'Heavily and unfairly burdened' - Reflecting on the plight of teen moms this Women's Month
After falling pregnant at 17, Zenoyise had no idea where parenthood would take her and twenty three years later the former teen mom is sharing what she learned when she stumbled into motherhood as a teen.
Read about her journey and the hard-earned lessons she learned below:
I was young and I didn't even recognize the signs of my pregnancy
"As we celebrate Women's Month we need to reflect deeply on the plight of teenage mothers who are subjected to humiliation and rejection everyday by society.
Societal stigma segregates them, and puts them and their children to shame. Twenty three years ago I was this mother, scared and vulnerable. I found myself facing a judgmental school setup and society.
I was young and I didn't even recognize the signs of my pregnancy until I got so sick that my parents took me to a doctor. After asking me a few questions, the doctor did a pregnancy test. An exam confirmed that I was already 14 weeks pregnant.
Also read: “Be careful what you wish for...” – A dad shares his reaction to finding out his teen daughter was pregnant
As he announced the results, my world tumbled down in front of my eyes. I was just 17! The doctor offered an abortion but my parents wouldn't agree. My parents, who had no idea that I had a boyfriend, no less that I was already sexually active, were visibly traumatised. I was so ashamed for putting them through this embarrassment.
Scared and shocked, I approached my baby daddy in depression. Needless to say, my relationship with the 19-year-old boyfriend pretty much ended when I broke the news that I was expecting his baby.
He never really came around to the idea of being a father. He moved on with another beautiful schoolmate a week after, and stayed out of the picture for years. Suddenly, I was involved in the most embarrassing kind of situation of having a rejected child.
The stares and the snickers behind my back made me feel worthless
In the next weeks, I was a whirlpool of emotions. As my stomach was swelling like a balloon I was met with shaming and ridicule. Learners gathered in school toilets and taxi stops to gossip about my situation. I lost all my friends. Other learners went as far as disregarding me in class.
The stares and the snickers behind my back made me feel worthless.
The teachers who admired me suddenly went cold. Even worse than the judgments from my classmates and teachers were the painful confrontations I had with my boyfriend's family who were forcing me to abort my baby.
My boyfriend gave me an ultimatum to have an abortion or leave the school and threatened to dump me if he ever saw me at the school again! When I stayed put, his family reported my pregnancy to the school governing body.
A month later, my worst nightmare happened. I was expelled from school, a week before my final exams my parents were told that my pregnancy was distracting other learners in class. I was left to deal with the pregnancy alone.
For a while I believed that my life was over. I was shamed into thinking that I would never succeed or create meaningful life for myself. Fortunately, my parents supported me.
A year after giving birth to a bouncing baby girl after 11 months, I went back to finish my grade 11. My baby daddy had moved on to grade 12 and the bullying and rejection became worse than before.
The baby daddy continued to reject me. His new girlfriend, who was now my classmate, and a gang of her friends made it their duty to make my life a living hell. I was humiliated and ridiculed everyday. I had to put up with rude comments and insults from neighbours and passersby.
Antenatal visits were a nightmare
Nurses and clinic personnel made it their business to reprimand me every time I visited the clinic. And it was a hard slog that I wouldn't wish on any woman. I was an emotional wreck. The only thing that stopped me from committing suicide was my baby.
Mothering my baby was a tall task. I felt guilty any time I felt a little excitement about her. Though the circumstances were bad, part of me wanted to, at least, try to find happiness in the whole mess.
I loved my baby but I felt guilty every time I wanted to show her love. The stigma of being a teen mom overwhelmed me and showing my baby love in front of my parents and relatives was embarrassing.
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Despite my challenges, being a mom changed my life forever. My daughter's presence caused me to think more deeply about my future. I pushed myself to make something of my life.
This is not about glamourising teenage motherhood. My hope is that people will take teen moms and their children into consideration and help and encourage the mothers to finish school and become successful.
As we celebrate Women's Month it is a perfect opportunity for all of us to deconstruct the stigma that teenage mothers are heavily and unfairly burdened with. Teen mothers are still children too who desire love. Rejecting and shaming them will only result in depression.
The answer to teenage pregnancy is not to disgrace and humiliate teens for their situation, but to help them with the information they need to prevent pregnancy in the first place.
Teenagers need access to information about sex and birth control without feeling embarrassed. If they do fall pregnant, it is important that they be offered support to provide the best possible future for their children and themselves.
By discussing sex and other pregnancy prevention measures including abstinence in a positive way."
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