I never thought that a wise cracking movie about a knocked up teen would become the inspiration for a column, but after seeing the movie Juno, I was reminded of this prominent issue that still needs attention.
The movie Juno tells the story of a pregnant 16-year-old that gives her baby up for adoption after first considering abortion. The dilemma of teen pregnancy has been a problem for years, and a new option for teen mothers is now being discussed. The Denver Post recently reported that students at a Denver high school are requesting at least four weeks of maternity leave to care for their newborn babies. A mix of responses has resulted-everything from support to downright outrage.
Currently, many teen mothers are often expected to return to school shortly after delivering their babies. This does not allow adequate time for physical and emotional recovery, let alone the essential bonding time with their babies. Childbirth is traumatizing enough, not to mention the havoc it wreaks on a teenager. Women in the work force aren’t expected to return to an eight-hour workday after delivery, and for good reason. I can only imagine a 16-year-old trying to sit through geometry class just days after delivering a baby: her young body still traumatized and her emotions still racing. Suddenly calculating the area of a pyramid doesn’t seem very important when there’s a newborn at home and her body is out of sync. She must be given the time to recuperate and the chance to complete her education.
Many schools do not have policies for teen mother absences, though evening classes and special programs are often provided. But many teen moms don’t want to leave their current school, or delay graduation-they don’t want to be forced into alternative education. You could argue that when a teen becomes pregnant she has then forfeited her privilege to have a “normal” teenage life, but providing options that allow the mother’s life to remain normal may be beneficial to the futures of both the mother and the child.
Teenage pregnancy has always been a tough position because it isn’t right to condone or dismiss the severity of an unplanned pregnancy. Abstinence must continue to be taught to these kids, and they still need to be held accountable for their actions. But the reality is that abstinence programs can only do so much. They can guide teens to make wise choices, but they can’t make teens’ choices for them. When this Plan A does fail (which it inevitably will, teen pregnancies still happen), the issue moves beyond pregnancy prevention. The issue becomes dealing with the new life that is being brought into the world, as well as the life of the teen mother, which is in for a harsh awakening.
We must decide to act with compassion, not condemnation.
People often turn a cold shoulder to the problem of an unplanned pregnancy because it’s “not their problem.” They didn’t cause it, so it shouldn’t be their concern. Well, none of us single handedly caused the war in Iraq, or the problem with immigration, or the unemployment rates, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about the lives affected by these issues. Problems of society often aren’t a result of any one person, but as a collective group they must be addressed. Even when the problems aren’t our fault, we must decide how to not only prevent the problem in the future, but how to effectively and sympathetically deal with the problem in the present.
Finally, let’s not forget that these young mothers have already made a very difficult-and, I believe mature-decision to not abort the baby in the first place. Once a mother chooses life, we should then let her provide the highest quality of life for that baby possible. Allowing time to recover and bond with the baby during maternity leave from school is a step in the right direction. Staying on track to complete an education is a privilege that almost all teen fathers are allowed. A simple leave of absence will provide a teenage mother that same privilege.
Maternity leave for high school students is not condoning teenage pregnancy; it is simply providing options to make the best of an undesirable situation. Allowing a teen mother to stay in school will provide support for her decision to choose life for the child.