Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Single mothers telling their story

Two young women came in to the writing center today back to back. Each had the assignment of writing a personal narrative. Both narratives began with the drama of reading a pregnancy test and finding out that it's positive.

One of these young women looked almost too young to be the mother of a one-year-old. The other had three children. One was married to the father of her child, and she had a lot of family support to go back to college. The other one was not married to the father, and he didn't help her at all with the expenses of daycare and formula and diapers. This woman had, despite her family responsibilities, managed to get a certificate in dental assisting, and was working for a dentist for a good wage, but she still could not pay her day care expenses and have any money left over.

Both had written well-structured, dramatic narratives with good telling details. Both appeared to be smart and hard-working. Both loved their children so much that they would do almost anything to make their children's lives better. Both seemed to have some support from their own families.

But both were being screwed by the low wages we have in America and by the lack of affordable, quality day care. And one of them was being seriously undone by the father's unwillingness to take responsibility for the lives he had created.

It's hard not to feel outraged when stories such as these come in the writing center, and they come in regularly. Some people might be tempted to say something like, "Well, come on, they knew that sex creates babies." And the young women themselves did not let themselves off easy: both stated in their writing that they understood their own complicity in their hard lives. But young people are wired to want to have sex. There's nothing we can do about that. Why not prepare them a little better? Why not tell these young Catholics that the Pope is wrong about birth control being a sin? Why not point out that the Church is not going to help them raise their babies or pay for their day care?

One of the women said that most of the teenaged mothers that she knows just stay home with their babies and don't work or go to school. So apparently it is somewhat normal for Hispanic teenagers to get pregnant. I heard a young Hispanic mother on NPR, in fact, say that it was pretty normal. An article this summer in the Dallas Morning News said that a CDC study "found that Hispanic teens aged 15-19 are much more likely to become pregnant (132.8 births per 1,000 females) compared to their black (128 per 1,000) and white (45.2 per 1,000) peers." The teen birth rate is rising again after years of improvement.

It may be normal in some communities to be a teenage mother, but as these young mothers know better than anyone, it is very, very hard. The fierce determination of these young women to do the best thing for their children--to get educated to work at a higher level--is inspiring. But imagine what that drive and determination could have accomplished if they had had some help earlier with birth control; if they had not been brainwashed by the Catholic Church; if the fathers of their babies weren't so feckless; if wages for high school graduates were higher; and if our society believed it was in the common interest of everyone for young mothers to have more support and help with daycare.

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