April 11, 2009

Go Teen Moms!

Not so cheap: Teen mom rejects the stereotype
Elizabeth Tuttle

Several years ago, advertising behemoth Ogilvy & Mather launched an
edgy campaign in conjunction with the National Campaign to Prevent
Teen Pregnancy. Youth magazines like Teen People and CosmoGirl
volunteered to include the ads in their issues for free, deeming the
strategy as effective at getting through to teens. The series of six
photo ads aimed to confront, in bold terms, the so-called realities of
young pregnancy.

In one ad, a young Latina girl dons a revealing belly shirt, her
heavily made-up eyes glaring moodily at the camera. Bold, capitalized
letters, spelling out "CHEAP," are superimposed across the girl's
purportedly pregnant torso. In tiny lettering that runs down the
length of the page, an explanation: "Condoms are CHEAP. If we'd used
one, I wouldn't have to tell my parents I'm pregnant."

Charlie Rose 'AC has chosen another set of labels for her choices. In
a Facebook album entitled "Pro Girl Mom," 20-year-old Rose
superimposes bold text across photos of herself and her four-year-old
son, Cae. "The way I parent makes me a great ROLE MODEL," is splayed
across a black-and-white image of the Rose family, Cae wrapped snugly
around his mother. Another photo says, "My son and I make a BEAUTIFUL
family," and another: "Breastfeeding through high school made me feel

When she decided to have a child at 15 years old, Rose says that her
biggest obstacle was not the physical pregnancy itself, which she
describes as "easy," "wonderful" and "delightful," nor was it the
financial burden - all of Cae's clothes and cloth diapers were handed
down, and Rose made her own baby food. Instead, the hardships came
from the labels and stigma attached to her decision.

"For some reason," she says, "people have very visceral responses to
teen pregnancy. It's sort of the unifying issue, because everyone
thinks that teen moms are awful. It challenges the idea of adulthood
that we've established, the idea that teenagers are always
irresponsible. From a patriarchal state, teen mothers are threatening
because women are supposed to belong to their fathers until they
belong to their husbands."

Unable to identify with this construct surrounding adolescence, and
sensing an innate maternal instinct, Rose made the conscious decision
to conceive when she was 15 years old. "Humans are pretty hard-wired
to want to continue the species and procreate," Rose says, recalling
her strong maternal urges and desires to become a parent.
"Biologically, the best time to have a child is during the late
teens... I knew it would work out."

During her pregnancy, high school teachers advised her to drop out,
telling her that she would be lucky just to get into a community
college. After telling her to drink 32 ounces of water in preparation
for an ultrasound, a gynecological office turned Rose away due to her
age. She was not allowed to sign herself out of school for her
mandatory prenatal care appointments, despite the fact that her
parents lived in another city. "I was disenfranchised in a lot of
ways, and I didn't have any legal rights because I was a minor."

In Texas, a married woman assumes the status of a legal adult if her
spouse is of legal age. In order to be able to sign into her own
doctor's appointments and to open her own bank accounts, she decided
to marry Cae's father, who was 18 years old at the time. "When I was
deciding to leave Cae's dad, people were really shocked and rude,"
Rose said, recalling the comments and assumptions that took away her
"agency and pride in leaving an unhealthy relationship." According to
Rose, "If someone's not being a good parent, then I don't need to
parent with that person."

After Cae's birth, she received a letter from the school's principal,
scolding her for breastfeeding her son in public when in situations
associated with the school. "When you start eating all of your meals
on the toilet," she retorts, "then you can tell me to feed my son that

"It's really sad that when someone knows that you're a pregnant
teenager, they automatically write you off," Rose states. "You feel a
lot of pressure to prove yourself to people. People see me when my
son's having a hard time, and instead of seeing a mother with a two-
year-old, they see 'that teen mother' - a bad parent who doesn't know
what she's doing."

Aside from these externally imposed obstacles and criticisms, however,
Rose has few negative thoughts about her experience as a teen mom, and
no regrets about her decision to have Cae. She insists that she has
not missed out in choosing motherhood over what she sees as a packaged
idea of "wild, carefree days."

In fact, she says, "Cae is totally involved in everything that I'm
passionate about… I really love showing him the things I care about,
like activism or science. He's starting to love math a lot and loves
hanging out in the math forum."

Rose serves as president of Conway House and as site producer to
GirlMom.com, a resource for teenage mothers with over 100,000 posts to date. As the Web site's home page states,
"The only true epidemic associated with teen pregnancy is the
overwhelming and universal lack of support available to young
mothers... We love our children fiercely. We protect and care for them
like any mother, of any age, would."

Her activist, open-minded role has translated to her parenting
philosophy. "I feel like childhood is so over-commercialized and over-
gendered and over-restricted... If I see something that's really
awesome in the girl's section then I buy it, and if I see something
that's really awesome in the boy's section then I buy that, too. I
don't want to be in the business of stifling my son's interest because
he's born of male sex."

As diners in Gillett House can attest, Cae often traipses in for
dinner decked in pink and purple tights with cowboy boots, a beloved
doll in tow. "Cae loves playing with baby dolls," Rose says. "People
wonder why there are so many shitty dads in the world. Maybe if you
said that parenting is for everyone, and that not just women take care
of babies, that wouldn't happen."

"There are a lot of women now who, for whatever reason, delay their
childbirth and then they don't get to meet their grandkids," Rose
says. "The older you get, the harder it is to sustain that really
active level of involvement. It's really important to me to meet my
grandchildren, and to meet my great-grandchildren. I want Cae to be
able to have me as a resource and a friend and a support through the
majority of his life.

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