By Christina Spires
CatlinSpeak (Portland, Oregon)
At the ages of eighteen and seventeen respectively, Reynna and Maria gave birth to children. Twenty-year-old Reyanna would graduate high school. Maria would drop out in order to tend to her son.
Maria, now 35, became a mother when living in Costa Rica. She recounted how difficult and stressful her life became after the birth of her son, leaving high school and never graduating.
Given that her family was already poor and she had a father who was in and out of jail, Maria consistently worried about how she was going to take care of her child, and how she was going to provide basic needs for her.
After high school, Reyanna attended Portland State University in hopes of majoring in Psychology, but was forced to drop out in order to take care of her newborn child.
“It was hard trying to get used to being a mom,” says Reyanna, reflecting on the first months of motherhood. Once she became acclimated to motherhood, Reyanna began searching for a job in order to better provide for herself and her daughter.
“I can’t go out everyday, or every weekend, like I used to because I have to tend to [my daughter] or I have to work,” says Reyanna. “If you had a lot of friends to start out with, you won’t really have as much when you’ve become a mother.”
“Two basic responsibilities I have is to take care of [my daughter], and to work,” says Reyanna, facing motherhood with optimism. “It’s hard being a single mom, but it can be done. You just have to work hard at it.”
Reyanna is currently in training to be a caregiver at a nursing home, working a swing shift from 2-10 p.m., five days a week.
“It’s kind of hard to work and have a baby at the same time, but it’s easy for me though because I have a good support system,” she comments. “My mom will watch [my daughter] any day.”
Reyanna also mentions that her mother is the only reason she is able to maintain a job, given that her daughter’s father is not a participating parent.
Unfortunately, not all young mothers are in as stable a situation as Reyanna when it comes to family support.
“I used to wake up every day depressed because I couldn’t go out,” recounts Maria, describing being at home all day taking care of her child. This depression was also fueled by the uncertainty surrounding her future with her child, and them not knowing where they could end up.
Within months of giving birth, she faced even more challenges as she moved to the United States along with her mother and her child, without the ability to speak any English. Despite the fact that she lived with her mother, Maria still felt as if she had no support whatsoever, as her mother was working all day.
“I had to learn child care by myself,” she says, a skill her own mother could not help to teach her. Maria did receive financial support from her mother, and two years upon her arrival in the United States, she began to receive aid from her son’s father.
At the time, Maria still wanted to be able to live her life, go back to school and to party like she used to, but, like Reyanna, she accepted her new responsibilities as a mother and put her past life behind her. “Motherhood was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Maria expressed, “…but I made sure I took care of what I needed to take care of my child.”
Although they became mothers at a young age, both Reyanna and Maria are very driven women with positive outlooks on their futures.
“Too Often, Teen Mothers Receive Shame Instead Of Support”, by Tara Culp-Ressler for Thinkprogress.org reads, “Ultimately, since teens aren’t ‘supposed’ to be getting pregnant, American society assumes that the ones who do are failures. Those ‘deviant’ teens should never be celebrated; rather, they should be held up as a warning to dissuade other youth from following in their footsteps.”
Rather than being stigmatized and used as a scare tactic, these young mothers should be getting the support they need as they make the transition from childhood to parenthood.
Both Reyanna and Maria are examples of functioning, healthy young mothers despite the stigma surrounding their situation.
Maria never had the chance to go back to school, but she has been happily married for fourteen years, taking care of her three other children as a stay-at-home-mother, and preparing to send her oldest son to college in the 2016-2017 school year as a first-generation college student.
“In the next few years, I see myself with a good career, as a nurse or a psychologist,” says Reyanna. “I see myself also married, maybe a few kids. Also with a car and either an apartment or a house. I don’t need anything too fancy, but I want to make it.”