Becoming a mother is by far one of the biggest changes and challenges a woman will experience in her life. While it’s a huge adjustment for someone in her 20s, 30s or 40s, there are additional things to consider when a teenager experiences pregnancy and motherhood.
My own mother was 18 years old when she gave birth to me. Adding a baby to her life when her priorities should have been pursuing a college education and maturing into an adult, forced her to make decisions that took her life and mine in some unexpected and undesirable directions.
While the teen birth rate has declined in recent years, teenage pregnancy rates still remain high and approximately one million teenage girls become pregnant each year in the U.S.
There are some major consequences of teen pregnancy. Having a child as a teen is something that will shape the rest of a woman’s life.
1. Impact on Health
Teenage mothers and babies born to teenage mothers are more likely to suffer health, social and emotional problems
Prenatal care is critical, yet teenage girls who are pregnant—especially if they don’t have support from their parents—are at risk for not receiving adequate care during pregnancy. According to WebMD, this care includes screening for medical problems in both mother and baby, monitoring the baby’s growth, and ensuring that young mothers take prenatal vitamins with folic acid, which are essential in helping to prevent certain birth defects.
Pregnant teens have a higher risk of getting high blood pressure, also known as pregnancy-induced hypertension, than pregnant women in their 20s or 30s. They also have a higher risk of preeclampsia, which is a dangerous medical condition that combines high blood pressure with excess protein in the urine, swelling of a mother’s hands and face, and organ damage. These medical risks may require pregnant teens to take medications to control the symptoms and can also disrupt the unborn baby’s growth. These medical risks can lead to further pregnancy complications such as premature birth.
Furthermore, according to the Center for Disease Control, teen mothers have a higher risk of developing
To further complicate things, teens who have experienced pregnancy are at risk for repeat pregnancies. Nearly one in five births to mothers ages 15-19 are repeat births.
Although most teen parents who are sexually active use contraception during the postpartum period, only about 22 percent use “most effective” birth control (> 99 percent effective). Babies born as a result of a repeat teen pregnancy are even more likely to be born prematurely and at low birth weights.
2. Impact on Education
Teenage pregnancy certainly disrupts a young woman’s education. Although my own mother was fortunate to have her parents’ support, she had no choice but to get a job to meet the demands of motherhood. While she did take a few college courses, she did not have a sense of direction or any real intention of using those courses to help her secure a career. In fact, the majority of teen mothers drop out of high school with only about one-third of them obtaining a high school diploma. Fewer than two percent of teen mothers finish college before age 30.
3. Lower Wages
This lack of education limits teen mothers in their ability to provide for themselves and their children. In fact, 80 percent of teen mothers must rely on welfare at some point.
My own mother admits to suffering from low self-esteem as a young woman; she blames this on her decision to not pursue a college degree in preparation for a career.
4. Pregnant Teens Face Major Decisions… When They Should Be Free
While some teen mothers get support from their parents (as mine did), for some they decide the best decision is to terminate an unexpected pregnancy. For others, the right choice means giving up their babies for adoption while others may feel obligated to marry their babies’ fathers.
While some of these early marriages work out in the long term, many times the responsibility, the stress of marriage and parenting at such a young age is too much to bear on these teens. Which makes a lasting and successful marriage nearly impossible.
After living at home with her parents for two years following my birth, my mother chose to get married rather than further her education and learn to be self-reliant. Despite having support from her parents, she felt obligated to establish a more conventional way of life for her child and made (in my mind) the unwise decision to marry someone with whom she was ultimately incompatible and later divorced.
The decision to marry based solely on the need to care for an unplanned child is not likely a promising one.
5. Impact on Children Born to Teens
Finally, children born to teen mothers face specific challenges. According to statistics, they perform worse on many measures of school readiness. In fact, fifty percent are more likely to repeat a grade, and are more likely than children born to older mothers to drop out of high school.
I was one of the fortunate ones who performed relatively well in school but being born to a teenage mother certainly paved the way for a less than ideal childhood. Unfortunately, it led to some negative repercussions throughout my life.
Becoming a parent, when a “woman” is really still a child herself, is perhaps the greatest challenge a young woman can face. It can potentially pose numerous negative consequences for her and her child.
I applaud any woman who faces this challenge, including my mother. Bringing me into the world at the age of 18 drastically shaped the course of her life.
As she says, she learned from a very young age that life was not “all about her”.