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Publication Date: Friday, April 05, 2002

It's better to wait, teen moms say It's better to wait, teen moms say (April 05, 2002)

Young mothers caution students about pregnancy

by Candice Shih

If you think it's premature to educate middle-school students about teen pregnancy, you've probably never met the young women of the Blossom Project.

The six young moms, who age in range from 17 to 22 years, have seven children among them. They work, go to school, take care of their kids, and, on top of all that, visit middle schools and tell their stories in hopes of preventing more teen pregnancies.

On this day, March 26, they are at Graham Middle School in front of an eighth grade P.E. and health class. Their performance begins with them moving to music, stopping periodically to give statistics about teenage sexuality. Then they describe their typical days, which begin early and end late and leave little room for a social life and other junior-high staples.

Finally, it's time for personal narratives, a discussion of costs to lifestyle, and a question-and-answer session until the bell rings. The eighth graders, some more engaged than others, listen to the moms tell their stories. Darelda Medina, a 22-year-old with a 6-year-old daughter, says, "When I told my mom I was pregnant, she cried."

Mayra Verdi, a 19-year-old with a 2-year-old son, says she used to be an "A" student but ended up leaving school when she found the ostracism from her classmates, who had found out about her pregnancy, unbearable.

She and Maria Medina, who became pregnant at the age of 13 years, also describe challenging situations with their children's fathers. Verdi's boyfriend has little time outside of work to connect with young Osbaldo. The father of Maria's child grew possessive of Maria. Thus, they are no longer together, and he has limited contact with daughter Lesleiy.

The impact of these stories on the middle-school students is not immediately evident. But, Yesenia Ortiz attests to their effects, saying, "If I had this talk when I was younger, I wouldn't be here now."

Yet, if Ortiz had not gone back to school, she also wouldn't have been there then.

The Blossom Project women became involved in educating younger students through the Young Parents' Program, a program within the Mountain View-Los Altos Adult Education Center. Through the program, three of the women have recently completed their high-school diplomas while the remaining half expect to finish by this summer.

Their message to the eighth graders might seem full of doom and gloom but, with education and a more mature outlook on life, that's not what their lives are about at all.

Darelda has not only earned her high school diploma, but she is now a junior business major at San Jose State University. Ortiz, a former gang member who became pregnant by a rival gang member, has rejected that lifestyle. She has decided to have her tattoos, relics of those days, removed. "This is something I'm doing for my son. You don't want your past to affect your future," she says.

Ortiz and 21-year-old Danitra Mackay, the mother of two, are also planning to become Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA). Although the young women were given the impression by families, friends, and mere acquaintances that their lives were over once they became pregnant, that isn't the situation they're in.

The Blossom Project was founded by Deanna Anderson in Wisconsin five years ago as "an expressive-arts project for young women." According to Anderson, subjects addressed were "health, body, emotions, parents, friends, and relationships with boys."

The pregnancy element wasn't introduced into the project until 2000 when Anderson, who herself became pregnant in her teens, met Jeannie Richter, coordinator of the Young Parents' Program. They redevelop the project.

Richter said, "We all play our part. The girls had a lot of input in it."

Funded by the county's Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Network, with a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Blossom Project has visited local schools yearly since 2000. The women have been to Crittenden Middle School, Blach Intermediate School, Mountain View High School, and Middle College, an alternative high school, in addition to Graham.

They have discussed the significance of early education _ something they say they sorely needed _ which is why they talk to students as young as 12 or 13-years-old.

Perhaps the most effective element of the project is the time for narratives and the question-and-answer period when the moms speak openly and honestly about their lives. The middle-school and high-school students who hear their stories learn that, for the most part, their boyfriends were older, or claimed to be, and successfully pressured them to have sex.

Two were taking oral contraceptives regularly but all eventually became pregnant and gave birth. Darelda says that when they told a group of Mountain View High School students that a woman can become pregnant on the pill, "you could see all the girls gasp."

The mothers also try to make the students realize what sacrifices they would need to make to support a child. They point out that a single parent's average cost of living is $3,000 per month. In addition, a teen parent also pays in terms of sacrificing dreams, social life, family life, sleep, and more.

Verdi says, prior to becoming pregnant, she dreamed of going to college and of becoming a model. Having a baby left her wondering, "What's going to happen to my life?"

"I'm a mom. Everything's double hard; it's double work. I can't live a normal life," shares Darelda.

But, Alejandra Mejia, a 17-year-old with a 18-month-old daughter, speaks for all of them when she says, "We don't regret our child; just that we didn't wait."


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