Last night I found out my 16 year-old niece is pregnant. She put her ultrasound up on Instagram. She announced her “bean” will be here in December and her family helpfully congratulated her on her news. Congratulated her for becoming a teenage mother. Is no one explaining to that child what kind of life she can expect? How hard it will be for both her and the child? No. I can almost guarantee that no one will sit her down and talk to her about the new reality she is facing.
I was a teenage mother. I love Lil Miss to the core of my soul, but it was a hard life for both of us. My origin plan for out of high school was to go the Air Force. I wanted to travel and then go to college. I wanted to be a translator at the UN. I have no idea how much money they make, but I wanted to learn as many languages as I could and put myself to some use. Then I got pregnant. I was encouraged to give up on my dreams because I was a mother now. And that was that.
We struggled for years. She doesn’t remember the reality of our situation and for that I am thankful. She remembers a good, happy childhood. She remembers family and friends and laughter. And that’s what I want her to remember. She and I have some issues now because I was not a very good mother when I was young. But she has turned out to be an amazing mother and strong woman. When she had my first grandson I cried like a baby. I was so heartbroken- not because I couldn’t love my grandchild1. I cried because of how hard it was going to be for her. But she’s made it through the dark stuff and I’m so proud of her. We were both lucky that we didn’t become statistics.
The social stratum from which we’ve come doesn’t exactly push young women toward greatness. My niece, sadly, didn’t win in the parental lottery either. DB is a hard person and, well, his priorities are not to make his own life better. He’d rather scrape by and struggle and, well, continue in poverty. Her mother is the same. In fact, her mother is happy her daughter is having a baby. She gets to be a grandmother. Isn’t that so cute? Her child won’t become uppity and forget where she came from. No doubt she’ll marry the father2 and then have more babies before she leaves her teenage years behind. And then she’ll be celebrated for being so strong and her children will probably continue the struggle. It’s hard to come out of that place. It’s hard to leave it behind. It’s so fucking hard.
There are people and organizations that are fighting to stop young women from having families too early. They try to educate the public to get the girls and boys to leave all that behind. To go to school and find a career first. To be able to do for themselves before they have little humans. Sadly, it doesn’t always work. Her mother had children too young. Her grandmother had children too young. Each of them will say to her “I did it. Look at me. I didn’t turn out so bad.” But they ignore the struggle to feed their kids, the drugs they use to numb themselves against the pain of their lives, the constant moving because rent can’t be paid, etc. They know how to get resources which help, of course, but they also don’t see what they could really have. “Don’t get uppity. You’re not better than us.” In my culture parents and adult relatives often don’t want their children to do better than they do. They take it as an offense when their children say “I want a better life.”
And, I’ve said before, that whatever social status we are born into is exactly where we’re expected to stay. If we come from trailer park people then we must remain so. It’s in our DNA. That’s not just something our betters say. It’s something we tell ourselves. We can never do better and our children shouldn’t want better.
When I say “we” I’m talking about the general community, by the way. I’ve heard it too many times. I’ve heard how I think I’m better because I think someone is super intelligent and shouldn’t kill themselves with booze and drugs and 16 hour days. My people have rejected me because I think my children are better than I am and I want them to have better lives. People here will maybe say “congratulations” to someone who has landed a great job, but then they’ll talk amongst themselves how that person thinks too much of themselves. Remember your place, serf. Don’t go above your station.
When our young women have babies we encourage them to have more. It’s too late already, yes? Might as well give little Baby a brother or sister. Can’t have them growing up an only child. I can’t tell you the number of times I was admonished because I refused to have another child after Lil Miss. I heard it all the time “she needs a sibling to keep her company”. I was seriously pressured to have more children when I wasn’t doing a great job of taking care of the one I had. I loved Lil Miss and I didn’t want to make life harder for her.
“I am not taking what little I can give her and cutting that in half. How unfair would that be? We don’t have enough as it is.”
And I did not have another child until I was married and able to provide for that baby. I did whatever I could to make Lil Miss’s life better and to show her that there was more than where we came from. But, honestly, if I’d have buckled under the pressure of the adults in my family I’d have had other children to other men and, well, our lives would have been more of the same. I didn’t want that for my kids and I most certainly did not want that for myself. I want to leave all this behind. I want don’t want them to live in the world of poverty, drugs and misery. That makes me snobbish, I guess. Wanting better for my kids. I don’t give a shit. I encouraged Lil Miss to work hard to provide for her son. She did whatever she could to make his life better. Then, when she was in a better place, she added to her family. And I hope and pray that Lil’lady waits until she’s 30 to have her first child3.
I’m not close with my niece. I won’t be able to talk to her or give her advice. I know there will be no one to push her to be better or to hold off on more children. I know what pressure she’ll face from people who don’t know better. “It was good enough for me then it’s good enough for my kids.” No, not true. It’s so not true.
We are allowed to wish better for our kids. We are allowed to break that cycle that ties our kids to families before they’re even able to legally care for ourselves. We’re allowed to say “No more. This generation will have better.” We’re allowed to break free from this if we can find a way. The pressure to stay exactly where you are is bad in my community – amongst my people. I don’t know my niece well enough to know if she can stand straight and tell these people to fuck right the fuck off. That’s probably the hardest part of all: Not becoming a statistic.
I see these women and men who can’t even keep a roof over their own heads just popping out babies left and right. And being happy to do so. They can’t afford diapers. They can’t afford clothes. They can’t afford electricity. But they have these cute baby humans to make themselves feel better. To make them feel like their loved. They don’t look into the future and think “This is not fair to my child. I am hurting my child by continuing this.”
Just because it was “good enough” for the previous generation doesn’t make it good. A little girl having a child is always hard, but the struggle isn’t as hard with one child. Eventually she can pull herself out. But she won’t. Because in our culture we’re not encouraged to do that. We’re encouraged to form those families early. We’re encouraged to give that child we had at 16 or 17 a sibling close to their own age. We’re supposed to scrape and beg and steal and… continue to do exactly the same things until we die. That makes me sad.
Because I know how much it drains out of you to not become a statistic. My friend called me “exceptional” for not falling into the same life. I guess so. But where I come from that’s forgetting where you come from and it’s an insult to the people who came before you. Where I come from if you do better than your elders then you’re uppity and think too much of yourself. If you don’t want to kill yourself with 2 jobs, alcohol and drugs then, well, you’re “too good”. Yeah. That’s me. And I’m proud of it. I’m proud that I was able to give something good to my girls. I’m proud that Lil Miss turned out the way she is. I’m proud that Lil’lady is strong, opinionated and thinks too much of herself. She won’t be a statistic either. I will be so proud to have broken that cycle – regardless of how my life turns out.
I like geeky stuff, politics, squirrels and monkeys.