Saturday, November 17, 2007

Catherine’s Story: The Life of A Teenage Mother

Introduction by Quajay Donnell
I met Catherine this summer and she had a smile that could light up a room. She was full of life, and had a baby on the way. She was one of the young journalists this summer that worked on creating Young Voices. After having her baby, I asked her to come back and rejoin our staff. She agreed.

She has allowed us access into her life as a teenage mother. Rarely do you have the unique opportunity to have access to the life of a 15-year-old teenage mom, however the family trusts me to tell the story. I will not write this story for her. She will write it with my help and the help of her peers, and she will tell her story. Very little will be edited. This first piece is more of a Q&A. The staff of Young Voices came up with the questions, and she spent days writing in her journal the answers with specific instructions to be as detailed as possible. As the year goes on, the format will change and we will work to develop her as a writer, and ultimately this will be a learning experience for her.

The story will not be glorified. I thought that it was very important to share her story, but it is equally important to share her reality. I thought that following the life of a teenage mother would be an educational experience, and perhaps an enlightening one for all. We aren’t endorsing being a teenage mother, but as she says it in her story, she’s one now and she’s going to do the best job she can do. I will support her in that, and her family is supporting her daily.

Teenage pregnancy is a reality, while the birthrates have declined over the years, within the next twelve months 1 million teenagers will become pregnant, and 95% of those pregnancies will be unintended, and almost one third will end in abortion. Less than 25% of births to teens occur within wedlock. Some of the statistics are staggering. The United States of America has doubled the adolescent pregnancy and birth rates of any other industrialized country, and the highest teenage pregnancy rate of all developed countries according to studies. Approximately 40% of young women become pregnant before the time they are 20 years old. The same studies show that the poorer the woman, the more likely she will become pregnant and that almost half of all teen mothers will end up on welfare, and less than one third of teens who have babies before the age of 18 finish high school. It’s a grim reality.

The odds are against her, and yet she stays optimistic. Many people pass judgment on teenage mothers, and maybe Catherine can share a little bit of what’s going on in her life, and that will open your mind. Regardless, we will follow her journey as a mother over the next year, and what we learn I assure you will be interesting and perhaps sometimes sad.

This is Catherine’s story, unedited.

By Catherine Claudio
Sophomore, Crosby High School

Hi. My name is Catherine Claudio and I’m a 15-year-old mother who attends Wilby High School. I’m in the 10th grade now and this is my second year at Wilby. I love it there, and I get along with everyone – both students and teachers. I think it’s a great school.

I want to be a great mom and I also want to be a nurse because my mother was a nurse and I like it. It’s a great thing to do and I also think about being a math teacher because I love math and all of my math teachers were my best teachers.

When I was 4 months they told me I was having a girl. My boyfriend and I were excited. My boyfriend’s name is Juan and he loves my daughter Priscilla and I very much. Priscilla, who is just two months old, is a very pretty and good girl. She’s so small and cute. The way I picked her name was when I was little all my dolls were named Priscilla. For some reason I really loved that name. I had forgotten about the name, but then a friend gave me a book of baby names, and while looking through it I saw the name Priscilla. I fell in love with the name again, so that’s how I decided that would be her name. She and Juan are my family.

Well, my family besides my mother and siblings. My mother Diana is 35 years old and has seven kids. My brother Billy is 14-years-old in 9th grade, Mark is 11-years-old in 5th grade, Christopher is 6-years-old, Rafael is 1-years-old and Carlos is only a month old (he was born the day before Priscilla). I also have a sister Crystal who is 3-years-old. She is very pretty, bad and at times a good girl. There is also my stepfather Rafael.

I think it is important to have a big family so that you’re never by yourself. I think with a big family you’re always doing something fun, always playing and doing crazy things like playing hide and seek. My family is very happy to be together and I never want us to be apart.

This is my family. Watch us grow.

When did you first find out that you were pregnant?
I first found out in December 2006 with a home pregnancy test. I didn’t go to the clinic for the first time until mid January 2007. I took one there and it came out positive. So they started giving me WIC and sending me to the clinic every 4 weeks.

How did you first feel when you found out that you were pregnant?
I was scared to tell my mother but I had to because she was the only one who could help me and take me to the clinic. When I told her she was mad at first because I was 14 years old going on 15 and she wanted me to finish school first. But then she got over it because I was having her first grandchild.

