In spite of the continued decline in teenage pregnancy since 1986, according to national statistics and several reports, approximately 750,000 American girls, ranging in age from 15 to 19, will likely become pregnant this year.
Seventeen-year-old Kelli, a high school senior in her third trimester, is deeply invested in this life-altering reality.
Kelli states emphatically that she never had unprotected sex. She also said the decision to keep her baby was not a difficult one. “I knew I couldn’t get an abortion,” she said, “because then I would be a murderer. I also knew after carrying him for nine months [she knows her baby is male], I could not give him up for adoption because that would be giving up my responsibility to someone else. I also didn’t want him to be upset later when he realized he was given up for adoption, so I decided to keep him and accept my responsibility as a parent.”
Kelli, who lives with her 38-year-old single mother, Linda, and her 13-year-old sister Imani, says the pregnancy has brought her family closer together, and her mother and sister are very supportive of her decision to keep the baby.
“Kelli actually made her first real, responsible, grown-up decision in this situation.” Linda said. “When I first found out, I was angry. I was sad, helpless, hurt, disappointed and more concerned about what’s going to happen to her. I went over everything in my mind. A baby, I thought, ‘We can’t afford this!’ I began to ask questions like, ‘Will this stop her future? Will it stop her progress? What about college?'”
Linda said she asked for help. “I prayed and gave everything up to God. God gives life and the devil wants me to think this is a bad thing. Life is a gift from God, so that’s where I’ve stayed. Now it’s a joyous time. We’re so excited. We have redecorated Kelli’s room and bought $400 worth of baby things. I got answers to my questions. Kelli can still go to college and be happy, just under a different set of circumstances.”
According to a National Institute of Health report, teen moms are less likely than other women to attend or complete college. For those who choose marriage, 50 percent of teen marriages are likely to end in divorce within 10 years. Also, single mothers have the highest poverty rate of any other demographic group in the United States. Sixty percent of children born into mother-only families are poor.
Statistics reported in an issue of the American Journal of Public Health show that 86 percent of the recent decline in U.S. teen pregnancy rates is the direct result of improved contraceptive usage. The remaining 14-percent reduction is the result of teens waiting longer to start having sexual relationships.
“I never thought it would happen to me,” Kelli said. “I never thought the condom would break.” Kelli and the baby’s father, John, had been friends for two years prior to becoming boyfriend and girlfriend. Kelli said she declined 17-year-old John’s sexual advances for several weeks before deciding to become sexually active. “I would not agree to have sex with him because he didn’t want to use a condom,” Kelli said. “He kept saying how the condom interferes with the feeling.”
Studies, however, involving men of all ages, have shown that condom use does not significantly reduce the level of pleasure or sensation when engaging in sexual intercourse.
Kelli continued to say no. She said John even went so far as to promise to “pull out” to avoid getting Kelli pregnant. Finally, after several weeks of John’s advances and Kelli’s consistent refusal, John agreed to use a condom.
Kelli said she told him about the pregnancy over the phone, and he was not surprised at the news. He said the condom had broken during intercourse, yet he kept on going because he was afraid she would insist that he stop.
After she became pregnant, John decided to leave her for someone else. Kelli said she thinks the real deal is he’s scared. “He just got weak and walked away.”
Kelli said John’s mother is involved and very supportive; however, John’s father doesn’t want to have anything to do with her. “John’s mother had gotten pregnant at age 17 and his older sister also became pregnant at age 17, so dealing with teenage pregnancy is not new for either of them,” she said.
Kelli’s 13-year old sister, Imani, was the first person she told about her pregnancy. Telling her mother was not as easy. Kelli had actually found out she was pregnant before Mother’s Day, but decided to wait until afterwards so as not to ruin the holiday.
Linda believes life experiences played a part in her daughter getting pregnant. In less than two years, Kelli lost her grandmother, who lived in the house with them, and her father, who had been recently released from prison after being locked up much of her life. These experiences left her in deep pain. At age 10, Kelli was also a victim of sexual assault.
Initially, Kelli didn’t want to return to high school or go back to church because she was ashamed of her pregnancy.
“I asked her, ‘Are you ashamed of your baby?'” Linda recalls. “If you choose to have this baby, then you shouldn’t be ashamed.”
Kelli’s church family has been very supportive without passing judgment. Returning to school has not been as bad as Kelli had feared it would be. Surprisingly, she said, no one has hurt her feelings or talked about her openly. Her teachers have been great. She takes regular classes and modified gym classes, and she will graduate this spring with her class. She also has plans for attending college in the fall. Her mother and sister have agreed to help with child care.
“If I could go back,” Kelli said, “I’d wait to have sex like you’re supposed to. If the guy loves you like he’s supposed to, he’ll be fine with your decision.”
What advice she would give to other teens?
“I’d tell them to don’t have sex at all. Just wait! You’ll have a long time to do that. There’s no reason to rush. Being a parent is too much responsibility. Don’t do it. Don’t have sex at all. Getting pregnant is not the only thing; there are diseases. It’s not worth it. Just say no!”