March 26, 2013

“My Big Dream is Gone”: Spotlight on Lund’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

Posted in New Horizons Educational Program tagged , , , at 8:14 pm by Lund

It’s 10am on a bright, cold morning in March and we are at a suburban middle school in Chittenden County.  Lund’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Specialist, Laura May Ackley,  has come with two clients of Lund to present to eighth grades classes as part of Lund’s teen pregnancy prevention program.  I have come as an observer and I knew that this would be an interesting experience but I did not realize just quite how powerful it would be.  We gather in the gym with about thirty 13 and 14 year olds sitting  on the bleachers.   Emma*, a 17-year-old currently living in Independence Place – Lund’s transitional housing program – is nervous.  Laura May comforts her, “You’ll be fine.”  “I might vomit,” she says. “I’ll clear it up,” says Laura May, ever willing to support her clients.  Her presence is calming and loving – she carries a large bag of snacks in case anyone gets hungry during the presentations.   But there is no need of a mop and bucket for Laura May.  Emma begins to speak confidently and clearly as she describes the story of how she became pregnant with her son Ben and how her life has changed since.

Emma was 14 when she and her boyfriend decided to try and have a baby so that Emma could prevent an impending move away from her boyfriend with whom she was really felt she was in love.  They weren’t using protection and their plan quickly worked. During her pregnancy, she moved back and forth between foster homes and her mom’s house.  It was a very rough pregnancy and she suffered from a debilitating thyroid condition.    It didn’t become much easier when her son, Ben, was born.  He suffered from colic and she had to feed him every half an hour.  She got no sleep, had very little support from her mom or from her boyfriend.  She had broken up with him two months into her pregnancy.

Now living at Independence Place with support from various different programs at Lund, Emma is focused on her dream of becoming a medical professional and moving to be closer to Ben’s father who, she says, does the best that he can but that he is 17 also and is in school.  Ben is now two years old and a willful toddler with his own ideas about how things should be done.  “He runs around and yells all day from the moment he wakes up until the moment he goes to sleep,” she tells the middle schoolers.  “Anything I have becomes his, he eats all my food.  You have to choose between getting something for yourself or for your child and he always needs something.”

Next to speak is 20-year-old Mara, mother of 2 and ½ year old twin girls.   Mara was 16 when she became pregnant despite using two forms of birth control.  Her boyfriend was 23. She was a star athlete at her high school with a full scholarship lined up to play lacrosse at UVM.   She was not allowed to stay at her high school because they thought she was a bad influence, she lost her scholarship, her parents did not want to help and her boyfriend had gone to jail.  She was alone.   While she was living with her ex-boyfriend’s mother, her pregnancy suddenly took a dramatic turn for the worse when she was 19 weeks along.  She was put on immediate  bed rest at the hospital and stayed on bed rest until she gave birth to her twins at 38 weeks and 4 days.  “All I had to look forward to were my doctor’s appointments,” she tells the students, smiling slightly, “I was on bed rest for almost 20 weeks.”  Mara looks bemused as if she cannot quite fathom how she managed to do this.    She doesn’t hold back in sharing the details of her delivery with the students.  “This might be too grotesque for you, but I had a c-section and I could feel them moving around inside me.  It’s real, it was horrible.”  The students look perturbed.  It doesn’t get much better for them when she describes how she had to breastfeed her babies because she couldn’t afford formula and how they needed to eat every half an hour.   Sleep was an almost unheard of luxury, she only could manage about 4 or 5 hours in a 24 hour period.

The students are paying full attention, there is no fidgeting, whispering or staring into space.  They are fully absorbing the stories that these women are telling.

Mara goes on to talk about how, once the babies were six months old, she finished her high school education at Lund’s New Horizons Educational Program and then enrolled at CCV with the assistance of her Reach Up Case Manager at Lund.  She is now studying radiology through the single parents program at Champlain College.  It’s a busy life and she has no time for friends or going out but she is committed to a better life for her children.

The floor is opened for questions and the students want to know about how much money the women have to live on.  They speak about having so little money left after taking care of their children’s needs that they often can only afford to eat chicken nuggets and ramen noodles.  Reach Up grants and food stamps only go so far and babies needs’ are great and expensive.  They don’t have money to go out, they say, even if they could ever have the chance.    The teacher asks Mara to speak a little more about what it felt like to lose her scholarship at UVM.  “It was my dream since second grade,” she says, “It was a free ride, I was signed up for four years of tuition, I could have lived on campus.  I sometimes think about what it could have been like.  But my big dream is gone.”

When asked about what they want for the future, both women speak of their hopes for their children first before referring to themselves.  And even then their hopes are for things that will ultimately benefit their children – good jobs, to get off state assistance.  Mara says that she would like to coach lacrosse one day. “I have quarter of a team already,” she says with a laugh.  “I want to be a pediatrician, to work in the NICU.  But mostly to have a stable home for my son.  And have 2 more kids,” says Emma. “In ten years,” she adds hurriedly.

The students have heard a lot in this presentation and their teacher afterwards tells the women that it means so much more coming from them than weeks of learning the statistics and listening to teacher report on the experience of others.   For these women it is a reality that they will never be able to leave.  Life is not about prom and sleepovers but it is about trying to get your two-year old to stop running around and screaming and put his boots on when you need to leave the house.  This morning has been about sharing their experience in the hope that it will stop others from making the same choices.

I am inspired by the courage that these young women show in telling their stories to a crowd of strangers, of admitting that their choices were not the best ones but being proud of their lives now and how they are working so hard to make better lives for their children.  I am amazed at their good humor, their upbeat energy and their eagerness to talk with me, to bring me into their experience, show me pictures of their children on their phones.  It has been a privilege to attend this panel and I am so thankful for the work that Lund is doing every day with women like Emma and Mara.

When asked to leave some last advice for the students, Mara speaks to them simply and from the heart.  “ Wait, I beg you to wait. I just want to see better for you guys, better than I had.”

*Names have been changed

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