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Maclean's magazine

"Babies are the new handbag"

Teen pregnancy may be all the rage, but two Calgary teens tell what it's really like to be an underage mom.

Maclean's, by Kate Lunau, Jan 17, 2008

Ever since December when 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears announced her pregnancy to the world, it's been impossible to escape her. She's now one of several young celebrities-from Jessica Alba, to Nicole Richie, to Lily Allen-  whose "baby bump" is under permanent tabloid scrutiny. Witness also the recent success of Juno, a film that tells the story of a knocked-up teen. To cap it all off, the teenage birth rate's up in both the US and the UK for the first time in a decade-making teen pregnancy a hot topic, as is explored in the current issue of Maclean's.

Nicole Fischer, 17, and Kayla Clark, 18, both got pregnant at age 16 (Fischer gave birth to son Cristian in August. And Clark's baby, William, will be two years old in April). Although over 50 per cent of teen pregnancies in Canada currently end in abortion, both Fischer and Clark opted to keep their babies. They're now students at Louise Dean Centre. The Calgary high school is one of the few across Canada exclusively for pregnant teens and young moms aged 14 to 20.

Here, Fischer and Clark tell Macleans.ca what it's really like being a teenage mom.

Macleans.ca: Talk about when you found out you were pregnant.

Nicole Fischer: I was the perfect child in my family. And the first time I ever had sex, I ended up being pregnant. It wasn't something I wanted to do, and I wasn't going to keep him. I've been with his dad for three years, and he wanted me to keep it the whole time. For me it was harder, because I wanted to go to college, I wanted to be successful, [before] having a baby. When I found out about [Louise Dean], I knew I could graduate and actually do something with my life. So we decided that we'd keep him.

It was the hardest decision I've ever made. I was 16, and I was really really involved with my friends. That's basically all I was worried about. I was totally concerned about my friends all the time; I didn't really talk to my family. I knew that the second everyone found out I was pregnant, people would think of me differently. My family would think of me differently. That's probably the longest period of time I've ever cried in my life.

Kayla Clark: I took two home pregnancy tests, and they came back negative. Then I went to the hospital because I was having really bad pains. And they did a pregnancy test, and it was negative. So a week later, I went to my family doctor, and he did a pregnancy test and it was negative. He sent me for an ultrasound, to see what was causing my pains. [That's when] I found out I was pregnant.

The first thing that went through my head was, "This has to be a mistake."  There was no way I could be pregnant, after multiple pregnancy tests all being negative. I thought, "I have no idea what I'm going to do." I'm alone-I broke up with the father. I had no one, and I didn't know what my parents would do. Finding out I was pregnant was one of the hardest things, because me and my dad were best friends. And when I told him I was pregnant, his heart broke. He didn't even talk to me for a week; every time I came into the room, he'd just leave. He couldn't stand to be around me.

M: Did you seriously consider abortion or adoption as options?

KC: My mom looked into abortion at first for me. But because I found out in an ultrasound, the first thing they did was show me the baby's heartbeat. And right then, I knew I couldn't get rid of him. I knew it would be too hard. I made a pros and a cons list, and the cons side was huge-how to go to school, raising him by yourself, no housing, no support,  everything. But the pros were I'm having a baby, I'm bringing somebody into the world. Somebody that I should be able to take care of.

NF: I would never be able to put up my kid for adoption. My brother's adopted [out of my family], and it kills me. I would never be able to do that. And abortion is almost as hard as going through the pregnancy. Now that I have him, I see [abortion] as the easy way out.

M: Has having a baby been different than what you expected?

KC: While I was pregnant, I lived with my parents. They weren't supportive at the beginning, but as it got closer and closer to the time I was going to have him, my mom came around. It took my dad until he was born to come around. My parents really helped me with buying the crib, buying clothes, the car seat, and all that. The school was helpful too. If I needed stuff, the social workers there were always looking, keeping an eye out. Teachers would bring in donations from their house.

When I was pregnant, my dad told me that if I kept the baby, I would have to move out. It really got my butt in gear to find a place. I have two little twin brothers, they were 15 when I was pregnant. So it was really hard, because they wanted all the attention. They couldn't have another baby in the house. Now I live in subsidized housing. It's a lot more work being on your own.

