Though teen pregnancy is challenging, there is hope
The following article is the last in an eight-part series produced by The Beacon on teen issues. Called “Turn Up The Volume,” the series aims to educate our readers while offering information – and hope – to those needing help. – Ed.
Where would you turn to if you were a homeless teen, and not only homeless but pregnant, too?
For a local mom, Housing Hope of Everett has offered a stable place to live and raise her two young daughters for the past four years.
Through Housing Hope’s Teen and Young Families program, 22-year-old Jamie Wiggins was able to find stability after years of uncertainty.
Wiggins moved to Snohomish County from North Carolina when she was 15 and pregnant.
“My mom sent me out here to get an abortion,” she said, “but I refused.”
Wiggins had a baby boy and gave him up for adoption. She said it wasn’t an option to return home, as being “young and pregnant is frowned upon.”
Wiggins stayed in the area and did the best she could to find friends to stay with.
She began dating, and eventually became pregnant with her boyfriend’s child when she was 18.
They couch-surfed together and continued to do so through her pregnancy, all while reaching out to local agencies for help.
“It just wasn’t going anywhere,” Wiggins said.
When their daughter was about 3 months old, they were moved up on a waitlist for shelter because they were becoming critically homeless.
“It wasn’t about sleeping on people’s couches anymore,” Wiggins said. “We were literally going to be homeless.”
After a temporary stay in a shelter, Wiggins and her family moved into a two-bedroom apartment at Housing Hope’s New Century Village, which provides low-income housing to 24 teen and young families.
Housing Hope case manager Tami Krell has worked with Wiggins for the past two years, and said the goal of the program is to help young parents become self-sufficient.
According to KidsCount.org, there were about 650 teen pregnancies for those between the ages of 15 to 19 years old in 2012 in Snohomish County, or roughly 29 births per 1,000 teens.
While not all teen moms may be experiencing homelessness, for those who are it can be a challenge to find support and become self-sufficient.
Krell said Wiggins is on her way.
“I always knew from the jump that I was going to do something big with my life,” Wiggins said. “I just needed that little bit of help. I just wanted someone to believe in me and hear me, and I finally found that with Tami.
“It’s pretty cool, actually.”
Although it was rough for Wiggins at first, and there have been ups and downs through the past several years, she said Krell has been there for her.
Wiggins now works five days a week at Housing Hope’s child care center, Tomorrow’s Hope.
The center serves low-income and homeless children in Snohomish County, and Wiggins works in the toddler room.
She’s been there six months, and said though some days can be difficult, she wouldn’t change it.
“I can relate to them,” Wiggins said. “I can get on their level, and I can feel that pain with them. I feel like they feel it as I have been through that. I can be a voice for them and to them.”
Wiggins and her family will be moving out of the Housing Hope apartment soon, and she would like to pursue a degree in early childhood education, with the goal of becoming a lead teacher at the center.
“I want to continue to work with the children that need us the most,” she said.
Krell said Housing Hope has worked with hundreds of teen parents over the years. It has about an 80 percent success rate for helping them achieve self-sufficiency, which includes achieving education goals and securing employment.
Those served by Housing Hope are required to attend its College of Hope onsite classes, which cover topics like parenting, budgeting, employment and job skills, healthy relationships, cooking and home maintenance.
What about the fathers?
Most research and many social service programs have focused more on teen mothers than fathers in the past, but Housing Hope considers the whole family in its program.
About one-third of the teen and young families served by Housing Hope includes fathers.
Through its College of Hope, young dads can participate in a class called “Daddy and Me,” which focuses on issues facing teen and young fathers.
“The dads have a chance to get together and talk without the moms,” Krell said, “and that’s been successful.”
The class helps young dads think about how they were raised, what their fathers were like and how they would like to be as fathers.
Krell said while she does think teen dads get a bit of a break when it comes to dealing with commonly held beliefs about teen pregnancy and the focus on the mother, they are still affected.
“The perceptions and stigmas (of teen pregnancy) weigh a lot more on the moms than the dads, although the reality is they’re right in the thick of it, just like the moms,” she said.
It can be a different challenge for the dads, she said, as they feel responsible for providing for their family.
“They probably carry a lot heavier weight, sometimes,” Krell said.
Housing Hope tries to keep families together, but it also welcomes single dads.
Housing Hope is at 5830 Evergreen Way, Everett. The Teen and Young Families program serves homeless teen parents who are 16 to 19 years old and homeless young parents who are between the ages of 20 and 24.
For more information, visit www.housinghope.org. If you are pregnant and homeless and in need of immediate housing assistance, call 211.
I’m pregnant. Now what?
If you're pregnant, you have three options – abortion, adoption and parenting.
Abortion is a legal and safe procedure that ends a pregnancy.
People have many different feelings after an abortion: relief, grief, sadness, happiness or all of these at once. There is no “right” way to feel. Abortion does not cause long-term depression or mental health problems.
Many teens want to talk with their parents before having an abortion.
Some states require you to tell a parent if you’re having an abortion (if you’re under 18), and others don’t.
Washington state does not require a minor to have a parent’s permission to obtain an abortion, pregnancy tests, birth control methods or tests for sexually transmitted infections.
It is also not necessary to inform your parent before or after a procedure.
Some women choose to let another family raise their baby. Many women who choose this option feel happy knowing that their child will live in a good, loving home.
But others find that the loss and sadness is deeper and longer lasting than they expected.
Adoption laws are different in every state, so if you choose this option it’s a good idea to do some research and talk with someone at an adoption agency.
Find out what rights a birth father has in your state – the law may say that he needs to agree to the adoption, too.
Washington state requires the consent of the adoptee, if 14 years old or older, and the alleged father.
Being a parent can be a wonderful experience. A child can bring joy into people's lives. But being a teen parent is often difficult.
Some teens have to drop out of school and change their career plans in order to raise a child.
Spending time with a child becomes more important than going out with friends and having fun. Some teens get help from parents and family, and some don’t. Raising a child without a partner can be even more of a challenge – many teen couples who have a baby don’t end up staying together.
How do I tell my parents?
Sometimes parents are shocked or angry, and sometimes they're understanding. There is really no way to know how your parents will feel unless you talk with them about it.
It might help to find a time when no one is distracted – ask them when is a good time to talk.
Most people worry their parents will freak out, but that’s not always what happens.
If you can, try to be open, honest, and remind your parents that you trust them and need their help.
Your parents also might respond openly and honestly, without getting mad. If your parents do get upset, they may just need some time to calm down.
Even though it probably feels scary, talking with your parents can really help. They can go over your options with you, and make sure you get proper medical care.
Information from www.plannedparenthood.org, www.fwhc.org and www.dshs.wa.gov.