Think you can handle a baby? Here's one teen's story

March 14, 2007|by BOB MAGINNIS

It was a cold, nasty day and the biting wind came roaring off the snowbanks, blowing sharp ice particles into my face, making me wonder why I was out there at all.

More important, I wondered if my interview subject would brave the weather, especially with a 2-year-old in tow.

I needn't have worried. The 17-year-old mother, who we'll call Mary, wanted to tell her story, to warn other young women that the road she imagined would be easy has been just one bone-jarring bump after another.

She met the father of her child at Noland Village, while watching a football game. She said he followed her and her best friend around, but the two were shy and wouldn't approach each other.

"So my best friend ended up getting us together," she said.

She knew about birth control, and said she began taking birth control pills when the two became intimate. But during that first month, she missed two pills.


"I guess I hadn't been on it long enough to miss," she said.

There followed two pregnancy tests, the first negative, the second positive. She told her mother she was pregnant.

"She didn't say much. She wanted me to get an abortion. I didn't want to. I felt I could handle a child," Mary said.

But the experience was completely different from what she imagined it would be. The baby girl, in the midst of what they call "the terrible 2's," wailed at the slightest provocation until a teacher at Hagerstown's Family Center, where Mary attends school, scooped up the baby.

"You can have a billion dollars and you're still not ready to have a child," Mary said.

Her woes began with a bout of post-partum depression, followed by a stress reaction that caused her hair to fall out in clumps. A thin woman, she said at times she can only tolerate milk. And sometimes there are panic attacks, particularly when she has to get into a car.

But despite her symptoms, she said she eventually got tired of sitting at home. She decided to get her GED, then go on to Howard University and attend law school.

But she landed on academic probation and has now decided to go to a community college instead.

"I wanted to be a lawyer. I don't think it's going to happen now," she said.

Judging from what she faces with her energetic little girl, it probably won't happen any time soon. When she returned home that day, Mary said she would have to re-wash all the child's clothes after the girl pulled everything out of her drawers, then doused it all with milk.

Mary said the child also grabbed a jar of pasta sauce, then threw it into the window blinds.

She gets some help from the child's father, but not a great deal, since he lives in West Virginia. She would like it if they could get a place together, she said, so the baby could get to known him and so she could have just an hour a week of time all to herself.

Asked what she would tell other young ladies who might be thinking about having sex, Mary said she would tell them what she tells her younger sister:

"I would tell them 'Don't do it. The first time you do it, you'll get pregnant.' I try to put the fear in her heart," she said.

"I would tell them all the negatives. I would tell them what the boys whispered in my ear and what they did afterward," she said.

I tell Mary that "the terrible 2's" will not last forever, that eventually her daughter will go to school and there will be some time to catch her breath. She nods, but I get the feeling that I might as well be telling her there's a leprechaun in the backyard with a pot of gold.

Mary works with people at the Family Center and the Parent-Child Center, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching parents how to properly nurture their children.

But while she might get enough help to see her through this time, she will never get back her teen years, nor will it be as easy at it might have been to achieve her dreams.

That's one reason why the Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force is holding a contest for county residents aged 13 to 21, a contest designed to promote the theme "Sex Has Consequences."

Entrants can produce a print ad, a 30-second video or a 10-minute short film.

First-place winners in each category will receive $1,000 apiece, second-place winners $500 and third-place winners, $250.

The deadline for entries is March 23. For more on the contest rules and directions to a Web site with winners for similar contests elsewhere, go to

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers

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