‘Our Reality’ Gives Teen Moms A Voice

It’s hard to imagine an identity with greater stigma hoisted on top of it in this country than than that of teenage mother, and there may be no greater antidote to stigma than reality.

Welcome to Our Reality, the brainchild of Carrie Nelson and Avital Norman Nathman, a writer and volunteer at The Care Center who has spent the last two years working with teen mothers. Nathman’s work typically involves the helping-with-homework variety, but, given the nature of the environment and the girls, Nathman often found herself chatting with some of them and realized these were stories that needed to be shared. “While the majority of our time is spent reviewing fractions, editing essays, or working on reading comprehension, we inevitably end up just chatting a bit as well. The more I spent time with these young women, the more I wanted others to know about them. These young women defy expectations despite the multitude of challenges they face” Nathman said in an interview with Care2.com.

“They are not the same teen moms that are both glorified and fetishized in our reality TV-based culture. The more I got to know the mothers at The Care Center, the more I realized they were worlds apart from the mothers propped up by MTV. The girls agree. When we talk about the various reality shows that look at teen pregnancy/motherhood, they continuously note that they don’t tell their stories. They don’t see themselves or their lives represented in these shows, which is remarkable considering that the majority of teen mothers in this country are low-income Latinas–the exact population served by The Care Center.”

That’s what drove the idea of helping these mothers tell their own stories. “There is a certain narrative being fed to the general public via mainstream media regarding teen pregnancy. It’s either glorified via reality shows or demonized via news outlets, and neither of those experiences satisfies the girls I work with. They are frustrated with the way teen mothers are portrayed in society, and after spending two years with many of them, I understand their frustration. Much of my work and writing revolves around motherhood, and its significant to note that it’s those with the power who have their voices heard. These girls may have the strength of voice, but nobody is handing them a microphone or a platform and telling them to start speaking. While a website that shares mini documentaries of the girls’ lives might not be much, it’s certainly a start.”

The idea is to create a platform for these women to share glimpses of their daily lives, which will help tear down the stigma associated with teen motherhood, a reasonable goal for a project just getting off the ground.

Of course the potential is even greater. Teen mothers often feel most acutely the policy decisions made in Washington and their states, despite the fact that they usually cannot vote and have no say in representation. Humanizing the effect of our policy decisions, whether in spending cuts to family health clinics, after school programs or other forms of assistance makes those effects real. To the extent these stories can influence that dialogue then these young women will have a form of enfranchisement not previously available.

To learn more about the project or how you can get involved, go here.

Photo from frankdekline via flickr.

35 comments

Joan E.
Joan E6 years ago

I, too, have helped many teen moms complete their educational requirements. Yes, their lives are all different, but they tend to be tough. It's hard to make enough money when you have to worry about childcare and your enducation has been cut short, especially in a tough economy where there aren't enough jobs to go around. I've seen teen moms pulled in many directions -- husbands or boyfriends who were jealous they were getting an education. Their time was short. Often they couldn't make it to school or go out and have fun with their friends because of their parental responsibilities. You can still have a baby while you are "young" if you wait until after completing your education and given yourself marketable skills. I know many young women who love their children but wish they had waited until they were more established so it was less of a strain.

SEND
Brenda Towers
Brenda T6 years ago

I too have taught pregnant schoolgirls and each has a different story, and approach to their situation.

SEND
MEGAN N.
MEGAN N6 years ago

@ all those who make a snap judgement when you see a young mother...

I was a teenage mother. I worked full time, went to school in the morning and managed to keep a perfect A average, care for my son and pay for his day care. I did not ask for any help from the government, I refused any special treatment offered from those around me and took responsibility. I married my son's father solely because he was the father (a mistake I later corrected with divorce) and had 2 more children before I turned 24. My husband and I supported those children also, again with no help or special treatment from anyone. I have gone on to get a BA degree and a very good job with which I now support my 3 boys. But even though I never asked for a thing from anyone and I took my responsibility very seriously I was verbally and even on a few occasions physically abused by people who were sure I was a "welfare whore, who was pumping out brats to stay on the system". It hurt my feelings that no matter what I did I was wrong simply because I was young. 50 years ago it was socially acceptable for a young woman to get married and have children at 17 or 18 years old and no one questioned if she could care for them. So I ask you, is it fair to assume that every single young mother is going to live on the system or that she will abuse/neglect her children? Every situation is different and unless you know every young mother and her situation then I suggest you keep your condescending opinions to y

SEND
Antonia Windham
Antonia Windham6 years ago

Nicole M, if you're 18 years old and want to have a baby now rather than later because you don't want to do it when you're 'old', I think you need to look around you. Because being over 18 isn't being 'old'. I can promise you that you've got a heck of a lot of years to go before you'll be old. And you can use some of those years to get an education, see something of life, and - after you mature - decide what it really is you want out of life.

SEND
Patricia H.
Patricia H.6 years ago

CHOICES

SEND
Nicole McIntyre
Nicole McIntyre6 years ago

I know this is a bad thing to say - i'm 18 - but if I'm going to have a child, I want one now, not when I'm old

SEND
Antonia Windham
Antonia Windham6 years ago

There's usually a stigma when a person's done something wrong. And getting pregnant at the ages these girls do and usually without the ability to be fully responsible for the pregnancy and resulting baby is wrong, unless they're a victim of rape. While I've no desire to head back to the bad old days when life was made really bad for teenaged mothers, there should be negative consequences for doing negative things. If you've a mind to do something always calculate the cost beforehand - and be ready to pay it. And if you're too young to have a real understanding of the costs then you've made an even more serious mistake in judgment.

SEND
Irina Meldere
Irina Meldere6 years ago

never too late!

SEND
Huda G.
Huda G6 years ago

I really feel for these young girls, as a mother I know how difficult and exhausting it can be to be a mum. Thats with support from my husband and "approval" from our families and society!
As a society we need to help prevent this by educating our youth, but we also need to support young mothers so they complete their own education. It is well documented that an educated mother will help and encourage her own children to be educated.
Often times the people making policies are so far removed from the subject they are making a policy on, that they can not even begin to understand the problem and how their policy will effect other peoples lives. If they can open "eyes" to their true situation, they have achieved a great deal.

SEND
Harshiita Sharma
Harshita Sharma6 years ago

Thanks!

SEND