Who was the first person you told?
The first person I told that I was pregnant was my boyfriend Juan. He was very happy because we were having a baby. It was both of our first baby and we knew she was going to be cute.

How long did it take for you to tell others?
It took at least two days for me to tell my friends and family. Since I don’t live with my dad I found out where he was and called him. I didn’t tell him until I was 7 and a half months.

How did your boyfriend feel? What was his immediate reaction?
Well my boyfriend was so happy for me or I guess you can say both of us. His most immediate reaction was crying because it was his first baby with the girl that he says he really loves.

How did your family feel? What was their immediate reaction?
Well they were happy but some were sad. Many of them told me that now I’ll know how it feels to be a mom. Some said that I would have new responsibilities and will learn all of the things that I have to do (in order to be a parent).

Initially what did you think the biggest change in your life would be based on being a teenage mom?
Well not being able to go to parties and out whenever I want. No more breaking night because I have a baby to attend to now and she means the world to my boyfriend and I. We love her with all our heart. That’s our baby girl.

How did you feel received in school when it was noticeable that you were pregnant?
Well I don’t mind what people say or what people think. You know why? It’s because I’m myself. I was born one. People can say whatever they want, but it doesn’t matter to me. I care about what I think about myself and not what others think. So when they noticed it didn’t bother me.

How much and what planning did you do in preparation for your baby?
Well I did a lot of planning for my baby. I planned a baby shower and then planning for the baby to come ahead of time. I was doing a lot of walking with my mother and it was good for me. Before my pregnancy I was lazy, but walking helped me out a lot. I ate a lot of food, at least five or six times a day. I had to drink vitamins for the baby and I to keep us healthy and strong. I also had to take pills for iron because my iron was low.

How did the process of child labor feel? What was the process leading up to your final month?
When I was 8 months about to turn 9 months, I had to go to the clinic every 2 weeks until. Then one day the doctor checked me and I was 1 cm and he said I had to be on bed rest. The following week, he checked me again and I was 2 cm. The next week when he checked me again, I was 4 to 5 cm. He wanted to leave me in the hospital, but it was too full so he asked me to come back the next day.

So I went the next day and they admitted me. I got there around 7 am. They took blood, and then checked me again and I was 5 cm. They called the doctor to come in and he broke my water. They then started bringing in things for the baby and I started getting really bad contractions. They were like every 2 minutes. When they checked me 5 minutes later, I was already 8 to 9 cm.

So they called the doctor again because he was across the street working in the clinic. He came running in and checked me again and I was 10 cm. So he told me to start pushing. I was pushing for less than 10 minutes and the baby’s head didn’t want to come out. So he had to cut me. Then I pushed and the baby finally came out and she cut me more and I need to get 10 stitches. I didn’t really feel when the doctor stitched me up. What do you think about that? Well, the cramps you get after having a baby did hurt a lot. They hurt more than menstrual cramps. God blessed me with a pretty little girl though, even with all the pain.

Do you feel like a statistic now that you’ve had a baby?
Yes I do. Not in a bad way. In a way that, yes I was young but I’m a mom now and there’s nothing you can do about it. So you have to understand that.

It’s a very big deal that you’re 15 and a teenage mother. The odds are against you. What do you think life will be like in 6 months once the reality of being a mom really sets in?
I think in 6 months I will be doing a lot of things with my life. I will be working and still trying to be a great mom all at the same time. I will also be going to school. It’s okay with me because I knew all of this would be coming since I am a mom. I don’t think that it’s taking anything away from my life. It’s actually putting in everything I want in life and so much more with a baby in my life now.

What was your first thought when you held your daughter for the first time?
My first thought when I held my baby was thank you God I finally have my little one with me to take great care. I thought she is my first, but not my last because I want 3 kids but I won’t try again until I’m in my 20’s.

In the first few days what were some of the things that you daughter did that you were amazed by?
Well, her just being there right besides me was amazing! Her moving her feet and hands for the first time was really cute. Her crying the first night, me bringing her home, feeding her and changing her pampers. Mostly watching her sleep is amazing and dressing her up to go places too.

