Teen Mom Responsible for Decline in Pregnancy?

There’s been a decrease in teen pregnancies, and apparently, 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom are to thank for this. In a new study published and released by the National Bureau of Economic Research,  (courtesy of Wellesley College and the University of Maryland) demonstrated and analyzed  how exposure to the MTV shows “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” (via data from Nielsen ratings, Google and Twitter) could have affected teen birth rates since 2009.

Their study found that these shows led to more searches regarding birth control, and abortion. It also claims that tweets of the same nature ultimately led to a decline in teen births (5.7%)  in the 18 months after the show was initially introduced. According to the study, the decline accounts for “…one-third of the overall decline in teen births in the United States during that period.”

Many are touting this as a victory, and praising the show for it’s forward thinking, and hard work. However, I’m not one of them.

It’s quite a stretch, in my opinion, to credit the decline in teen pregnancy to a reality show that has also been shown to give a false idea of what parenting as a teen as actually like.  Any woman who has parented in her teens can and will tell you that the show gives a rather narrow perspective of what it’s truly like to be in that scenario. Furthermore, it’s widely known that these girls are paid for their appearances on the show, making anywhere between $50-60k per season, a major fact that shows that they are not your typical teen mother.  These are not girls who are dealing with the hard realities of teen pregnancy or even teen parenting; they are pseudo-celebrities that are having their misadventures documented  for the general population’s consumption.

The harsh reality is that these young women are being exploited during an incredibly vulnerable time in their life. Of course, while it can be argued that they signed up for this show, (and they did), MTV should be ashamed of themselves for seeking out young women who do find themselves pregnant so they can profit.  They loosely use the term documentary when describing the shows. Each show is heavily edited, and as even been accused of being scripted.  Generally speaking, it’s not a great indicator of what it’s truly like to be pregnant as a teen.  MTV has also been criticized for their involvement with Bethany Christian Services, an adoption agency featured in the first season. The agency is known to heavily coerce young women into adoption, and of course, the idea that they were working simultaneously with MTV caused an uproar in the adoption community.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for the decline in teen pregnancy. I just refuse to congratulate a television show that has taken advantage of young women in a precarious situation. The show, even if it’s minutely responsible for the decline, still documents an inaccurate depiction of what it’s like to be a teen mother. It’s still riddled with stereotypes of fathers who take no responsibility, extended family who can’t seem to get it together, along with subtle hints regarding substance abuse, and the very idea that parenting as a teen is little or no work. All of this is happening while these young women have cameras stuck in their face, documenting every single moment, then promptly edited for the dramatic effect of reality television.  It’s continuing to stick to the old stigmas regarding teen pregnancy, and then it serves up false pretenses regarding parenting. MTV dresses up the shame they direct toward teen mothers, but it’s there, just carefully edited, and delivered.

Positively, this study did show us is that teens are actively searching out information about their sex lives. It shows that the internet, and even social media can be an excellent tool to begin showing them the resources they need. It shows that teenagers want to have these conversations. It shows that we can and should be giving them every opportunity to find these resources so they can make positive sexual health and activity decisions. I can celebrate that, because ultimately, education and access is what will directly contribute to the decline in teen pregnancy.

A show that shames teen parents, and perpetuates stereotypes for entertainment purposes should not be standard we accept, nor should we be giving them the space to take credit for the decline in teen pregnancy.  We can thank them for starting the conversation, but in no way should we be patting them on the back for causing an actual decline.

You Can’t Be A Parent Because You Had Sex

As an adoptive mother, your post is curious to me. I respect the origins of my children, but even more, I have to parent them. My parenting has to trump the rights of birth mothers. I am forever morally and legally bound to the precious children I have adopted. I am entrusted to make the very best decisions for them even if they don’t include birth mothers. It is in constant conflict with my feelings of sadness for the birth mothers who have lost their children. Some kids want to find birth mothers, some don’t. As adults, they will have my support in meeting their birth mothers. Adoption is about loss. It is best to avoid unmarried sexual relations, and ultimately best to raise your own children. What a blessing that someone is doing your job.

 

The first person to tell me that I couldn’t parent, or rather, shouldn’t, was my own mother. This argument was based simply on the simple fact that I had become pregnant before I was married. It wasn’t based on my capability, or maturity. It wasn’t even related to who I was as a person, and it had very little to do with my age.  If I had become pregnant, obviously, I was unfit to parent any child, even my own. There was no room for discussion.

When I receive a comment like the one listed above, I feel the historical shame that I was taught as a young woman who had become pregnant.  This sort of snide remark is markedly similar to the commentary I was subjected to by my family, the LDS church and it’s leaders, as well as close friends. The difference is, now that shame is quickly replaced with dignified anger.

How dare you imply that my sexual relations have anything to do with the type of parent I could have been, or have been?  How dare you tell me that my child is better off without me because I had sexual intercourse during my teens? This despicable attitude, the kind where  women shame other women, the very ones they require, should they wish to adopt a baby, is prevalent, despite the obscenity of it. More horrifying however, is that it’s often widely accepted by our culture and society.

