Last week, there was plenty of uproar over a new series of ads targeting teen mothers or would-be teen mothers in the New York transit system. The most reviled ad in the campaign featured a crying child telling his parent, “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.” But an insightful essay rom Natasha Vianna on RH Reality Check says this shaming in the ads is nothing new for teen moms.
Vianna’s passionate about the topic because she was a teen mom herself, one that worked hard to finish high school despite everyone telling her to give up. And while she endured her share of taunts and stares from classmates, her teachers made it hardest. She writes, “The students gossiped, but they did it behind my back. The teachers, oh the teachers, they showed their disapproval to my face.”
She finished her junior year at one school and started her senior year at a much larger school that had more pregnant students and students with children. Even though there were plenty of students in the same spot, teachers were hardly compassionate.
“Their expectations were extremely low. After my first day of school, I went to my guidance counselor’s office to ask why I was no longer in honors classes. My classes were boring and slow-paced and covered material I already knew. Her response was that she questioned whether I would even graduate high school, so it would be safer to put me in easy classes that I could easily pass than to put me in challenging classes. In shock, I walked away from her office. I came back two months later to ask her if she would help me apply for college. She told me that it would be best to focus on graduating school—then, if I did, maybe I could enroll in a community college. Again, I walked away with my head hung low.”
The most basic things she needed to take care of herself and her child became a problem for her teachers. Vianna missed lots of class to go to doctor’s appointments herself, and to take her daughter, who has congenital hypothyroidism, for the batteries of tests and appointments required. She shared one particularly humiliating story about not being excused to pump during a class:
One day, as I sat in her class with swollen breasts and in extreme discomfort, I raised my hand and asked her if I could leave. She said no. I begged. She said no. A few moments later, my breasts began to leak. I was wearing breast pads, but my breasts were so full that they began to leak through the pads. The teacher looked over, pointed at me in front of a class of 18-year-olds, and said, “You’re leaking breastmilk.” My face turning beet red. I ran out of the room and cried in the nurse’s office.
Vianna went on to finish high school, go to college, and become an advocate for teen parents. In sharing her story, she wanted people—parents, school administrators, everyone—to understand that in order to prevent teen parents from becoming the uneducated, unproductive stereotype they believe them to be, they have to have support.