It's definitely harder [than I expected]. And the older William gets, the harder it gets. Everyone told me, when they get older it gets easier. But it doesn't. When he was little, he would sit there-he slept, and he ate, and that was it. It was simple, and it was easy. Now, he's running around and getting into everything. He's tall enough that he can get into drawers where there's things he shouldn't be touching. When you go over to someone's house who doesn't have a child, you have to be even more on guard because he can get into things that aren't childproof.

NF: I've only kept a few of my friends, because they're out all the time. It's different; they don't understand what I'm going through. It's hard, but it's worth it-that's what I think. I knew getting into this, it was not going to be easy and that it would change me.

I have a really sick baby. He's been sick since he was born. I got in a car accident when I was pregnant and my placenta ruptured. So I had to have him early at 36 weeks, and his lungs weren't finished developing. He was tiny [when he was born]. He was in [the hospital] for a couple of weeks with a breathing mask, a hood over him, IVs in his head and bellybutton. And he has kidney reflux, which is his urine flushes up into his kidneys, so he's basically getting kidney stones. And he got croup a couple days after Christmas. He seems to be doing ok now. Other than the kidney reflux and the cough, he's healthy.

M: Some people say teen pregnancy is more accepted today than it was years ago. Do you think there's still a stigma out there against pregnant teens?

NF: When you go to the hospital and you're young, it's not easy at all. They look down on you, they don't think you know what you're doing. They think you're irresponsible, they think that they should parent you. I think there's a really big stigma around it. But now there are a lot of teens getting pregnant, and a lot of teens think it's easy [to have a baby]. And it's really not. You can still be a kid [yourself] sometimes, but it's a whole different level. You have to be mature; you have to change your life completely around. Before, I was drinking, having fun, not caring-I can't do that anyRead More ..I have a son to worry about.

KC: I don't think [teen pregnancy] is as taboo. Parents, and society, are more accepting of the fact that young people are having children. Some older people will ask me, "Why now? Why wouldn't you let someone adopt your baby?" It's hard, because you want to explain to them why you couldn't. But at the same time, the way they were brought up, [they were taught] it was wrong to have sex before you were married. So I can understand where they're coming from. You get your licks from them, and you get your licks from teenagers-they say, "Wow. She must be easy. She had sex, and didn't use protection." But it's not like that. I was on two forms of birth control, and I still got pregnant.

M: With all the images of pregnant celebrities in the media, do you think that impacts teens and the way they see having a baby?

KC: I think it's huge. Angelina Jolie, or JLo-they're all seeming to get pregnant now, and it's turning into a fad. The younger generation thinks everyone's having babies, and they don't realize it's not just the nine months that you're pregnant. It's forever. Before I got pregnant, I babysat all the time and I thought it was the greatest thing, spending time with little kids. And then having my own, I can't just give him away when I'm frustrated with him. He's here, until forever. He'll never be away from me, even when he's 30 years old. He'll still have contact with me, and I'll still have to deal with him. If he needs something, I'm still his parent-I still have to help.

NF: Jamie Lynn Spears has a kids' show, and there are kids that look up to her. My sister-in-law is 13 years old, and she watches that show every day. She looks up to her. I'm her sister-in-law and I've had a baby; what does that tell her? To me, it makes it seem like they're trying to make it look like it's ok. But it's not easy. A star getting pregnant is not the same as an average person. You have to work for your money, and go to school, and do everything that you can. It's not the same, I don't think. To be honest, it makes me kind of angry to see kids get pregnant. With teens, having a baby is like the new handbag now. People don't understand, it's not something you can just buy out of the store. It's not something easy.

M: What's next for you?

KC: I start at [the University of] Lethbridge in September. My major is exercise science-it's kinesiology. I want to do sports medicine.

NF: I want to be a legal assistant. I wanted to be a lawyer, but I want to spend time with Cristian. [My school] put me in a workshop, and they're going to help me explore my options and get me ready for it. I'm doing work experience with a lawyer next year. I don't want to make it seem like I think teens [who get pregnant] are doing the wrong thing. But I think if you do get pregnant, you should go to school and do something with your life. If you have a baby, it's not the end of the world, and you have to make the best decision for your kid. Don't let it stop your dreams-just keep pursuing them.