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Twins at 16 makes a girl think

April 11, 2005|by BOB MAGINNIS

(Editor's note: The last name of the subject of this column is being withheld to protect her privacy.)

As we walk up to the small house in a Smithsburg suburb, a large German shepherd, barking furiously, pokes his head through the curtains at the bay window, eyeballs us, then runs to the door when we knock.

The door opens and there is Amanda, holding a leash as the big canine strains toward us. She asks us if we're afraid of dogs. Yes, we say in unison, so she puts the dog behind a child-safety gate, assuring us that he can't jump over it.

I visited Amanda as part of a series of columns I'm doing on teenage pregnancy. Washington County has the fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate in Maryland and William Christoffel, Washington County's health officer, is campaigning for more birth-control information in the school system's Family Life course.

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But can teens really be unaware of measures that would prevent pregnancy? And what are they thinking about when they engage in unprotected sex?

For some answers, I talked to Amanda, who got pregnant at age 15, then delivered twins at 16. As we begin talking, her two boys stand quietly in their fuzzy sleepers, acting shy and looking as if they're ready for an early nap.

Amanda was a sophomore at Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick County when she got pregnant. I asked her whether she had any idea of what motherhood would be like.

"It seems like a fairy tale until it actually happens. It doesn't hit you right away, but then it hits you hard," she said.

There was some birth-control education in her school, but she said, they really didn't explain it very well. But what they did explain didn't make that big an impression, she said.

"I didn't think it would happen. That was the last thing that was on my mind," she said.

At the time, she was living with her mother, who said was "in shock for the first couple of days" after she found Amanda was pregnant. Then her mother promised support and help.

"It was a joy when I first had them home," Amanda said. But then the reality of how hard parenthood is began to sink in.

The toughest part was the nights, she said. She had been advised to keep the twins on different feeding schedules, but she soon figured out that if she did that, she's never get any rest. Even when she fed them together, it was not easy.

"With them getting up every four hours, it was tough for me to sleep," she said.

As she talks, the twins begin to get accustomed to having a stranger in the room. They crawl up next to Amanda and begin playing with a plush stuffed rabbit.

When I remark that the twins, who will be 2 on April 23, seem well-behaved, she smiles and says it's unusual.

"They can be pretty ornery," she said.

There is a hamster cage on the table nearby, which they regularly get into, she said, and their latest thing is flushing the toilet.

"They're doing that constantly, because it's a new thing for them," she said.

They recently had tubes inserted in their ears because they had infections when they were younger, she said.

When they were smaller, the two slept in the same crib, she said, adding that having someone else there seemed to comfort them.

Asked what she would say to a teenager considering having unprotected sex, Amanda said she would advise against it.

"I would tell them if they were going to have sex, to use protection. And think about the risks, even if you do use protection," she said.

Asked if she considered adoption, Amanda said that after carrying them for nine months, she didn't have the heart to give them away.

"But adoption is a good thing, as opposed to abortion," she said.

Amanda lives with her aunt and uncle now, and after a day of dealing with the twins, she heads to her job at Wal-Mart, where she works 6 to 11 p.m. five days a week. Soon she'll start classes to become a medical assistant.

It's difficult, she said, trying to budget her time around the twins' needs. She gets help from a parent aide from the Parent-Child Center, a United Way of Washington County agency whose programs including working with young mothers on things such as nurturing skills.

"Now I've got a reason to better myself," she said.

By now the twins are completely at ease and they don't walk across the floor, but scamper from wall to wall with a gait that is a cross between a hop and a dance. They climb onto the couch and go over its back. Then they try to do flips, first into their mother's lap and then onto the floor, which Amanda prevents by grabbing the back of their sleepers.

They open cabinet doors, spill milk and drag the andirons away from the fireplace. Then they begin throwing a small, inflatable beach ball back and forth. We play catch for a minute, and everyone claps when they don't drop it.

They are wired up now, running back and forth for the pure joy of it. Amanda smiles at their antics, but stays alert because, as any parent knows, you only have to look away for a minute for something bad to happen.

Based on this interview, here is my suggestion for an addition to the Family Life curriculum: A documentary showing what it's like to go through pregnancy, childbirth and raising children. If that causes just a few potential parents to think twice, it would be worth it.

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