Her name was Lucy. She was a petite, fragile looking, seven-year-old with large, questioning eyes. When she spoke, which was rare, it was in a tiny high-pitched voice that seemed better suited to a cartoon mouse. She didn’t really socialize with the others, but she was always kind, willing to share, and would occasionally grace us with a dazzling smile. She spent the majority of our time together doodling and singing quietly to herself, oblivious to the world around her. One afternoon, at the end of a long week, I put on music and announced to the class that we would be having a dance-off. After a few contestants, Lucy shyly raised her hand to take a turn. I could never have predicted what was about to happen. As she took the floor, she suddenly broke into “the robot” followed by a sequence of break dance moves that hadn’t been popular for close to 20 years. The class erupted into cheers and delighted laughter. As she concluded her performance, by executing a seated spin on the floor, I thought, “This child is special.”
And she was special. She is special … wherever she may be. ALL of the students in my first grade class were special. Teaching solidified the belief on which my current work in public health is rooted: ALL children are special and ALL children deserve to be nurtured in a safe, supportive home with parents who can properly care for them and make them a genuine priority in their lives.
So how do we ensure that this happens? First, we must give people the resources they need to plan when they have children. The most basic of these resources is accurate information about reproductive anatomy, conception, contraception (including abstinence), and how to access health services. Generally speaking, a child born of a planned pregnancy has the odds stacked in their favor from the very beginning.
The decision of when to have a child is, of course, very personal. Most everyone can agree, however, that parenting is best delayed until adulthood. Although I have met some outstanding teen parents in Gaston County, most are quick to explain why delaying pregnancy is important. They know firsthand how becoming a parent changed their schedules, their sleep, their priorities, their friends, their family, and even their life goals. I see the obstacles that teen parents face, and I also know the challenges their children face: they are much more likely to experience poverty, abuse, neglect, school failure, chronic health problems, and incarceration than children born to older parents. Sadly, statistics also show that teen pregnancy is cyclical – daughters of teen mothers are three times more likely to become teen parents themselves.
Gaston County has seen great declines in teen pregnancy over the past several years thanks, in large part, to those involved in the Gaston Youth Connected initiative. Young people in our community are getting the information they need to make smart decisions about their relationships, their bodies, and ultimately, their lives. We must ensure that this continues. We owe this to our youth. We also owe the future children of Gaston County the opportunity to be born into circumstances that provide them with the best possible chance of success … unlike Lucy.
See, what the rest of my class didn’t know about Lucy was that she was found, at approximately 3 days of age, abandoned under a bridge. I don’t know much about Lucy’s mother –if she was a teen or not – but I do know two things about her: 1) for some reason, she was not ready to be a parent and 2) she had an incredible daughter, against whom the odds were stacked.
By Carrie Meier
Teen Pregnancy Prevention Supervisor
Gaston County Department of Health & Human Services
May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month