Pregnant Pause
In matters of teen pregnancy, locals have more resources than ever to get back on track after the baby arrives
by Jennifer Updike


Aimee Jenner* had been sexually active for only a few short months when the bomb dropped. Just two weeks shy of her 17th birthday, she was shocked to learn—via a pink plus sign on the little white stick—that she had a life growing inside her.


“My first thought was, It’s all over,” she says. “My second thought was, I’ve got to do something about this,” meaning abortion. “I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.”


Jenner, now 22, has vivid and somewhat agonizing memories of the moment she realized she was pregnant—and the months that followed. She considered dropping out of high school, an idea her parents discouraged. Today she’s in her last year in a business program at a prominent university on the Main Line, working toward her bachelor’s degree. She’s also in a healthy relationship with a young man other than the one who got her pregnant and fathered a daughter, Rebecca*, who is now four years old.


“She changed my life,” Jenner says of her daughter. “In the beginning, it was the hardest thing I ever had to do. My parents were shocked, of course, but I had a lot of support from them and other people. … I wouldn’t say my life took a detour, but you can imagine how much it affects your life when you’re just 17.”


The U.S. teenage birth rate reached an historic low in 2009, at 39.1 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center. The trend marks a resumption of the long-term decline in teenage childbearing that started in 1991. Although the U.S. teenage birth rate fell 37 percent from 1991 through 2009 (the most recent year where data is available), it still remains the highest among industrialized countries.


Becoming a parent in one’s teen years has the potential to derail a young life, but the emotional and financial toll of unexpected pregnancy is often felt just as intensely—or more so—by a teen’s family. But it doesn’t have to, according to Kathy Dwyer, program director for Child Home and Community, a United Way nonprofit based in Doylestown that offers prenatal, parenting, life-skills and prevention education to young men and women, ages 12 to 25, throughout Bucks and Montgomery counties.


“[Pregnancy] certainly changes the dreams a parent has for their child when they say, ‘I’m pregnant’ or ‘My girlfriend is pregnant,’” says Dwyer, who has been working for Child Home and Community for more than 30 years. “Nobody wishes for pregnant teens, but we let them know the situation is OK and tell them, ‘You don’t have to give up your dreams, just adjust them.’”


Nine Months Later

In working with young mothers- and fathers-to-be, Child Home and Community’s outreach begins with how pregnancy has changed one’s family, schooling, finances and other aspects of life. Also, in preparation for the months and years ahead, the nonprofit also addresses issues such as smoking, drinking, drug use and nutrition as a way to teach teens how to rear an infant in a healthy environment.


This ongoing education also includes aspects of feeding—breast or bottle—as well as daycare options, and centers on the idea of “what happens next,” offering assistance with medical needs, food, clothing and even diapers and formula, when needed. Programs to help pregnant or parenting teens continue their education, and also understand the cost of supporting a family, keep them from “losing” themselves.


“We get them focused toward being self-sufficient [as a young parent],” Dwyer says. “A big goal of the agency is to make sure young parents can explore continuing on in school ... and career. We teach them how to dress for an interview—take the piercings out, hide the tattoos—and hopefully get them on their way to apply for a job that’s something more than McDonald’s.


“I had my son when I was 35,” she continues. “When I started working here, my first thought was, How does a 13-year-old do this?”


In terms of prevention and awareness, Child Home and Community centers its work in area schools. In 2009-10, the nonprofit reached approximately 4,000 students through a network of instructors and volunteers. With young parents, the nonprofit has amassed a compelling success story: 100 percent of Child Home and Community mothers receive prenatal care—compared with the national average of 85 percent—with very few preterm births. Also, the majority of young parents enrolled in its programs finish high school, at the very least.


“Some of the stories end happily, and some don’t,” says Dwyer. “I come from the position that no matter what the circumstances of the conception are, every child deserves to have his or her birth celebrated in some way, and we try to convey that to the young people.”


Jenner, meanwhile, is already thinking ahead to the post-college years—hers and her daughter’s—and recently started saving for her daughter’s college tuition, which, incidentally, won't be put to use for at least another 13 years.


“It was a huge adjustment having a baby so young,” she says. “I don’t think I slept more than a few hours a night when I was pregnant, and that didn’t stop once she was born. But I wouldn’t have changed it. She’s my light. For something that could have been so jarring early on, it turned out better than I could have hoped.”


* Names changed to protect privacy


Jennifer Updike is a freelance writer based in New Hope.