This line of thinking is frightening. It reeks of self-righteousness, and narcissism. It allows others to place themselves on pedestals, and sneer down at those who don’t quite fit into their carefully constructed box of morals. There is no room for flexibility or even empathy. Most importantly,  it serves to dehumanize the women who have found themselves in the position of an unexpected pregnancy. If we can base our ability to parent or not, on one single event or action, suffice it to say, many parents would not or should not be parents. This, of course, includes adoptive parents.

My choice to have sex as a teenager was not one that I made lightly. While my parents provided no sexual education of their own, save the practice of abstinence, I went out of my way to educate myself as much as I possibly could. The number of sexual partners I did or didn’t have should not have been a part of the discussion when I was “making” the decision to parent or not. My ability to become resourceful when I was blocked by my parents in learning about such things, should have been applauded.  I should not have been shamed into thinking that I was an incompetent whore for the fact that the contraception I was using, as it sometimes does, had failed.

When we seek to brutalize women based on their sexual adventures, young or old, what is the ultimate purpose? Sexuality is a natural part of our humanity. Many religions teach that sexuality is inherently evil, and absolutely a sin. More so, women are used as a scapegoat; men have urges that can’t be controlled, and somehow, it’s the job of the female population to assure that they are not provoked.  When a pregnancy happens, be it from a consensual relationship or not, the person taking the fall for it is more often than not, the female counterpart. In my own experience, the seventeen year old that I was, the one that wound up pregnant was not traipsing around trying to get pregnant. No, she was in a loving relationship where the sex was consensual, and contraception was used. When my partner was informed of the pregnancy, he was excused in many forms. He didn’t have to answer to the same slut-shaming insults that I did. On the other hand, I was smothered in guilt, insults and all manner of backward religious thinking. The option of relinquishing my child was not always posed as the best option for my son, but rather as a way for me to show that I had fully repented of my evil, sex having ways.  There was no call to repent for my son’s father, as luck would have it, I was the one who would suffer for both of our supposed transgressions.

When we discuss this in terms of adoption, it’s not uncommon to hear that many mothers who have relinquished were shamed for their sexuality. This sort of shame is a heavy handed form of coercion. If all those surrounding you are equating your worth as a future mother on the premise that you wound up pregnant unexpectedly, it’s not a far reach to see that many woman will feel as though they are incapable of making sound decisions.As I’ve already demonstrated, we live in a culture that still explicitly exempts the male counterpart of this scenario. Instead of asking both parties to take responsibility, the woman is forced to face all the questions, as well as any persecution and find a resolution, all on her own.

Becoming a birthmother was not a choice I made. I succumbed to the pressure, and the slut-shaming by both my family, the LDS church, and their agency, LDSFS. Their message was loud, and it was absolutely clear – I was unfit to parent because I had pre-marital sex, and as such, my rights to parent that child on my own were not considered. Based on this thinking, one would wonder if adoptive couples are asked about their sexual behavior prior to marriage. If my sexual activity was the sole reason I was shamed out of parenting, should we not be asking for the full history of those people who are wishing to parent my child?

Why is my sexual history the determining factor of my ability to be a mother, but not for the adoptive couple? If it’s found that they engaged in pre-marital relations, had an abortion, or even wound up with some sort of STI, based on the premise of sexually shaming, should they be regarded as unfit to parent any child? Of course, we know that a double standard exists, and such an inference would likely be considered highly unethical.

The fact that another person feels as though they can comment freely about someone’s sexual history, and suggest that their parental rights were rightfully terminated because of that history, shows that we still have many obstacles to overcome when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. Even though my experience was over a decade ago, the very act of discussing the rights I have lost as a result of being shamed for my sexual activity still causes a self-righteous response in the very sort of person that I was forced to relinquish my child to. It’s not enough that I have to live with the grief of this loss, it has to be repeated, over and over again that I was not suitable for my child based solely on the fact that I was sexually active.

We should be seeking to remove the inquisition of sexual activity for the mother who faces an unexpected pregnancy. The only person who should be having that conversation with her is her health professional, for obvious reasons. The idea that sexual activity should be used as a measure of good parenting is ridiculous, and completely unmerited.  A woman should be free from such judgment when she faces the decisions that come along with an unexpected pregnancy, whether it be in the present moment, or in the future.

 

 

Another Day

As the year mark of my closed adoption approaches, I find myself in a state of panic. I don’t want another anniversary. Another day that I will have to trod through. Another day that reminds me of every single thing I have lost.

I have too many of those days already.

Each night, as the panic settles throughout my body, I imagine all the ways that I could fix this closed adoption. Could I really write The Kiddo’s adoptive parents a letter and fake contrition, just for the sake of having something again? Could I really reach out to them, knowing there is a chance they won’t ever apologize for the error of their ways, just for the sake of having a letter here and there?  I could, I know I could.

