When I was about eight years old, I had a small, spiral bound memo pad where I would sketch portraits of people. One page featured my favorite older cousin, another of a balding, elderly man. The pad was nearly filled with faces. Of all the pages, I vividly remember one of them. A young woman– almost teenage-esque– pregnant, probably about five months along. I pierced her nose, pulled her hair back leaving flowy strands around her face. I dusted her nose and cheeks in freckles and drew hoop earrings that dangled close to her shoulders. I remember feeling proud and happy when I looked at my creation. Through my primitive, amateur sketch, she glowed and I loved that.
Those many years ago, I unknowingly drew and admired my future self. But when I became pregnant with my first child at 21, my feelings were much more complex than the innocent happiness my cartoon eluded. At 21, in a committed relationship and privilege after privilege on my side, I bypassed so many of the obstacles a lot of young mothers face.
Nonetheless, I heard the whispers as I waddled across the graduation stage. I cried, overwhelmed, in the bathroom during my internship. I carried the pressure of expected failure as an unwed, young mom. I felt the sting of the stigmatization of young motherhood. Never did I feel like I deserved to be truly happy about my pregnancy.
Recently, there has been a lot of great coverage in the media about teen and young parenthood, aimed at breaking down the barriers that young mothers face.
Gloria Malone details challenges teen parenting students face including “virtually no access to a safe, clean space should they need to pump breast milk” in RH Reality Check’s Family Leave Laws Need to Include Teen Student Parents.
The California Report’s For Breast-feeding Teen Moms, High Schools Don’t Make the Grade echoes these challenges reported by Malone. In it, we also learn that “only 18 percent of [Los Angeles] County’s school districts have policies for lactation accommodations and that lack of consistency is statewide.”
Still, Malone shares her optimism and highlights the work of several nonprofits and educational programs that “see the unique needs of teen pregnant and parenting students and have established targeted and holistic approaches to addressing these needs.” She also reports on some of the important legislature established to protect teen student parents.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California’s Know Your Rights: Pregnant and Parenting Students provides a Q&A formatted resource for pregnant and parenting students which details their rights. For an even more comprehensive look at education for pregnant and parenting students, The ACLU of California includes Breaking Down Educational Barriers for California’s Pregnant & Parenting Students, a report that “examines school conditions for pregnant and parenting students in California” and “identifies barriers to obtaining an education and proposes solutions for protecting students’ rights and promoting their success in school.”
Because “lactation is indisputably related to pregnancy and childbirth,” the report includes a detailed explanation of appropriate lactation accommodations for parenting students. It refers to a guidance document that “encourages schools to adopt additional programs and strategies that can assist the needs of pregnant and parenting students, such as ‘designating a private room for young mothers to breastfeed, pump milk, or address other needs related to breastfeeding during the school day.’”
We know that inconsistent policies and ill-formed school administrators stand in the way of many breastfeeding students’ goals. Not surprisingly, the report states that “failure to provide adequate lactation accommodations at one school site may result in a student’s decision to forego breastfeeding altogether or enroll in a school site exclusively based on the ability to pump or breastfeed during school hours.”
It is encouraging to see students themselves acknowledging the power and importance of breastfeeding.
University of North Texas seniors Kris Haro and Johnathan Wenske’s class project turned into a viral ad campaign. Their images feature young mothers breastfeeding in public restroom stalls. The text reads “Would you eat here? By law, breastfeeding mothers are not protected from harassment and refusal of service in public, often forcing them to feed in secluded spaces such as public bathrooms…because a baby should never be nurtured where nature calls.”
Students at St. Francis Xavier University in partnership with the group Building a Breastfeeding Environment (BaBE) created a parody of “Call Me Maybe” which encourages public acceptance of nursing in public, especially at the university. Find the lyrics to the song and watch the video here.
How are you helping young pregnant/ parenting students succeed? Tell us in the comments below!