Article "She Got Pregnant on Purpose". Like many teen moms, Sheena, 17, thought having a baby would make her life happy. But now she's struggling just to make it though each day. By Ginger Rue
Growing up in Fayette, Alabama, Sheena and her older sister, Jennifer, never stayed in one place for long. When Sheena was 5, her parents split, and then her mom, a drug addict, was sent to jail. So over the next 10 years, Sheena and Jennifer were constantly shuffled among their relatives' homes.
In Sept. 2003, Sheena, 15, was staying with her mom, who'd recently gotten out of jail again, when jennifer's friend Joseph stopped by. Joseph, 19, couldn't keep a steady job, and his mom had kicked him out, so Sheena's mother said that he would stay on their couch. At first, Sheena thought Joseph was cute, and they even hooked up. But she didn't think it would get serious, because steady relationships had never really been a part of her life. So when Joseph said he wanted to be her boyfriend, Sheena didn't believe him -- until he sent her roses one day that October. Since no one had ever done anything that sweet for her, it made Sheena cry. "I thought, This guy's going to treat me like I'm special," she says.
Sheena and Joseph offically began dating, and she became increasingly impressed by the kind of commitment he showed for the people in his life -- especially to his 4-month-old son from a previous relationship."He fed him and held him all the time," she says.
But Sheena's grandmother, Betty Aldridge, wasen't sure that Joseph was good for Sheena. He still hadn't found a job, and she worried that Sheena would follow in her sster's footsteps (she'd gotten pregnant by her out-out-work boyfriend and now has to work as a cashier to support her baby). Sheena was doing well in cosmetology class, and Mrs. Aldridge hoped Sheena would finsih school and get a well-paying job. "You see how hard life is for Jennifer?" Mirs. Aldridge asked Sheena that fall. "You can't let that happen." Sheena replied, "I promise I won't get pregnant."
A few months later, around January 2004, Sheena's mom let Joseph start sleeping in Sheena's room. Sheena went on the Pill, but it made her sick to her stomach, so she quit taking it and they started using condoms.
That March, everyone was having trouble paying their bills, so Sheena, her mother, and Joseph moved into a trailer with Jennifer, her boyfriend, and their six-month-old baby, Dante. Sheena had to babysit Dante while Jennifer worked, but she didn't mind -- knowing that Dante relied on her made Sheena feel needed in a way she'd never felt before. In Fact, she started thinking about maybe breaking her promise to her grandmother. "I wanted my own baby I could care about -- and who would care about me," she explains.
One night that summer, Sheena turned to Joseph and said, "I think I want a baby." He hugged her. "That's fine with me," he said. "but can we afford it?" she asked. "We'll figure that out when it happens," Joesph replied. Soon after, Sheena was babysitting Dante when he babbled "Mama!" to her. Sheena knew it was just because he saw her more than Jennifer, but she felt so loved. And right then she decided she definitely wanted a baby. So about a week later, when Sheena thought she was ovulating, she and Joseph purposely had unprotected sex.
In September, Sheen called her grandmother. "I have to tell you something," she said. "I'm pregnant." Her grandmother exploded: "Now you'll never finish school! How could you?!" Sheena started to cry. "You don't have to be so mean," she said -- and hung up.
Oh February 13, 2005, Sheena, then 16, have birth to a baby boy, Dakota. Sheena says she "can't imagine life without him, ""but she admits that having a baby is a lot tougher than she ever expected. Although she's babysat her nephew since he was born, she had no idea how much diapers and clothes cost. Joseph now works at a golf course, but he only make $7 an hour -- not enough to support them. And as her grandmother has fear, Sheena had to drop out of school to care for her son and nephew, so now she has little hope of getting a well-paying job someday. She and Joseph survive by moving between her sister's and friends' homes, relying on them for food. Sheena knows that moving around wasen't good for her -- but she's already in the same cycle with Dakota.
Sheena's not alone: A lot of her friends and young relatives are moms too. "Sometimes I think we are just put on this Earth to have kids," she explains. And that's how many teens who intentionally get pregnant feel -- like it's the only way to fufill their potential. but that usually ends up backfiring: "I just didn't realize how hard it was going to be until after I had him," Sheena says. "I don't get anything -- all our money goes to the baby." And that means making a stable home for her family remains a far-off dream. "I just want us to have our own place -- a place where when somebody gets mad at me, they won't tell me I have to leave."
TEENAGERS WHO WANT A BABY
Since 1990, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate dropped 28% -- but the number of planned pregnancies has stayed the same.
WHY: "Everybody needs somebody who's crazy about them, and a lot of girls still think that having a baby will provide that," says Clay Yeagerm CEO of Nurse-Family Partnership "But the sad truth is -- being a teen parent is an uphill battle."
59% of teen moms never finish high school.
Almost 50% end up on welfare.
If you're pregnant but aren't sure how to take care of your baby, contact:
Nurses give free checkups and parenting advise from the time you're pregnant until your baby turns 2 years old. There are 92 non-profit NFP programs in the U.S. To find one near you, call 866-864-5225 or go to nursefamilypartnership.com
There are 2 pictures on this page. On of baby Dakota, Sheena and Joseph and one of Joseph and Sheena alone with the caption "BEFORE THE BABY Sheena and Joseph, outside the trailer where her grandmother lives."