published Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Baumgardner: 14 and pregnant: Lessons learned by a single mom

By Julie Baumgardner

Latisha Simmons was 14 and pregnant.

She actually kept her pregnancy a secret until the morning she went into labor; even then, she told her mother her stomach hurt and she needed to go to the hospital.

"I was 15 when my daughter was born," says Simmons. "My world was turned upside down. I was going to be a freshman at Howard High School. It was difficult going to school pregnant. Nobody knew what was going on. At that time it was not cool to be 14 and pregnant."

Simmons knew the odds were stacked against her. People talked about girls getting pregnant, dropping out of high school and living in poverty.

"Teen pregnancy went back generations in my family," says Simmons. "I was determined that I would graduate from high school and find a way to raise my child. I woke up every morning and got myself and my daughter ready. There were many days I went to school having had very little sleep."

Simmons says she doesn't know anything that has been harder in her life than being pregnant as a teen and raising a child.

"I was a child having a child," says Simmons. "I was clueless about what it meant to be a mother. My word was turned upside down when my daughter arrived. My mom was very supportive of me, but she told me it was my responsibility to raise my child. She would not babysit so that I could go to a party or basketball game."

Simmons started working at 16 and hasn't quit. She graduated from high school and worked at Wheland Foundry.

"My main goal was to take care of my daughter," says Simmons. "The foundry work was backbreaking. I knew I needed to find something different. Eventually, I started going to college part-time."

Today, Simmons has a master's degree in social work and her daughter has graduated from college.

"My goal was for my daughter not to walk the same road as me," says Simmons. "She would probably tell you I talked with her too much about sex. Today I can tell you, she broke the cycle."

Simmons says she is thankful that her mom made her take responsibility for her child. The sleepless nights and endless work made her know she did not want to go through that again with another child as a single parent.

May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. While the nation's teen pregnancy and birth rates are at historic lows, progress has been uneven. It is still the case that nearly three in 10 girls in the U.S. get pregnant by age 20. Interestingly, about four in 10 teens (39 percent) say they have never thought about what their life would be like if they were to get pregnant or cause a pregnancy.

While Hamilton County has experienced a significant decrease in teen pregnancies since 1997, there were still 120 teen pregnancies in 2012. Believe it or not, parents play a huge role in preventing teen pregnancy. The best way to prevent teen pregnancy is for parents to talk with and educate their children. Share your values and expectations when it comes to relationships, dating and sex. Your teens are listening.

Julie Baumgardner is the president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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