Media’s Natasha Vianna reflects on her own experience as a teenage mother. She characterizes this experience as one marked societal stigma. Vianna asserts that both conservatives and reproductive rights activists have contributed to “a culture of shame” that burdened her with psychological trauma. This cultural shame was debilitating for Vianna, and she discusses the dehumanization that she was subject to as a teen mom. A doctor injected her with birth control to which she did not consent and a guidance counselor refused to help her with college applications. She cites both of these experiences as being emblematic of how it was the societal disdain for teen mothers, rather than motherhood itself, that made her life more difficult. She closes by describing the mission of #NoTeenShame an organization that Vianna co-founded to empower teen moms to speak about their life experiences.
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