January 27, 2009

Adoption and other secrets kept from American teenagers

In a recent Los Angeles Times article entitled "No Secret: Another Teen TV Show, Another Teen Pregnancy," Yvonne Villarreal writes regarding the way Hollywood depicts teenage pregnancy. Certainly, contemporary television and the movies address pregnancy,  and some movies (Bella and Juno) have, in spite of coming out of Hollywood, presented adoption positively.

Teenage-Pregnancy-2This is a far cry from what we had been exposed to in years past. I swore that all the characters were infertile: they had carefree sex but neither used birth control nor got pregnant. Still, what Hollywood is not telling us is that about half of teenagers have sex, and those that do pay the cost: one-third of teenage girls get pregnant. Children also pay the cost: 38 percent of all births are to single women, and kids who grow up in a single parent home usually grow up in poverty.

For the teenage girl who has sex and gets pregnant, she has three choices: abortion, adoption, and parenting. For the teenager who decides to parent her child, her family will most likely help raise the child. There is enough support from the government through Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Women and Infant Child Nutrition Program to get a teenager through her pregnancy. Her high school will probably even have a special program so that she can get her diploma. If she lives at home, her housing is also covered. The mother and child will be cared for, and life will go on -- even if not as planned.

Yet, no Hollywood movie is based on the struggles of a single teenage mom living at home with her parents, going to the clinic for her prenatal appointment and making a visit to the food stamp office.

Single teenage motherhood is hard, but it can get worse. For many women the first pregnancy is the beginning of a spiral downward. When a girl has her first baby, her family usually helps her. The dad may or may not help -- most likely not. After all, he is just a kid himself. But then if she has another baby in another year or two, life gets more complicated. And if she is 21 and has a third child, life often gets unmanageable. No job pays enough to care for three small children in daycare. The dad, who was giving her $50 here and there, some diapers, and once in a while taking the kids to McDonald's, is gone. Now she is a woman with limited job skills, no money, and inadequate housing.

Teenagers, with the help of family, can usually manage one baby -- even if it means the mom will not go to college and will work at a low-paying job. But some time in her early twenties, if she has another child while single, she, in all likelihood, will enter poverty and stay there. For many women, that is the secret that is not shared with them.

More than ever we need to promote adoption as a loving and caring choice. Girls say they do not consider adoption because no one tells them about it. Recently a treatment worker for social services said they cannot mention adoption to them -- even though the child may end up in the system.

And social workers, nurses, and counselors do not discuss adoption because "girls don't want to consider it. "

If adoption were promoted as a positive option, unborn lives could be saved and women and children would not be entering into poverty at such alarming rates. For the sake of women and children we need to promote adoption.

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