Teenagers are invincible, or so we think. Later on we learn we are not. When you are a teenager, a world of fun and no responsibilities await you every morning. It is one of the best times in our lives, although, as many have learned, as I have, it can be confusing. Your adult life starts as an empty book, waiting to be filled, but it can slam shut fast.

 

You see it everywhere you go. Teenage girls pushing their babies in strollers, chasing after their toddlers in the grocery stores, walking through high school halls with growing bellies. Did you know almost half of the teen girls in your community thought they were pregnant, or are pregnant? Have you ever thought of the United States to have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the western developed world? Today, thirty-four percent of young women become pregnant at least once befre they reach the age of 20, which is about 820,000 a year. Eight in ten of these pregnancies are unintended and 79 percent are to unmarried teens. I became one of those statistics at age fifteen.

Teen parenting isn't easy. You must live two lives, one as a teen, and one as a parent. A teen mom faces so many more issues than an "older mom." Dealing with the day-to-day chores that involve a baby, trying to take care of a baby, and getting an education can be very stressful. Going places isn't the same. Before, I would spend all my time getting myself ready, but now that I have a baby, how I looked didn't matter anymore. Trying to go to school, raise a baby, and still grow up, is not easy. And a teen mom faces more than just the bills and the baby. She often deals with becoming stereotypical in the eyes of those around her. That includes strangers, friends, family, or anyone. Many people don't want to acknowledge the fact that it only takes once to get pregnant. When I am in school, you might it's an easy "get away", but deep down I miss my baby more each time I leave her. Being the talk around town often hurts. Closer to home, teen moms have to deal with relationship problems. Boyfriends of any type tend to drop out of the "picture," or promise to be around only to leave later. Often, teen moms will realize he isn't the best person in the world to be a dad, boyfriend, or husband. Child support is a problem, since most young dads are still in school or not making very much money. There are some great teen dads out there, but unfortunately, they are rare.

I didn't realize how big the pressure of meeting the needs of a child would be when I became pregnant at the age of fifteen. My family didn't want to accept it, as any family would have a hard time dealing with their fifteen-year-old being pregnant. But I had a wonderful pregnancy, and for a while my boyfriend supported me 100 %. I was happier then ever, and I gave birth at 7:54 A.M., after thirty-six hours of labor, to a healthy 8 lbs. 1 o.z. daughter that her father and I named 'Elizebeth'. She had ten toes and fingers. She was prefect, and I thought my life was too. It was the most painful thing I have ever experienced, but everything has a way of turning out in the end, and she is definitely worth it.

The hospital stay and the first week with Elizebeth was awesome. I never felt more loved by Elizebeth's father, and never felt more like a family. But that all changed. Two days after we came home, I was pressured into going to his family's house so his parents could see Elizebeth. That was just the beginning. I've been part of the court system as of 8-9-04. I have been through court for custody, visitation, and now child support.

Court laws can be very stressful and they are not as helpful as I thought they would be. Just because you think something is wrong or right doesn't mean that the court system is going to agree with it. You have to do what's right for your child, but try to imagine spending thousands of dollars on a lawyer, and going back and forth to court, and trying to find time on top of everything else?

I loved my daughter's father with all my heart, and I have a part that still does, because he gave me her and she is the best thing in my life. It breaks my heart to fight him in court. But being taken away from your baby is about the hardest and most devastating thing to ever go through. Having your baby taken away from you for even one minute can kill your heart. Because of the court ruling, I have to be okay with handing my baby over for twenty-four hours at a time, during the week, with no communication, not knowing how she is, where she is, or what she is doing. It makes me stronger knowing that someday she'll be able to make up her mind to this situation. I know that it's good that her father wants her in his life, and I am at least thankful for that.

But try to imagine handing your baby to a third party, who hands my child over to her father, and brings her back. I usually have my mother be my third party, but it's still hard. Not only can these visitations be hurtful, it gives your ex control over you for at least eighteen to twenty years of your life. My baby's father controls both the hours and the days during the week and the weekend on which I can see my baby. Even though I do get three days with Elizebeth, going to school makes it so I don't get many hours with her. These visitation days are very stressful and hurtful for both me and Elizebeth. She likes to take either her blanket or her doll, or sometimes just her bottle, yet her father doesn't want her to take it. Instead when she has it in her arms, he'll take it away from her and leave it on the ground or hand it back to me, only to make her cry. The court system won't do anything about this behavior. For twenty-four hours I have to remember Elizebeth crying because she can't bring something that she loves, while I wonder, is she okay?

Although I'm only sixteen years old, I've had to experience how mean and cruel people can be. I also had to experience a controlling and abusive relationship with my boyfriend. I never expected any of this to happen to me, but most of the time you don't want to believe that it can happen until it's too late. Although my family and friends kept trying to tell me I would get hurt in that relationship, I never wanted to listen to them.

My family also knew that if they kicked me out, or drove me to want to get out, I would be in more danger. I'm therefore thankful that I've realized what kind of warning signs to look for in a relationship. Telling your parents that you're pregnant is the best solution to a healthy pregnancy, labor, and delivery. You need prenatal care to help you keep the baby safe. If you believe in not telling your parents, then you're really harming the baby, and not yourself. Think about what is more important: you, or your child.

When I am in school, some say, "Aww", when I show them pictures of her, or "I wish I had a baby. They're just so cute." I usually sigh and roll my eyes. It's not a fun little game having a baby. You might think it's cute and fun to dress them up and show them off, but taking care of a baby when you're still a kid yourself, and to top it off, still trying to go to school, is so hard. It's a lot to deal with. Yet it's something I know that I have to do, to prove to myself and to my daughter that I can make it, even with people saying, "You're too young to do it." People ask me if there's anything that I regret, and I say, "As painful as my experience has been, I would never regret it. It is making me a stronger person."

The only thing that I regret is putting myself through the lies, secrets, and heartbreak of my relationship with my daughter's father, thinking we had a chance just because we had a child together. Having a baby doesn't create a marriage, and it never will. Remember that if you begin sleeping with your boyfriend. Sometimes life throws obstacles at us that are hard to overcome, and we just feel like giving up. But you don't have to. Don't be discouraged by others, and don't let rejection by your parents take away all hope. There are centers out there that can help you. Most of them will give you the push you need to create a stable life for you and your child.

Though it's tough being a young parent, I wouldn't trade it for the world though. My daughter can be a handful at times, but she also brings me so much happiness. I feel blessed to have her in my life. She is beautiful both inside and out. Her personality shows more everyday. She has definitely changed my life for the better. I can't imagine not having her here, and I am glad she exists. I'm proud to be able to call her my daughter, and be known as a proud mother of her.

Believe me, there will still be time to do all you want to, and your childhood can still be the best time of your life, if you let it. But my message that I want all you girls out there to remember is: don't make yourself an adult before you're ready.