For as much as the schools, the health board, the media and parents can stress the importance of safe and healthy sexual practices and delaying sexual activity until such time that an individual is mature enough to make decisions, teens will be teens. In trying to get an understanding for what the experience of being a teenage parent is like, the Nation sought out those who were willing to share their stories.
Today Vera Pien is a happy 23-year-old mother to a seven-year-old boy. She is educated, works at the Val D’Or Friendship Centre and occasionally goes out on dates. But things were not always so bright and merry for Pien as a teenaged mother.
Hailing from the tiny Winneway reserve near Ville-Marie, Pien discovered she was pregnant when she was only 15.
“I was raised by my mom; she was a single mother and I have two sisters but my dad wasn’t really around so I was wandering around, looking for that love,” said Pien. She did find love, but in all the wrong places.
Prior to getting pregnant, Pien was anxiously looking forward to finishing high school like any other girl her age. But then, “I met my boyfriend and from that time on I guess you could say I was rebellious as a teenager. My mother, you know, she told me about sex and all of that but I was the type of girl who thought, “Oh, that is just not going to happen to me, I am smarter than that,” she said.
Terrified, confused and not looking to be the subject of gossip for her little reserve of 300 people, Pien effectively concealed her pregnancy until the day of her son’s birth. “At eight months pregnant I only weighed 150 pounds. I was really watching what I was eating and I used to walk around a lot, I was confused but at the same time I got pregnant when I was 15 and gave birth when I was 16,” she said.
Of course the entire community eventually found out. “It was the biggest shock in my reserve at the time. They said, “Where did you hide your baby? You did not look pregnant,” she said with a giggle.
Though she can look back at that aspect of the experience and be amused by it, being a pregnant teen was not her only problem as she was also a pregnant teenager in an abusive relationship.
When Pien informed her boyfriend that she was pregnant, “He was really shocked but at the same time he was happy to be a father back then. Later on when it came to facing the realities and the responsibilities, he still wanted to be a little boy, drinking and all of that. He was not ready for what he thought he was ready for. He was 16 at the time, one year older than I am,” she explained.
“He has now not seen my son since he was two so it has been four or five years. I was in an abusive relationship with the father of my son for two years. I realized that I couldn’t take it anymore because the only reason I stuck around with him at the time was because I did not want my son to grow up like me, without a father around. But, now I understand why some women leave, it’s the black eyes and the bruises and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I just had to really step out.”
Pien was fortunate to have a very supportive family who would baby-sit for her when she felt like socializing like a normal teenager and they allowed the child’s father to live with the family.
Despite the support, being a teenager caring for an infant was still difficult. “I was really, really glad that I had a baby. But later on it started to get tough with the night feedings and going to school and homework,” she said.
Amazingly, Pien did graduate high school the following year and then left her community and headed to North Bay, Ontario, to pursue studies in office administration.
Though being a single mother in a new town while going to college was difficult, Pien persevered. “The only time where I could do my homework was when he was sleeping and then I would study and study and study. But I did all of this because of my friends back then. They were always drinking and I saw social workers taking their kids away and I just didn’t want to go through that. I wanted to go out there and do something else with my life, to be somebody to my child. It was important for me to be a role model to him,” she said.
Still, for Pien having a child as an unprepared teenager with an abusive partner has not left her free of emotional scars. “I guess you could say that I still carry that past relationship that I had. It’s still hard for me to cope with it. So, you could say that I am not fully healed yet. I go on dates and stuff but I am not really ready,” said Pien.
With her career and her priorities in place, Vera Pien was happy to have the opportunity to share her story with the readers of the Nation.
“People would look at me while I was pregnant and say, ‘Oh, there is another girl who got pregnant too young who is going nowhere.’ I just wanted to prove them wrong. I am very happy that I have made it this far,” said Pien.
While many teenaged girls who get pregnant have the option of staying with their families during such a life changing experience, “Mary” from a Northern Native community did not have such a luxury when she suddenly found herself pregnant at 15.
Mary describes the experience of being a teenaged mother as, “really bad, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, no, not at all.” At the same time, when asked what her life was like prior to getting pregnant, her response was similar, “Oh, it was really bad too. I had a bad youth I guess where there was lots of abuse and stuff like that. I changed [foster] families a lot too. I had nobody to hold on to.”
As a product of the foster care system from a tender age, Mary didn’t care what her parents or any of her family thought when she got pregnant, as it simply wasn’t relevant to her. “I got a lot of judgments for being pregnant at 16 because I was too young but it did not really bother me,” she said.
Mary might not have struggled as much with the stigma of being a pregnant teenager, and she actually enjoyed the physical experience of being pregnant despite her age, reality set in once her son was born.
Though she was living in foster care when she discovered she was pregnant, Tina felt the need to leave her temporary nest to create her own. Her child’s father was in the picture for a while but she eventually chose to leave him due to his abusive nature. “It was better for me to be alone because my baby’s father was a woman abuser.”
As a single, 16-year-old mother caring for an infant without any support from her family, Mary had to drop out of high school to care for her baby and descended into a deep depression. “I went through a few depressions and then went to a treatment centre and tried to go back to school but I had to quit because my son was always sick and stuff like that. I would not recommend this because it really was hard,” said Mary.
At the same time, having her baby might have been what kept Mary from going down a far worse path. “I guess if I had not been pregnant at the time I would have been an alcoholic today. This made me take a different road in life because I was starting to have dependencies on drugs and alcohol. But when I got pregnant I stopped everything,” she said.
Today Mary is 23 years old. She finally returned to school full time when she was 19, graduated and chose pursue her studies at the Cégep de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue in Val D’Or. She says that she really loves the program she has chosen in school. “My life is really, really good! It’s a lot better than it was. I support myself; I now also have a daughter and a boyfriend,” she said.
When asked what kind of advice she would like to pass on to other teens Mary said, “I would tell those girls to be careful and to really think things through. I decided to keep the kid because I wanted to prove to everybody else that I was responsible enough to take care of myself and that I would not need paid families from social services anymore. But, it was the wrong decision I guess because I went through a lot of shit. I don’t regret it, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”