If it is me against the rest of the world, I can handle that…

Hear the opinions of two students – both teenage mothers, who attend Wellington’s He Huarahi Tamariki, the school I visited that supports teenage parents.

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Te Maamae Siale-Tou, 16, from an interview with a New Zealand newspaper.

‘Putting my daughter first has set my priorities straight. I was your typical teenager. I was always meant to be home by 4.30, but I never showed up till about 8 o’clock. I’d be down the shopping mall with my friends. I used to do really bad things at school, then I found out I was pregnant. The social worker at my college mentioned He Huarahi Tamariki, and I thought, I’ll give this a go.

I used to go to my previous college just to do PE. Here I’m doing English, maths, social studies, home economics and computing, and I’m enjoying it. I want to go through life knowing that I’ve got qualifications behind me, to help me to a better life for myself, and my little family.

My mother had me at 16. She had to give up school, sports and everything. Now she sees what I’m doing she thinks ‘if my daughter can do it then I can do it’. She’s always wanted to be a bartender, so this year she got her certificate.

Before baby, I’d wanted to be a sports kind of person – a physio, or even a sports star. Then when I had baby I realised I liked working with people, especially kids. Now I want to be either a teacher or youth worker. I want to help other teen parents. We get looked down upon, but some I know are the greatest mothers you could come across.

I did have a dream about being a singer like Lourde. But yeah-nah. I’ve been told I can sing, but I only sing for my daughter or for the school or for cultural events.

One role model is my Aunty Pauline. She’s a real hardcore chick. She’s into her sports. She was a parent at 16 then had two more kids and they’ve done fine. She took me in when I had problems… and found me a job as a netball umpire.

My dreams and goals are pretty much based in New Zealand, but if I want to take it to an extreme point, then I’d leave New Zealand and see what else is out there for me.’

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Layne, writing in a school publication on her achievements

Choosing to be a Success Story, Rather than Just a Statistic

Seated in front of a large audience, I take a quick glimpse to the right and see from the corner of my eye my teachers and principal watching me eagerly and proudly. I was recently asked to say a short thank you speech on behalf of our little school at a book launch, because we were being gifted a cheque. At the time it sounded ok, but sitting here now, my heart is pounding frantically, my palms are warm and sweaty and my knees are shaking uncontrollably. These symptoms of nerves would be normal for most people, but for someone like myself it is quite unusual. I was brought up in a family where I learnt to speak formally in front of larger groups of people from an early age, so I’m finding this sudden feeling quite uncomfortable. It makes me wonder, and ask myself, whether the reason for my sudden stage fright is caused by my embarrassment about who I am and what I represent.

New Zealand is currently second after the United States for having teen pregnancy rates. The pregnancy rate is 30 births per every 1000 teenage girls aged 15-19 in New Zealand. I’m part of these statistics because I am a teenage mother.

Maori have the highest fertility rate in the country followed by Pacific women and then Pakeha women. ‘Maoris are eight times more likely to be teenage parents’ (Scoop Independent News). There should be a bit more insight as to why the pregnancy rates for these ethnic groups are so high. There are many possible reasons for these statistics. For example; my culture (Samoan) is strictly against abortions under and circumstances. The use of contraception is considered not right either, for a number of reasons but mainly because it is considered unnatural.

Why are there still such negative stereotypes surrounding teen pregnancy?’ So you’ve ruined your life’ (Y-Xpress magazine April 2007) This heading emphasises the typical representation of teen parents by the media. ‘To educate a teen parent, it costs taxpayers $26,000 a year’ (Dominion Post June 2007). Of course this amount looks and sounds very expensive, but it is meaningless without knowing how much it cost to educate a normal college student per year. People read that figure and think that the government I over-funding teen parent units. They do not offer any comparison, e.g. ‘It costs $26,000 to educate a teen parent per year compared to $X to educate a normal college student per year. ‘ They neglect to include these details as it would probably spoil a good story. The media should focus more on publishing the achievements these mothers are making through having a second chance at education, rather than pointing out the weaknesses. The media plays a big role in influencing peoples views and opinions. They should focus on the many success stories that are out there about teen mothers.

Another aspect of negativity regarding teen pregnancy is old-fashioned values and morals that our society still live by today. ‘Teenage childbearing is considered a poor life choice’ (Key Statistics). The pressure on a teenager who falls pregnant is unbearable, because they are well aware of the views and opinions that the community will share if they do decided to keep the child. Despite the fact that, the teen birth rate has decreased in recent years, the termination rate climbed significantly. It has almost doubled since 1980. ‘More teenage pregnancies are now ending in abortion’ (Key Statistics). If this continues what will the abortion rate be in another twenty years time? Is this what we want to teach the future generation of teenagers? That termination is alright and is the only way to succeed and be accepted in society? El Butterworth, writing about her experiences as a teen mother in Y-Xpress magazine, say, ‘My experiences as a teen parent has taught me that among other things, there needs to be more open and empowering discussions on teenage pregnancy, so that those who find themselves in this position realise the potential they still have as both parents and people’ (Y-Xpress magazine April 2007).

I believe that in order to a teen parent to succeed; support, understanding and education are very important. There are 17 Teen Parent Units around New Zealand, which provide young parents with the opportunity to give education a second change, while their child is taken care of in a nearby childcare centre. He Huarahi Tamariki was the first Teen Parent Unit in the country. It started in 1994 and has blossomed ever since, though with limited spaces at the school the waiting list continually remains high ‘If it wasn’t for HHT I would be stuck at home living on the DPB with no future to look forward to and not a promising or financially stable future for my child to enjoy’ (Teen mother attending HHT). Negative attitudes towards teen parents need to change. Most importantly, young parents need understanding and support o the position that they are in. Education is the key for these young parents to make something better of themselves, and should be more accessible.

As I stand here now, facing the audience; the only thing that comes to mind that eases my nerves is an image of my son watching me. That is when I realise that I don’t care anymore; if it is me against the rest of the world, I can handle that. What I can not handle is the thought of never having known my baby, never seeing him, never touching him, or even hearing the sound of his laughter. My heart goes out to those girls who will never know these feelings for their child, those girls who took the convenient way out and will never see what that child could have become. My baby is two now but I have been studying full-time since I was pregnant, and will be starting University next year with hopes of becoming a teacher.

In conclusion, I feel proud to represent teen parents. I am the Head student of He Huarahi Tamariki representing the school that gave both me and my child a chance – I truly believe that some things in life just stall us or put us on hold. They don’t actually stop us from accomplishing what we want to achieve!

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