New York Ads Resurrect Stereotypes For Former Teen Mom
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
GLORIA MALONE: I was a teen mother. I must identify myself as a teen mom. And before I got pregnant, I was honors and AP student. I was involved in the chorus and drama. I was starting to run on the track team. So in every sense, I was the, quote-unquote, person that teenage pregnancy doesn't happen to.
MARTIN: This is Gloria Malone. Her daughter is seven years old now. Gloria was just 15 when she had her. She graduated from high school in Florida. She's now in college in New York, thanks to a lot of help from family members in caring for her baby. Gloria Malone is one of many voices now criticizing a public service campaign in New York City aimed at trying to reduce teenage pregnancy.
The campaign features posters with babies talking directly to their would-be teen parents. One little girl asks: Honestly, Mom, chances are he won't stay with you. What happens to me? Another baby says: I'm twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.
Today we begin a new feature segment on WEEKEND EDITION. It's called The Sunday Conversation. Each week, we'll bring you an intimate portrait of someone affected by a story in the news, like Gloria Malone. I started our conversation by asking her to explain her reaction when she first saw the public service ads.
MALONE: My initial response was, why? I go, why of all things did they choose to attack my character and my family? And then it brought back all of the insults and stereotypes and stigmas that I had to fight against in high school and everywhere else I went in public with my daughter.
MARTIN: So talk to me a little bit about that, the stigma that you felt. You were 15, you said, when you had your daughter?
MALONE: Yes, ma'am.
MARTIN: You were in high school at the time?
MALONE: Yes, I was a sophomore in high school.
MARTIN: And what happened when you went to school for the first time and people could tell that you are having a baby?
MALONE: When people started realizing, you know, I was gaining weight, they started asking me and not in such subtle ways either.
MALONE: It would be just like: Hey girl, are you pregnant or why you getting fat?
MARTIN: Oh, man.
MALONE: Things like that, so I really didn't tell anyone - probably told like two of my friends. I didn't directly go to my teachers and tell any of my teachers.
MARTIN: When did you decide that you were going to take more control over this situation?
MALONE: My guidance counselor refused to see me. I had a 4.0 GPA as a pregnant student and she refused to see me.
MALONE: Solely because I was pregnant, that's what I feel. She - let me clarify and say that she did not tell me: I'm not going to see you because you're pregnant. But I would fill out appointment slips with her and she wouldn't be there. Every time I go in, she'd be leaving. The only way I got her to sit down and talk to me was by leaving a message in her mailbox, saying that I was going to drop out of school.
And what's funny is that she actually had to come into my AP Lit class and pull me out of there, to talk to me about dropping out of school. And I looked at her and I said I don't want to drop out. I want to talk to you about my future. I want you to help me.
MARTIN: What was it like to just be in school? Your pregnancy moved along. You're getting bigger and bigger. And I'm assuming you're not running track anymore.
MARTIN: How did your friends respond?
MALONE: Some of my friends were very supportive for a while. And then I think they started to realize that she's pregnant and it's not going to be the same. So they started to distance themselves.
MARTIN: And you are also taking advanced coursework. How did you physically do it? I imagine that was exhausting.
MALONE: Physically, I would literally be doing homework into the A.M. hours of the morning and breast-feeding my daughter at the same time. Sometimes I would drink more Red Bulls than anybody would recommend.
But I just saw as I have to do what I need do for myself and for my daughter. And my biggest thing was I'm not going to let pregnancy stop me, even though everyone else is telling me just to give up, just because ads are up and telling other young mothers that they're not going to amount to anything, and neither will their children. I don't agree with that.
And I want to be very clear in saying that shame and stigma is not what kept me going. What got me up and running was the same determination I had before I got pregnant. And I lost it for while because of all the negativity. But I found it again.
MARTIN: Did it feel lonely, I imagine?
MALONE: Extremely, extremely lonely, I was depressed for a while. And the shame and the stigma is what kept me in unhealthy situations. I felt like I had to - how am I trying to say this? I felt like I stayed in an unhealthy relationship longer than I should have because society's notion of the death sentence of being a single mom.
MARTIN: So, the shame and the stigma, you say, isn't effective in helping young women navigate this. But the point of the campaign is to try to deter people from ever getting in that situation.
Do you think something like that can be effective for people who haven't had a sexual relationship yet?
MALONE: I don't think so. Shame and stigma is what is taught in abstinence-only sex education. That's the sex education I received, and that did not keep me from having sex. And it did not inform me about having protected sex. And another thing is no teenager thinks teenage pregnancy is going to happen to them. And furthermore, I don't think anyone is thinking about the cost of daycare before having sex - at any age.
MALONE: I just - so I don't understand how talking about the cost of daycare is going to deter people from having sex.
MARTIN: If this is the wrong approach, what is the right way?
MALONE: There is a right way. And again, I cannot stress enough how much of an advocate I am for comprehensive sex education. If you are a parent, start talking to your child about sex today. Because marketers, advertisers, every single channel on television is not waiting to show your kids how fun and glamorous sex is. So you need to be there.
Another thing we really need to address from the early ages - relationships and sex are not one and the same. And I feel that many teenagers believe that they are - many adults still believe that they are one and the same. And they're not. They're two completely different things. So we need to address that, as well.
MARTIN: What do you say to young girls who don't have the family support that you had?
MALONE: Along with the family support that I had, I have huge support from professors, from teachers, from academic advisors. You can find support in so many different ways. But I really do want to tell all young mothers and teen mothers to start becoming your best advocate. Because until you come across determined and confident as a mother, as a student, as a woman, no one's going to take you seriously.
And do not think that having a child is the end of your life. It absolutely isn't.
MARTIN: Gloria Malone, she spoke with us from our bureau in New York.
Gloria, thank you so much for sharing your story.
MALONE: Thank you.
MARTIN: We'd like to hear your thoughts on this issue; the stigma many teen mothers face, and what can be done to prevent teen pregnancy in the first place. Join the conversation on Facebook. We're @nprweekend. We're also on Twitter @nprweekend or @rachelnpr.
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