To my left, past the Young Parent Policy Fellows table, I catch the eye of a young teen father. Red-headed Dad, decked out in jeans, converse sneakers, concert tee shirt and a baby Bjorn strapped across his chest. There is no infant in the carrier for the smiling equally red haired baby girl is in his arms where he snuggles and tickles and smiles at her. I guess he is not more than 17.
Surely I look a bit out of place, perhaps like a tourist to the State House, with my head bobbing too and fro, my ears catching audio clips from a conversation between a State Rep and a Program director or a mother and her toddler child. There have to be several hundred people in the room, nearly half teen parents with their baby on their hips or with their hands holding little toddler hands.
I don’t kid myself into thinking these parents are having an easy time of it but I also know that parenting is hard at any age. It is always expensive. Always life changing. I was married when I had my second son. He is now fifteen. I had a terrible pregnancy, gave birth to a 12 pound child after three days of induced labor followed by a cesarean section. I had post partum depression followed by years of a challenging marriage and a third and final child. None of it was easy despite being married and upper middle class. The young parents are amazing. They are facing the challenges I did (and many I did not) but they do so keeping their children with their family of origin.
An elected official carrying the same last name as members of my mothers’ extended family takes the podium. I am interested in him for the few seconds I muse over the fact that his name is an Irish one in my mothers’ family. I wonder if he is related. I decide he is not as I am aware Boston has a massive Irish community and I never heard of a single member of my mothers’ family living here. My mind reflects on the movie The Departed and I reflect on the term Shanty Irish. My mother used that term. I thought she made it up, I thought it was slanderous. Turns out it was rather common place. My mothers family never figured out if they were Lace Curtain Irish or Shanty. I am sure many would have considered me shanty, a disreputable person of Irish descent.
My mind returns to the white haired suited official, but only for a moment. I am turned off by the heavy Boston accent and return to scanning the room. A mother looking harried and lost approaches the table, a child with a runny nose and somewhat dirty clothing is by her side. She asks for directions to check in. I smile at the child, his greenish white snot glistening in the dim lighting, grubby clothes not fitting quite right. Child smiles back. Wide smile. Happy smile. He may grow up poor but he will grow up knowing his mother did her best, she loved him. She wanted him. She kept him. She was strong enough to fight the forces working against her, the forces lusting over her baby and the price he could be sold for. I smile again at the snot running down his nose. He smiles again. I never got to see my daughters snotty nose.
The booming voice of Representative Gloria Fox (D-Roxbury) takes the podium. Strong powerful voice. I am inspired. I am drawn to powerful strong women. I am interested in what she has to say. I try to listen yet am interrupted by another mother and her toddler asking me if I know where the restroom is. I don’t but I offer to help them locate it. She smiles and tells me she can find it herself. I return to Rep. Fox and I hear her say we all have a vested interest in each and every healthy baby brought into the world. I choke back tears and try to force down the lump in my throat. The only people that had a vested interest in my daughter were the agency that took her from me and the couple that paid a great deal of money for her to become theirs.
Angel, teen father to twins, takes the stand. My eyes violently turn towards him. A father? A responsible teen father? You mean they aren’t like unicorns?
Angel is young, attractive, well spoken. He shares his story of how he and the mother of his twins were both in college when she became pregnant. I am having difficulty breathing. I am simultaneously fascinated, angry, sad, moved, touched, and enraged. Angel is a slight fellow, average height, dark hair, attractive, presumably Hispanic. The dark hair reminds me of my daughters’ father. Angel manned up to his girlfriend. He will have his children in his life. His twins will know who their daddy is. His girlfriend will raise her children.
A young mom, now a college student, tells the story of her pregnancy. She shares how a guidance counselor at her high school confronted her and informed her they did not “need” people like her “a pregnant teen” at their school.
Need? WTF? What education professional says that to student? My adult parent self screams inside and then I flash to my own experience. I was an honor student in high school. I was president of student government. I got pregnant two months AFTER graduation. I know without question that had I gotten pregnant in high school I would have killed myself (and my child…we would have been together then). I wonder if my wacky old guidance counselor would have preferred suicide of the president of student government over her becoming pregnant. I want to hug the mom that is speaking. I want to tell her how amazing she is, how lucky her child is to have her.
A young lady, a mother, a college student takes the stand. She is introduced as a poet. I think of her as a powerhouse dynamo spoken word artist. She is incredible. She recites, raps, shares, and recites her story in an incredible work of art. She talks of coming out of prostitution, having her child, going to college. She says, sort of sings that she wants to be a “mentor, an innovator, a trailblazer”. I suspect she is thinking of young people when she says this. I don’t think she realizes a 45 year old mother of three, parent to two, is finding her to be quite innovative. This girl, this young woman, needs to go national. I wonder if she is on YouTube. I wonder how I can hear her speak again.
The opening session wraps up and the many teen parents head off to meet with their respective representatives. I look around for a second unsure what I should do next. Should I stay and help the Alliance staff clean up? Where are they going to go? What are they going to do?
I check my watch and realize I should head back home. I have at least a 2.5 hour ride back to Connecticut. I pack of my things, say my goodbyes and express my thanks to the members the alliance.
As I wander out of the Statehouse I am overcome with emotion. I am confused. I am awe struck. I am emotionally bleeding. Not sure which way I should go. I cross the street and start walking across the Boston Common. Tears blur my view as I walk the direction I will later learn is the wrong way. I will circle The Common in its entirety and panic before I find my way back to the garage.
Many people pass me as I walk, slowly, deliberately, confused and crying. The beauty of the city is that no one questions the crazy people. No one looks at the crying woman circling The Common.
The event is a bittersweet experience for me. It is inspiring, encouraging, enlightening to see change happen. It is powerful to see press and policy makers supporting the rights and needs of teen parents. It is gut wrenching to see the struggle yet hope and determination of these young parents and the programs that support them. I wish I had access to, knowledge of, such programs in 1986. Children understand poverty. They dont understand a mother that gives them away to strangers. I wish I knew of such programs, such adults when I was pregnant and alone. My life could have been different. Very different. I might have raised my daughter. I might have avoided 27 years of trauma therapy. She might be talking to me today.