Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Babies Having Babies: Now A Generational Problem

While I was reading this Iowa story about the 29-year-old grandmother, I wanted to tear my hair out in clumps:
Quad-City area teenagers are still having babies. But the good news is that fewer teens are doing so across the region — and in Iowa, Illinois and the United States as a whole — than 10 years ago.

Some say the teens who are having babies seem to be getting younger and younger, including a few junior high or middle school students, but the most recent state health department

statistics available do not closely track the ages of teen parents.

What the statistics do show is an overall decline in births among people younger than 20 years since about 1995.

And then there are stories such as Celia’s.

She sits clad in pink Eeyore pajamas, flipping through channels from her hospital bed.

The room is dark and quiet, just right for sleeping. But Celia Magee is wide-awake. She can’t stop looking down at the tiny boy cradled in her left arm.

“I don’t know even what color his eyes are yet,” she says. “He never opens his eyes.”

Russell Eugene is 1 day old.

His mother is 15.

She fidgets with a bottle of milk as she talks.

She can’t wait to get back into her old clothes. When will the baby weight go away?

And shopping. She loves to shop. She can’t believe her son already has more new clothes than she does.

Then, sitting up straighter in bed, she asks, “When do you think I can play basketball again? I want to go out for the team at school.”

She can’t yet imagine the sleepless nights, the responsibility.

Until a few days ago, Celia’s bedroom was the biggest in the house.

And she didn’t have to share it with anyone.

The big bed, the colorful comforter set, the fluffy pillows: She loved it all.

But the teen especially loved the sense of family, and the tranquility, that came with it.

For six months, Celia lived at the new Brighter Futures Maternity Home, which operates from a house in Davenport.

She had to find somewhere to live because her mother was so angry, she says.

And it turned out to be a good choice. The house parents and volunteers treated her like family. She still talks to them almost every day now that she has moved out.

Celia, who moved in when she was three months pregnant, was the first to finish the program and have her baby while living in the home.

“That was a special bond,” said Tammy Ryan, a member of the home’s board of directors and the resident child birth assistant and educator. “I got to know a lot about her.”

Celia’s mother, Leticia Magee, always warned her to never get pregnant. It would complicate things, she said.

Leticia is a grandmother at 29. She was 13 — a seventh-grader — and living in Chicago when she gave birth to her oldest child.

She lived with her grandmother and named the baby after her: Celia.

“I was determined to finish high school, but college wasn’t for me,” she said. “I was 20 when I had my next child.”

Now she has four: Celia; 9-year-old Romeo Johnson, 4-year-old Ramone Johnson and 1-year-old Romello Johnson.

She always urged Celia to tell her if she was having sex so she could arrange birth control for her.

But when Celia did tell her, it was too late. They found out during a doctor’s appointment that she was already pregnant.

“I cried,” Leticia said. “I was upset.”

Celia said she could not believe it, either.

She and Russell’s dad are not together. They are more like friends, she said.

Celia has known her own father, who lives in Chicago, only since she was 10.

She and Russell are living with her mother and three little brothers in the Lincoln Homes complex in Rock Island, where the family moved five years ago.

They left Chicago after Leticia heard about a friend moving to the Quad-Cities and how much low-income housing was available.

She wants to open a beauty shop, but for now she stays home with her youngest sons and new grandson.

Back at home with her mother and brothers, Celia — wearing pajamas and a do-rag that covers her hair — holds the baby. Her tank top shows off two black tattoos on her arms.

One, which winds down her forearm, reads “Tish,” her mom’s nickname. Another, below her shoulder, reads “Manica Magee,” which is the teen’s rap name.

Leticia told the girl she could get inked if she kept her grades up. They went to Chicago to get it done.

“She earned them,” Leticia said, nodding her head.

Celia writes rap songs in her spare time, but she does not foresee making a living by doing that.

“I want to do computers,” she said, or maybe health occupations.

Leticia wanted Celia “to have more out of life” than becoming a teenage parent.

“But anything can happen,” she said. “I want her to go to college.”

Her mother admits that sometimes she is “too much of a friend than a parent” to her daughter, who turned 16 on Oct. 18.

“Everybody’s gotta make their own decisions and your own choices, too,” Leticia said. “But she’s cool. She’s gonna be all right.”

Celia was supposed to return to Rock Island High School six weeks after having the baby Sept. 26.

But she and her mother say there was a mix-up with the credits she earned from the Kimberly Center in the Davenport School District while staying at the maternity home.

Celia finally returned to school Nov. 13, but not at Rocky. Now, she’s going to the district’s Thurgood Marshall alternative school, which offers “credit recovery,” she said.

By the end of the school year, she should qualify to start back in August as a junior at Rocky, she said. She is taking basic courses such as math, health, English and physical education.

And she’s dog-tired most days.

Russell — almost 2 months old now, wide-eyed and alert — does not sleep much at night.

“He got his days mixed up,” she said, gently rubbing Vaseline on his little face. “He sleeps all day. I try to switch him around, but he won’t.”

The baby has cradle cap on his scalp, too, she says. Her mother tells her not to worry: The baby will grow out of it.

So she tries to focus on school, but mostly she thinks about gym class.

“You can leave early, but I stay,” she said. “I play basketball.”

The hoops are unlike the ones near her apartment where people hang on the metal rims and bend them. At school, they’re just right.

She can’t wait to get back.
It's hard to know where to begin with this one. I feel so sorry for the kids who have to operate under such intolerable circumstances.

What's happened to our urban culture when so many young women don't seem to see that there is a problem with having children with multiple men? And what can be done to remedy the situation?

Worse, the so-called "fathers" who produce these children often give little, or no, financial support for their offspring.

But what must surely be the worst of all is that these "fathers" very rarely bother to invest any of their time with the kids. Consequently, these youngsters have few, if any, positive male role-models in their home lives, not to mention the structure that in-the-home dads usually provide for their children.

And for the sake of my own peace of mind, I'm not even going to delve into the sad fact that so many people who don't seem to be able to earn enough money to support themselves and their kids all-too-often seem to have enough cash on hand to pay for tattoos and other alleged body art.

And yes, according to the federally-imposed No Child Left Behind Act, the schools are solely responsible for ensuring that the children of such "parents" attain grade-level proficiency in reading, math, and science.

Labels: ,