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On Becoming a Teen Mom

On Becoming a Teen Mom: Life before Pregnancy

Mary Patrice Erdmans
Timothy Black
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt13x1h29
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  • Book Info
    On Becoming a Teen Mom
    Book Description:

    In 2013, New York City launched a public education campaign with posters of frowning or crying children saying such things as "I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen" and "Honestly, Mom, chances are he won’t stay with you." Campaigns like this support a public narrative that portrays teen mothers as threatening the moral order, bankrupting state coffers, and causing high rates of poverty, incarceration, and school dropout. These efforts demonize teen mothers but tell us nothing about their lives before they became pregnant.

    In this myth-shattering book, the authors tell the life stories of 108 brown, white, and black teen mothers, exposing the problems in their lives often overlooked in pregnancy prevention campaigns. Some stories are tragic and painful, marked by sexual abuse, partner violence, and school failure. Others depict "girl next door" characters whose unintended pregnancies lay bare insidious gender disparities. Offering a fresh perspective on the links between teen births and social inequalities, this book demonstrates how the intersecting hierarchies of gender, race, and class shape the biographies of young mothers.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95928-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The Backstory to the Baby
    (pp. 1-7)

    Diane, a twenty-one-year-old white mother¹ with a two-year-old daughter, saw a chain reaction in her life starting with what she called one bad choice:

    If I hadn’t slammed the door, then I wouldn’t have angered my mother, and we wouldn’t have gotten in a fight, and I wouldn’t have slapped her, and she wouldn’t have kicked me out, and I wouldn’t have gone to live with my boyfriend, and I wouldn’t be pregnant. [sigh] And so, if I could change anything, I would say I wish I hadn’t slammed that door.

    And yet, several things put Diane on the trajectory...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Distraction
    (pp. 8-39)

    Ivalesse was born in Connecticut, raised in Puerto Rico, and returned to Connecticut when she was 13, becoming pregnant two years later. The interview was conducted in a weave of Spanish and English. Ivalesse and her two younger brothers were adopted when she was young. Her adoptive mother had a ninth-grade education and her adoptive father finished sixth grade (she refers to them as her mother and father). At the time of the interview, Ivalesse was 20 and had two children. Her story illustrates many of the themes developed in subsequent chapters: strict parenting strategies, child sexual abuse, partner violence,...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Young Young Mothers
    (pp. 40-76)

    Gladys was one of the youngest mothers in our study—pregnant at the age of 12. The father of the baby was 17, and though he could have been prosecuted for statutory rape, no charges were brought against him and Gladys did not describe herself as a victim. Born in Jamaica, Gladys moved to Connecticut when she was in grade school. She returned to Jamaica in the summers, living within a large extended family in a rural area. In Hartford, she lived with her aunt, who was a strict guardian, and her grandparents.

    [My father] was really good with me....

  8. CHAPTER 3 Child Sexual Abuse
    (pp. 77-104)

    Alisha was a 19-year-old African American mother of a three-year-old son, Gareth, and the victim of physical and sexual child abuse and multiple rapes. She linked the violence that permeated her narrative to subsequent suicide attempts and poor mental health. She grew up in a large extended family, but her mother and father were mentally and physically absent for long stretches of time because of addictions and incarceration. As the title of her story suggests, she felt that the social trauma of poverty, sexual abuse, and other personal tragedies had aged her prematurely. Scarred by violence, she didn’t expect to...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Violence against Women
    (pp. 105-142)

    Bethany, a 24-year-old white woman with two children, had her first child when she was 18. At the time of the interview, she was living in a residential drug treatment program with her second child. Her parents were divorced, but they remained active in her life. They both had some college education and Bethany grew up in economically stable households. Along with the other young mothers in this chapter, her narrative is a comingling of violence and drug addiction.

    My parents were divorced when I was like two. I remember my dad was kind of a hippie. He took care...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Education
    (pp. 143-175)

    Monique, an African American mother of a one-year-old girl, was 18 when we interviewed her. Monique grew up in a black urban housing project but attended a white suburban elementary school. Her transition into high school was derailed by family instability, violence, juvenile detention, and inadequate school services. She did not get pregnant until after she dropped out of school.

    What I remember most about my childhood is my mom dying. I was seven. She had to have open-heart surgery when she was like 13. That’s why she had me and my sister. And then when she was 22 she...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Contraception and Abortion
    (pp. 176-216)

    Wearing sweat pants, her long brown hair with blonde highlights pulled back into a ponytail, Pamela, a second-generation Latina, looked like one of our college students. In her life story, she mentioned college 29 times. Her father was a lawyer with a degree from an Ivy League university; her mother attended college but did not have a degree. Pamela was in her first year at a state university at the time of the interview, living at home in an affluent (white) community. Her parents paid her tuition and cell phone bills; her grandmother gave her a car. Tommy, the father...

  12. CONCLUSION: Getting beyond the Distraction
    (pp. 217-226)

    Teen mothers are a diverse group—so diverse that they challenge the taxonomic impulses of social scientists. They include 13-year-old adolescents and 19-year-old adults; girls with an accumulation of disadvantage (who see their pregnancies as hope for new directions) and girls with less economic or social disadvantage (who choose to carry the unintended pregnancy to term without altering their current directions); girls who are victims of male predation and girls in sophomoric romantic relationships. For most, the unintended pregnancy causes shame and parental dissatisfaction, while a small number walk out of the bathroom waving the pregnancy tester to their families....

  13. APPENDIX A: Listening to Life Stories
    (pp. 227-235)
  14. APPENDIX B: Tables
    (pp. 236-238)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 239-284)
  16. References
    (pp. 285-318)
  17. Index
    (pp. 319-330)