Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Babies Havin' Babies, Y'all

Okay, gang, rant time.

I started my writing unit with my English I class this week. We start with basic five-sentence descriptive paragraphs and build our way up to five-paragraph persuasive essays. I find that it's easier to ease the kids back into the writing process after a summer spent NOT doing any expository writing. The topic I gave the kids for today was "Describe a person you know." I encourage the kids to delve beyond mere physical description, but that can be a bit of a challenge for a lot of kids who haven't really trained themselves to look past the surface level.

So this afternoon, I collected paragraphs from one of my classes and sat down to grade. These first paragraphs are only worth 15 points, and I was mostly looking for mechanics and sentence structure and making brief comments here and there on content. I've learned over the years that these kids need baby steps. Most of the paragraphs I read were about friends or siblings or the kid that sits across the aisle in class (a testament to how limited their vision can be). Occasionally, a kid will write about a parent. And then I got to one from a very quiet young woman who sits in the front of my class; let's call her Lily. She sits right in front of my podium, has never uttered a word in class, and has always struck me as rather meek. So what was it about Lily's paragraph that struck me and prompted me to write this entry?

Lily's paragraph was about her six-month-old son. Let me say that again -- HER SIX-MONTH-OLD SON! This girl can't be more than 15. She is a freshman in high school. Ninth grade. And she has a child, a child which she had while in eighth grade. When I was eighth grade, all I cared about was when the new Wham record was coming out. Lily was in labor. The kid's name is something like Tiesen. That's her misspelling. I almost corrected it and then I realized that MAYBE it would be tacky to correct her on the spelling of her own child.

But here's the thing. If you can't spell the name of your baby correctly, you shouldn't be having a baby! If you can't drive legally, you shouldn't be having a baby. If your years in school haven't hit double digits, you shouldn't be having a baby. This isn't the first time I've experienced something like this, although Lily is my youngest mother. A few years ago, there was another freshman girl who came to school with her sonogram pictures which she passed around for all the other girls in class to coo over. When I had her in English II the next year, she frequently (no, make that always) signed her name at the top of the paper followed by a heart and her daughter's name. Kind of the way I used to sign my name followed by "hearts Ricky Schroeder."

This is where abstinence education fails us. I have no doubt that someone somewhere in her life told Lily that she shouldn't have sex at her age. And then they left it at that. 'Cause you know that when you tell a kid NOT to do something, they never, ever do it. Instead of educating Lily and saying, "You know what, it's really not a good idea for you to have sex, but just in case, here are some things you can do so that you don't end up with a baby before you even start high school."

This is also where I have another problem. I think about my parents and what they would have done if I had come home from junior high with a load of Algebra homework and a load of baby in my uterus. I think about what I would do if I were a parent and my eighth grader came home pregnant. I know what my parents would have done, even my conservative father. After the explosion and the tears and the freak out, my parents would have placed a call to the local family planning clinic and voila. No baby. And I know I would do the same thing. A 14-year-old has no business raising a child, and there's a part of me that thinks that it's an irresponsible parent who allows that to happen. It's not fair to anyone involved -- the girl, the baby, the parents themselves.

I know that "abortion" has become a dirty word. I was watching an episode of WKRP the other night (I swear this is relevant!). It was the episode where Mr. Carlson's wife finds out she's pregnant, and I was stunned when Mama Carlson showed up and advised her son that his wife get an abortion -- and actually used the word. That show aired in 1979. Nearly 20 years later, the closest we can get to using the word in a movie called KNOCKED UP (for Pete's sake) is to say "it rhymes with schmabortion." My point here is not just that we were more progressive about this sort of thing in the 70s (even though we clearly were) but rather that we need to get over our fear of this word and recognize that there are times when it needs to not only be said but considered. I am in no way an advocate of "abortion as birth control." That's just as irresponsible as not using birth control at all. There are times, though, when abortion does provide a way to face a situation that could devastate countless lives now and into the future. I wish someone had had a serious talk with Lily before and after she decided to have sex and taken some steps that would keep her life from being a sad one. Because now I realize that the vibe I have been getting from Lily for the past several weeks as she has sat in front of me is irreversible sadness. As much as I am sure she loves her son, I also sense (and hope) that she realizes that she is in over her head -- and there's nothing she can do now to take it back.

** One caveat here: I am not advocating abortion in lieu of adoption. Adoption is a fantastic "solution" to an unwanted pregnancy and brings so much joy from a not so joyful situation for many women. I am concerned, though, with putting a newly pubescent body through the rigors of childbirth. From what I understand, it's an emotionally and physically brutal experience. It hurts. Things rip. Can a 13 or 14-year-old child really handle that experience? While abortion is also an emotionally and physically brutal experience, I think that it can also be the kinder choice for young girls.

1 comment:

Jen said...

Oh, oh, oh. Poor children (mother and baby). This is why I believe in comprehensive sex education--the good, the bad, and the ugly. I knew that my parents would kill me if I was sexually active when I was a teenager, but I also knew how likely I would be to get pregnant (very); the possibility of getting a disease, maybe even a terminal one; and the types of birth control and how to get them. The basic practical upshot of all that information? I knew I would be in over my head, and I waited to grow up a bit. When we don't tell teenagers the whole story, they try to fill in the blanks themselves, and with their limited experience, who can blame them for getting it wrong?