When I was just 15 years old, I gave birth to my son. I was frightened, and perhaps a little ashamed of actions which I perceived as letting my parents down. I was not ashamed of having become pregnant, nor was I horrified at the prospect of being an unwed mother in the 1980’s. Motherhood is a blessing, whether one is wed, or “unwed”. The truth of the issue isn’t about marriage. It’s about timing. Isn’t the greater question whether a woman is mature enough to raise a child?
Recently, political pundit and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee made comments concerning Natalie Portman’s pregnancy, stating that she is glamorizing the state of unwed motherhood. I am less than concerned for whether an adult woman has made the decision to begin her family than I am the misconceived notion that marriage has anything to do with it.
As a pregnant teenager in 1984-85, I was part of that mass statistic of knocked up high school students in America. The horror of this situation was plastered all over the news. It was considered, at the time, a national epidemic. Alternative schools were popping up all over the country, and I chose to attend The Thalia Center for Pregnant Teens in Virginia Beach during my pregnancy. I received one-on-one instruction in many of my classes, because despite the national crisis, I was one of perhaps 25 students who attended the school while I was there. I learned some valuable lessons in the art of being human in addition to Algebra, Journalism and English.
One fine morning, prior to classes starting for the day, I was rather excited about the crib and changing table my mother had purchased for my son’s nursery the previous day. White, Jenny Lind, with linens covered with clowns and balloons in bright, primary colors. I couldn’t wait to change the guest room of my parent’s house into the perfect nursery. Mom was pretty excited, too.
My Algebra teacher took me aside the next day. She stated as plainly as she could that several of the other students were highly offended by my statements. This amazing woman, who dealt not only with the normal, everyday stresses of being a teacher but also the trials of teaching very young, would-be moms who were still children themselves, had to explain to me that most of the other girls in the school were decorating cardboard boxes for their newborns. Some of them were living with friends or family because their mothers had kicked them out of their houses. None of them would redecorate a spare room in their parents’ home to create a bona-fide nursery.
At the time, I didn’t know what to say. I had no idea that such a world existed. I remember crying on my mother’s shoulder when I told her about it. She confirmed what my teacher had told me; that not all teenage moms had it quite as lucky as I did.
The fact that I was unwed had absolutely nothing to do with whether my road was difficult, or more difficult. More notable? The fact that those other girls were not married had nothing to do with whether they could afford a crib.
Mike Huckabee’s comments about glamour, and the possibility that women will see Natalie Portman as a role model is absurd. He is intimating that if a woman is married before she has a child that she will be miraculously in a position to better care for said child without the need for state assistance. There are many, many families on state assistance, with two married parents. A woman who is not in a position to provide for a child does not miraculously become wealthy, or even stable, because she is married. If we’re going to talk stereotypes, then let’s go for broke. A woman who would choose to emulate Natalie Portman by dating a man for a couple of years and then “allowing” herself to become pregnant, or worse, choosing to become pregnant, is probably not dating a wealthy, well-established man of means. Marrying him would not change this. If this hypothetical woman was dating a wealthy man with whom she has a long-term, committed relationship, like Natalie Portman, the issue is irrelevant.
On the other hand, if a woman who has completed her education, has a steady, decent job (or even a really good job) who finds herself pregnant or chooses to have a child is not going to suddenly require the precious resources of Mike Huckabee’s America to pay for her health care or food simply because she is not married.
My case is a prime example. After I married when my son was two years old, and we had expanded our family every three or so years to include three children, I discovered what it was like to not provide for a baby. My last child was conceived two months prior to the loss of my job, and my husband lost his job when she was only two weeks old. Our traditional, nuclear family, with all of our “morals” and a registered, licensed marriage between the parents, received WIC because we could not afford to buy formula for our newborn.
My question is, who, exactly, does Mike Huckabee believe Natalie Portman is going to influence? I am far more concerned about the Bristol Palin’s of the world; teen moms who are able to “glamorize” their pregnancies and children on reality TV shows, like Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant (MTV), Dancing with the Stars (ABC), or worse… charging exorbitant speaking fees to talk about how becoming a mother has been a huge mistake from which other young girls should learn.
Natalie Portman, is, in fact, getting married. She has no desire, that I can see, of becoming a “spokesmom” for single parenting. Not so for republican heroine, Bristol, who did not get married and has supported her child in a very lavish lifestyle with “spokesmom” dollars.
In the end, there are greater concerns about the age when a woman becomes a mother. Becoming a mother at a very young age is not glamorous. It is not healthy for either the girl or her child. It is stressful, as is any pregnancy, and taxes one’s emotional, mental and physical well-being.
My philosophy has not changed since I was a scared kid in 1985. I understand that marriage does not make a family. Marriage doesn’t even make babies. The true problem isn’t whether a girl is married or not. The true problem is whether that girl is a woman, at all.
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