by Avital Norman Nathman
Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work has been featured in Bitch Magazine, The Guardian UK, CNN.com, Ms. Magazine, Bamboo Family Magazine, The Frisky, and more. You can also catch her musing online about motherhood and feminism at her blog, The Mamafesto. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her knee-deep in her urban garden or hosting dance parties in her kitchen. You can follow her on Twitter @TheMamafesto.
Every Tuesday morning for the past two years, I’ve dropped my son off at school or camp before rushing a few towns over to hang out with a group of moms. And while we certainly share a new picture or two of our offspring, the rest of our time spent isn’t devoted to discussing the latest must-have stroller or bemoaning our lack of sleep. There simply isn’t much time for that type of talk while I’m there. Instead, we use our two hours together to review facts about photosynthesis, work our way through poetry analysis and tackle fractions. That’s because most of my Tuesday mornings are spent with young mothers working toward their GEDs at the Care Center in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Many of the young women that attend the Center dropped out of high school when they became pregnant. Some join the program while still pregnant, others a few months or a year postpartum. All of them are there because they are keenly aware of how important a good education can be, especially in a low-income area like Holyoke. None of them want to be stuck in a minimum wage job, and they have high hopes of continuing on to higher education, in one form or another.
In addition to working on their education, raising their children, and for some, holding down a job, all of these young mothers have stories to share. Their story does not come in a neatly edited package, nor does it follow the majority of plot lines seen in MTV-fueled reality shows about teen moms. In fact, the young women I work with are adamant in just how much shows like Teen Mom or 16 and Pregnant do not represent them or their lives. What these shows do portray, however, are heavily edited, sensationalized, and stigmatized versions of what it means to be a teen mother in this country.
While the rate of teen pregnancy is currently at an all time low, one third of girls living in the U.S. becomes pregnant before the age of twenty. The majority of those becoming pregnant are Latina, as evidenced in a recent Guttmacher Institute’s report, the teen pregnancy rates for Hispanic girls rose to 126.6 births out of 1,000 women, compared to the national trend of 41.9. In addition, many young women who become parents in their teens either come from poverty or face economic hardships. Very few of these realities are witnessed in the shows focused on teen parents.
Mainstream media’s representation of reality is already so skewed when it comes to a number of things, and I refuse to add one more casualty to the list. The young women I see every Tuesday agree. However, for some reason, nobody is showering down money on girls who refuse to play into the sensationalism and stigmatizing that comes into play when normally discussing teen pregnancy and parenting. These girls most likely won’t end up on the covers of People magazine or US Weekly, with rumors of their relationships, future pregnancies, or potential rehab or jail time splashed across the pages for all to see. But that doesn’t mean their story isn’t worth telling. If anything, the non-photoshopped or corporate sponsored stories of these young women deserve more recognition.
In the spirit of attempting to deepen the narrative when it comes to motherhood, Our Reality was born. A project I brainstormed with both the girls from the Care Center and my partner Carrie Nelson, Our Reality is a documentary series that acts as a pushback against the way mainstream media co-opts and portrays teen pregnancy and parenting. Our goal is to provide a platform where young parents can share their stories, free from sensationalizing and stigma, where they can add their voices to the chorus of parents out there.
But we need your help in getting it off the ground. Carrie and I have launched a crowd-sourcing campaign via Indiegogo in order to finance our endeavor. The project will produce a documentary webseries of various teen parents living in Western Massachusetts. The young mothers will work with us to write their own stories and share their lives, their reality of what it truly means to be a young parent in our society.
Please help by spreading the word. Visit our Indiegogo campaign to learn more about how you can support us as we work to provide a platform to amplify the voices of parents who are either systematically ignored or silenced.
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