10 Years Later: A Grown Teen Mom Reflects (part 2)
By Erin Froehlich
From the Mindfull Blog Series
Continued from Part 1...
Q. Are teen moms or their babies at a higher risk of complications?
A. A lot people wonder if being so young, either me or my daughter would have been at a higher risk for complications. Actually though, as a doctor explained it to me, while it’s pretty unusual and definitely not ideal now, it used to be the norm for women to start having children in their teens. Looking at it strictly from a health perspective, younger is generally better for pregnancies. I personally experienced very few of the common complaints pregnant women have. I never threw up with morning sickness, I think my mood was strangely more stable than normal and never asked for or felt like I needed special treatment. In fact, I went shopping at the mall only days before Ivy was born! The delivery was also normal and Ivy was born healthy weighing 7lbs 11ounces (at 11:07am J ) and measuring 22 inches long.
Q. How did you handle caring for a baby and going to school?
A. I know some other teen moms that were lucky enough to be able to live with their boyfriend or to have parents that took up his slack, but Ivy’s care was pretty much my sole responsibility until I turned 18 and could move in with Nick. He’d come over after school a couple nights a week and he’d take Ivy for one night a week on the weekends, but he had work and school work besides and my parents were adamant about Ivy being my responsibility/not helping me. Every late night feeding, every diaper change, every bath, all her attention – if I needed to run to the store to get something, if needed to make dinner, if I had to use the bathroom, she had to be there with me. On rare occasions, I could get a friend to babysit while I went to do something, but this was a luxury I wasn’t usually afforded. Since I still needed to finish schooling though, I went to my district’s alternative high school which offered a day care program.
Numbers fluctuated as girls came and went, but on average I was one of about 8 other teen moms there (many lived in other districts, but came to ours specifically for this program). We could leave class and go into the daycare whenever we needed to, we’d eat our lunch in there of course, and we’d be able to check in between our classes. In addition to this, we would each have one hour of the day where our class was daycare and we would help the daycare lady along with one or two other moms take care of all the babies.
This program was a haven for me. Not only did it mean I could get my high school diploma, it meant I got a very welcome break from caring for a baby all day long. It also meant I didn’t need to be alone all day. I was able to spend time and make friends with other people my age. Though, before I went, I was a little concerned about how an alternative school would affect my chances for the future and what the people there would be like, I went in the first day Ivy was old enough and I never skipped. There was even a day during the winter that my ride didn’t show up so I decided to walk the 30 minutes with Ivy to go there - all this from a girl who had been failing all her classes her freshman year. That’s how important this school was for me.
I was treated with respect there. When I was feeling depressed or overwhelmed, I was encouraged and supported. It was like a weird little family in a way and it enabled me to finally excel in high school and later, to actually graduate from college – something my own parents told me they didn’t think I could do. When I brought it up, my mother suggested maybe I could be a hair dresser. I graduated with a business degree.
In college, being a very poor, single teen mother, I was received federal Pell grants that covered a community college education. I lived in house with Nick and several other people so rent was cheap, ate only very cheap staple foods, and I was VERY lucky to have him cover our living costs so I could focus on school. Even with just Ivy and college my main focus, it was very difficult to get used to school work and studying which I didn’t need to do at the alternative and simply hadn’t done throughout much of my traditional schooling.
There were many desperate moments where I wanted to give up - huge 80 page business reports I thought might kill me, speeches I needed to give despite my public speaking anxiety - but I pushed through reminding myself it was all only temporary and it was what I needed to do make life good for my family. I made it on to the Dean’s list most semesters.
Q. What was the biggest surprise?
A. Though I had done plenty of reading and knew approximately how frequently an infant would need to be fed and changed and how much/how little they slept, nothing but first-hand experience could have prepared me for what that schedule would feel like day after day after day. As a teen, I was no stranger to late nights, I had stayed up all night before and sure, I was tired, but it was nothing like caring for an infant. Just when I thought I couldn’t be any more exhausted, there would come the next night. I used the one night Nick took Ivy each week to escape from the negativity of my parent’s house so even then there was no recovery or make-up sleep to be had!
The other big surprise, I think, was how long it would take to be ready to go anywhere. I was used to being able to pick up and leave on a minute’s notice, so an hour of preparation could be pretty frustrating and it was something that was hard for my friends to understand.