What would you tell your daughter when she asks about her first few weeks of life?
Well, that she was a very pretty baby girl. That she was really small and was always drinking milk and sleeping. That she was 18 inches long, 5lb and 12oz. That I love her and that she’s my little girl.

What do you think about being a mom?
Well I love my daughter and I’ll do anything for Priscilla. So I think being a mom isn’t a bad job. It’s a great opportunity to be a parent. Now I know how it feels like to take care of your own child.

What do you think being a mom is all about?
Well, I think it’s taking great care of your child and making sure you’re always there for them. Loving them and treating them with the respect they need that.

What are some of your new responsibilities?
Well making sure I’m always there for my daughter is the biggest responsibility. Making sure she’s okay, and making sure her milk is always ready when she gets hungry and making sure that she eats. Always making sure her clothes are clean and her pampers are changed. I also have to take her to the doctor. Those are my big responsibilities.

What pressures do you feel as a teenage mother?
When I have to do more than one thing at a time for the baby, but I do it because it’s my baby and I don’t mind doing a lot of things for her. I have to wake up at 2 in the morning and sometimes around 6:30 am. I try to sleep when she is because that the only times I have to rest because I’m always up with her.

What was one thing you expected about motherhood?
Well the one thing I had already expected was to be busy. That’s my nickname now because I’m busy all the time always doing something for the baby. There are times that I’m busy and I can’t go anywhere because the baby is sick or she doesn’t feel good. Sometimes I don’t go to my own appointments because she has to go to one or I have to do something for my daughter. I’ve been very busy.

What is the biggest surprise about motherhood?
That now you’re expected to do everything for your self and baby and you are treated like an adult because you’re a mom and not a kid anymore, so don’t think that you’re going to be treated like one. Everyone treats me like an adult – my family, my aunts and cousins and even my boyfriend and father. They don’t treat me like a little girl anymore. My brothers use to pick on me and hit me, but after I became pregnant their attitude changed and they treat me differently now.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a teenage mother at this point?
Trying to do everything at once, and knowing I can’t but I don’t want to give up sometimes. I try and most of the time I manage. I ask for help. I sometimes ask God for help. I say, “God help me get through this. God help me get over all the kids looking at me saying that I’m crazy for having a baby at 15.” I asked my boyfriend for help to. When I was pregnant and felt sick, he would always get me something to eat or drink.

Do you think that the system wants you to fail or expects that you fail now because you are a teenage mom?
They probably want or expect me to fail, but if they only knew that I am doing all of the needed paperwork to get the schoolwork that I missed from the first couple of weeks, they will see that I care.

What does school mean now?
Well school means everything to me. I am going back to school once the doctor says that I can go back. I miss school. I miss my friends. I miss everything that school has to offer to me.

What’s your school plan to make sure that you don’t fall behind?
My plan is to try and get the work that I miss so that my grades don’t fall behind because I’m a great student in school and my grades were good (last year) and I know that I’m a mom now, but I don’t want my grades to change.

Is dropping out of school an option for you if you fall to far behind?
No! Dropping out is not an option and will never be an option for me. I will never quit or leave school. It’s bad for you. I know that I make bad choices from time to time, but leaving school will never be a choice that crosses my mind. You will see me at the end – 18 years old in 12th grade getting ready to graduate and leave school.

Why is having an education important to your daughter and to your future?
Catherine: I think it’s important that I have an education and finish school. It’s important that one day she will say, “my mommy is smart”. She will be proud that I’m a nurse or math teacher. She’ll also say that I’m the best mom ever because I finished school even though I had a child. She will say something like that, I know she will, and that’s why it’s important for me to finish my education.

Do you think that you’re being naïve about your future?
Catherine: I don’t think that I am being naïve about my future. There are a lot of people who had children when they were young, so they can’t say anything about me because I’m the same age as many people when they had their first child. I have heard people talking about if their kids were to have a baby that early they would kick them out. They’re talking all this mess. But it’s the same people who had kids at young ages. Some say that it’s bad to have a baby young and that makes me a bad person. No! I’m a good person and I care about myself and about others, and my baby. I’m a teen mom and it doesn’t bother me, so it shouldn’t bother you. It’s going to be hardwork, and I’m okay with that.

To be continued next issue...

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