Let's Talk About Teen Parenthood: A Harlot Interview with Jeniffer Zimmerman
Today is Mother’s Day, a day where, those of us who choose to, can revere our mothers and celebrate all of the hard work they put into turning us into well-adjusted people. And in the name of celebration, I thought I would take the opportunity to highlight a population of moms who no doubt have a lot more hurdles to get over when it comes to parenthood: teen moms.
When we discuss teen parenthood, we often talk about it in terms of numbers and statistics (which I’m not going to do here), but we rarely talk about the people behind those numbers. So, for this Mother’s Day, I want to share the story of a former teen mom. Jeniffer Zimmerman and I ‘met’ in the comments section of a Bitch Media article about teen parenthood and she was kind enough to chat with me about her experience with teenage motherhood. Here is what we discussed:
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your life right now
I'm currently living in Tucson, AZ and am 47 years old. My son Brian just turned 30, and my son Treven is 24. I am a mental health therapist in private practice. I am also the founder of All Bodies Rise Yoga, which is a community of yoga teachers dedicated to creating inclusive yoga spaces. Our yoga classes are focused on mental wellness, social justice, and body positivity.
How old were you when you became pregnant?
I was pregnant with Brian when I was 16, and pregnant with Treven when I was 23.
How did you find out you were pregnant?
I was a sophomore in high school when I missed my period and was showing all the signs of being pregnant (nausea, tender breasts, late period), but was still in denial. My best friend and her boyfriend drove me to the local Planned Parenthood, and that is where I found out I was definitely pregnant. I was in shock, but the nurse was super kind and helped me understand my options.
What were your initial thoughts? Feelings?
I was in love with my boyfriend and wanted to have my baby. I knew that a lot of people were going to disagree with my decision, but I didn't care.
Who did you tell first? What was their reaction?
Obviously, I told my best friend first because she was with me. She was awesome (yay for best friends)! Then I called my boyfriend and told him. He asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to keep our baby. He was supportive and said that no matter what happened between us, he wanted to be a good dad. Then I told my father and asked him to tell my mother (I was more afraid of her reaction than his). And then I just avoided my parents for a couple of weeks. I was already living with my boyfriend so that wasn't too hard to do.
What made you decide to parent?
I don't know the answer to this question, other than to say it was just what I wanted to do. I was a rebellious teenager, and I just did what I wanted. Sometimes that got me into trouble, but I just thought that this is my life and I want to have this baby.
How did people react to your choice? How did they treat you?
Honestly, nobody was surprised that I was pregnant except me. I was often in trouble at school and was already not living at home. I had been suspended from school numerous times and eventually dropped out altogether. After I got pregnant, I decided to go back to school because I wanted my baby to be proud of me.
Most of my peers were really rude to me, and I felt isolated at school. My boyfriend came to have lunch with me every day because I had nobody to eat with. The teachers were awful to me. I remember one teacher refusing to let me use the bathroom during class, and so I told him: "Eff off! I'm six months pregnant!" He sent me to the principal, who suspended me for two days! I was so angry that I decided to drop out again. I didn't feel like any of the teachers were trying to help me graduate!
But my parents were supportive after their initial shock faded. And a year later my high school counselor reached out and invited me to a program called Youth On Their Own, so I eventually did go back and graduated high school when my son was two. And after Brian was born everyone just fell in love with him. He was the cutest baby ever.
One memory of my first pregnancy that stands out in my mind is the first time someone said "congratulations." I was seven months pregnant, and it came from a stranger. Nobody else had congratulated me, and I think back on that as striking. I also remember the nurses in the hospital being really judgmental towards me when I gave birth. Adults can be such assholes.
How did your feelings change about being a teen mom as your pregnancy progressed?
I don't remember my feelings changing about being a mom, but I was surprised at how much my body changed. I was already going through puberty, so pregnancy on top of that was confusing. And my moods were all over the place. My body felt like a foreign object.
How did your healthcare providers treat you throughout your pregnancy? Labor and delivery?
Like I mentioned earlier, the nurses were rude. They treated me like I had done something wrong. But I was pretty thick skinned to it and thought there were all stupid. The only health professionals that I remember who were kind to me were at Planned Parenthood.
What resources or support systems did you have available to you? If any.
Youth On Their Own is a program in Tucson that helps homeless teens. I wasn't technically homeless, but I wasn't living with my parents, so I qualified for some assistance. My counselor encouraged me to start my high school's first peer-led teen parent program and then gave me a scholarship for my first semester at a community college after I graduated. My parents were often available to babysit, and my boyfriend married me and financially supported us even though we were pretty poor. We were on food stamps, WIC, and had state assistance for child care and health insurance.
Tell us a little bit about your life as a teen mom, what would you want our readers to know about your experience?
I finished high school (it took me six years) and went on to a community college, which I enjoyed much more than high school. People there treated me like an adult, and nobody cared that I was a parent. I eventually went on to start a bachelors program in Sociology. During that time had my second son, (who was also the cutest baby ever), and got a divorce. Being a single mom with two children was difficult, but doable. I finished my bachelors (also took me six years) and went on to become a social worker. My parents were very supportive during this time, even though I was living in a different city. When my children got older, I went back for my masters in Counseling Psychology.
What do you wish would change about the way we view teen pregnancy/teen mothers?
I wish people would realize that supporting teen parents and investing in their future is the best plan.
What advice would you give to a teen who just found out she is pregnant?
I would say it's your body and your life. If you want to have an abortion, have an abortion. If you want to have a baby, have a baby. If you want to keep your baby, or place it for adoption, do what you think is best. Don't let anyone shame you or make you feel powerless. Find a community of people who are supportive and cut negative energy out of your life.
One more thing that I would tell teen moms from my own experience is to (if you do decide to parent) become the kind of person that your children will be proud of. There is no better feeling in the world than when your kids are proud of you. Be the best you that you can be for them.
If you could change anything about your experience, what would it be?
Not a thing.
Interested in sharing your story, research, creative project or other work with Harlot? Send us an email, we'd love to chat with you about featuring you on the site!