But then I look at the history I have with my abusive family. I recognize that it’s common for me to find away to shoulder the blame, just to fix something. Repeatedly, I have gone back to my abusive family, apologizing for hurt feelings and misunderstandings, just so I can have the illusion that I have that relationship. I ignore their wrongs, and I accept that I won’t get an apology because that’s just how they are. I can be the bigger person, I say. How I approach them, I tell myself, will change the outcome this time.

This behavior of mine, one that mirrors that of an addict, has gotten me nowhere. Nothing changes, and always, I’m left feeling defeated, and exhausted. Be the change, but don’t expect that you can be the change for other people.

Chances are that an attempt at reconciliation would be futile. I assume that they are quite pleased with the way this ordeal has played out, especially since they “never wanted an open adoption”. Now that they have what they want, I can’t be so egotistical to believe that any words or professions of apology would be enough to change that. No, I have to accept that they have what they want.

Which means, I have another day to muddle through. Another day that remarkably feels similar to the day I left the hospital. Another day where I’ll be a ghost in the presence of my parented children. Another day to count my losses, and wonder if it will ever change. Another day where I will obsess how I could possibly fix this mess.

The answer, I’ve continue to come to over and over again.

There should have been no adoption.

A realization that only exacerbates the pain of being in suddenly closed adoption because that will never fix anything. You can’t undo this choice. Even when it goes in the opposite direction of what you were told, or what you planned.

Another day it is.

Dear Kiddo: What’s Left To Say?

Dear Kiddo,

If I’m being honest, I’d have to tell you that I have avoided writing this letter all month.

I avoided it because what I have to say is so simple it seems redundant. It seems silly to write a letter to a person to say just one thing.

Instead, I could tell you about our Christmas. How your brother was up at 3am, and bounded through the house excited about Santa. I could tell you about the way the toys littered the living room. I could share how lovely it was to be with our close friends for dinner.

But all of that seems meaningless. It seems meaningless because as much as I know that I will cherish these memories for years to come, I also know that it’s tainted with disappointment. It’s another year without you. Another Christmas where we haven’t spoke, or gotten to know each other. Another month of silence.

All I want you to know this Christmas is that I miss you, and I love you. It hurts me profoundly that another year has passed and I still can’t say that to you. Because, you deserve to know.  You deserve to know that your name was whispered on Christmas Eve, and that you lingered in my mind throughout much of the day. You deserve to know that out there in this big world, there is another family who loves you, who misses you, and wishes you were a part of their family. We do wish all of that

But mostly, we just love you.

I hope that you had the merriest of Christmases.

We miss you.

Love Always,

Mom xoxo

Russia Halts All US Based Adoptions: Is it for the best?

The news that Russia is now banning all U.S. based adoption is making it’s rounds. I’ll admit, my initial response was one of shock, and enthusiasm. I think that there is a huge need for countries to revisit their adoption practices, and reform where necessary. The fact that Russia is choosing to do this, is in my opinion, for the betterment of the children. Yes, there are adoptive families who would have been impacted by this decision, but I don’t necessarily believe that their needs should be our focus.

It’s such a complex issue because there is no easy answer in these situations. Yes, the orphanages in Russia are unsuitable, overcrowded and likely run by corrupt persons. The children are suffering not necessarily out of lack of love, but from attachment issues, as well as trauma from abuse to them and that they watched.  My hope is that Putin follows through on his promise to create in country programs that focus on adopting these children within Russia and making them more comfortable if they are un-adopted.

It’s become particularly evident that our culture is obsessed with saving other countries. We seem to think that in the end, we know what is best for everyone, and that our way is the best way to handle any conflict or come to a solution. Adoption, of course, is no different. These Russian children are surely suffering, but yet, there are thousands of children in North America who find themselves without homes, without families, and are traumatized by the abuse and events they have witnessed.  Why are we ignoring them?

Why aren’t we saving our own children? Perhaps it’s cold-hearted for me to say, but why are we focusing on the children of the world, when in our own backyard, there are plenty of children suffering, children who need homes, children who are orphans in their own right.  We should be utilizing our own government programs to make sure that these children remain in the homes they should be in, and have resources to have a stable, and promising life.

Don’t mistake this question for a lack of empathy for the children in Russia. I just struggle to believe that we have the answers to the crisis of orphaned children in Russia. Perhaps this is the best move for Russia to make. Now they can discuss what they can do with their own national crisis, and figure out how best to keep those children in their country, and find loving homes for them. The truth is, often Russian homes are bypassed when an American couple with money step into the picture- a true example of what is inherently wrong with the adoption system as a whole. Money should not ever be the moral guide for making sure that children make it into the proper home.

I stand by my earlier statement: we really should be more concerned for the children in our own country. Maybe when we’ve solved our own issues with abandoned children, coercive adoptions, corrupt agencies, and our own flawed system we can cry foul at the fact that Russia has decided to halt adoption to the United States. But until then, I think we have our own adoption crisis of our own to be contending with.