YWCA program helps teen mothers
Jessica Wall was 14 when she had Phoenix. Now that she’s approaching her sweet 16, a teenage milestone, her responsibilities are far greater than most girls her age.
“It was rough in the beginning,” Jessica said. “He’s a handful, not gonna lie. But he’s my bundle of everything.”
She was a freshman at Ragsdale High School when she got pregnant. She quit school after Phoenix was born and tried to go back for her sophomore year, but other health concerns made her stop going again. Now Jessica takes online classes at Ashworth College’s James Madison High School.
“I was a different person before I got pregnant,” she said. “I made bad decisions.”
Just a couple months after Phoenix’s birth, the apartment building where Jessica lived with her mother caught fire. This is when she really relied on her relationship with the YWCA.
“If it wasn’t for the YWCA, my baby wouldn’t have had any diapers,” she said. “They gave me and my mom clothes, and they were very helpful, especially Ms. Joy (Ledbetter, Adolescent Parenting Program director).”
Jessica has a history of sexual abuse, and she said that played a part in her early sexual activity and, ultimately, her pregnancy.
“I didn’t really feel like I had a choice,” she said. “You either give it up or they take it from you.”
Jessica said her mom has been essential in her life, and even more so that she is now a mother herself.
“My mom is the only person I have. She’s always been there,” Jessica said. “She still lets me be a teenager and lets me go out, but also makes sure I know I’m responsible for my baby.
“You can’t do the stuff you used to do, but your baby always comes before yourself. I don’t have everything figured out. No new mom does, teenager or not.”
While Jessica’s story is all her own, many young girls have the same things to say about being a teen and pregnant or a teenage mother. In fact, 30 percent of 15-year-olds giving birth are with a partner 6 years older, and two-thirds of teens who become pregnant have been physically or sexually abused.
Teen pregnancy has been on the decline in the last 10 years. Statistics for the county and state in every race have reached their lowest numbers in a decade. Programs in the city, county and state have been working to continue to get the teen pregnancy numbers to fall, including programs at the YWCA of High Point.
“We know we can’t prevent every teen pregnancy, but we’d like to,” said Patricia Yancey, director of public education for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina.
In High Point, the 27260 ZIP code is the area with the most teen pregnancies, according to the Guilford Coalition on Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention. This ZIP code also is one of the most impoverished parts of High Point. Research done by Robert Smith at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro shows that there is a correlation between teen pregnancy and poverty.
The YWCA said there are 1,617 pregnant and parenting teens in Guilford County. Having a baby as a teenager doesn’t just have consequences for the mother, but also for the child.
Smith said there are enough kids by teen mothers to fill 323 classrooms.
“Children of teen mothers are more likely to repeat a grade, sons are more likely to be incarcerated and daughters are more likely to be a teen mom themselves,” said Christina Dobson with the YWCA Greensboro.
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