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People Top 5
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- October 24, 1994
- Vol. 42
- No. 17
The Baby Trap: Special Report
PEOPLE Captures a Day in the Lives of Teens Faced with One of America's Most Urgent Problems—Teenage Pregnancy
And now Becky, along with more than 500,000 teenagers who give birth each year, may struggle just to finish high school, struggle to hold down her $4.30-an-hour after-school job at Kmart and struggle to create a stable life for herself and her baby. But like almost two-thirds of all pregnant teens, Becky did not want an abortion, and giving up her baby for adoption seemed unimaginable. "I want to spend a lot of time with the baby, take the baby everywhere," she says.
Becky's optimism aside, the realities of teen pregnancy are sobering: The federal government lays out some $30 billion a year in social services to teens and their babies. On average, only 5 percent of teen mothers get college degrees, compared with 47 percent of those who have children at 25 or older. And one-third of the daughters of teenage mothers will go on to become teen mothers themselves—perpetuating what is usually a cycle of hardship and privation.
As experts and policymakers debate reforming welfare and improving sex education, a team of PEOPLE reporters and photographers embarked on a different undertaking: to put a human face on the real-world problems being played out in the lives of teenagers and their families. We wanted to talk to the girls having babies and the boys who fathered them, and to ask them why and what next.
The answers, despite the strength and resilience of many of these girls, are not simple. For Ice (pictured at right), formerly a homeless teen in Seattle, having a baby has given her the only family she knows, while for Colleen Fitzgibbons, a 16-year-old in suburban Denver, one of the big concerns about being pregnant is missing homecoming and the prom; she and the baby's father plan to get married in February after the baby is born. For Kizzy Bonilla, a 17-year-old in Harlem, finding herself with a son snapped her to attention. All she wants now, she says, is a better life in a new neighborhood, and she is determined to work hard to get it.
Ironically, in fact, having a baby has given many of these young women a new and much-needed focus in life. If only, say many experts, they had had their eyes on the future, with all its promise and opportunity, before getting pregnant. "When young women in their teens and in their 20s have something better that they can do with their lives," explains psychologist Judith Musick. author of Young, Poor, and Pregnant. "they'll do it."
Adan Chamul, 18, is late for his new job, mixing stucco for a local contractor. His sleepy girlfriend, Claudia Resendiz, 16, is also late to meet her mother. Both dress hastily, then head out the front door. Suddenly, Claudia stops short. She has just remembered something—their 7-month-old daughter, Daniela, who is asleep in the next room. "The baby!" she exclaims. "What are we going to do with the baby?"
"You have to take her with you," says Adan blankly.
"Oh, God," says Claudia, dashing back to scoop up the sleeping child. "I'm really going to be late."
St. Peters, Mo.
Night has eased into day, but it is all the same for Tori Michel, 17. Her 5-day-old baby, Caitlin, has been fussing for hours, though she seems finally to have settled into the pink-and-purple car seat on the living-room sofa. "She wore herself out," explains Tori, who lives in a two-bedroom duplex in this St. Louis suburb with her mother, Susan, an aide to handicapped adults. "I think she just had gas."
Motherhood was not in Tori's plans for her senior year at Fort Zumwalt South High School—not until she had a "one-night thing" with James, a 21-year-old she met through friends. She had been taking birth-control pills but says she stopped after breaking up with a long-term boyfriend. "Wrong answer," she now says ruefully.
When she learned she was pregnant last January, Tori decided against having an abortion. "It just doesn't seem right," she says. Her mother, who divorced her husband Robert two years ago, supported her daughter's decision. James is no longer in the picture.
As Tori at long last tries to nestle into a recliner for a quick nap, Caitlin lets out a squeak. "She's hungry," Tori sighs as she gets up to heat more formula. Much as she loves to coo over her infant, Tori cannot help but admit she's a bit shell-shocked. Finishing school, she insists, is her priority. "Ever since I've had Caitlin, I haven't felt like a teenager. I've felt like a mom," she says. "I think it happened too fast."
New York City
Kizzilie Bonilla, 17, is trying to eat her scrambled eggs and bacon and bottle-feed her 3-week-old son, Ethen, at the same time. It isn't working. Ethen begins to cry, hoarsely and incessantly, and Kizzy's mother, Ivone Gonzalez, 37, wants to know what's wrong with "Mr. Noisy." Kizzy answers wearily, speaking over the ever-present sound of the television: "The boy gets so mad. I'm so tired. He woke up at 5 and wanted to be fed, held and rocked."
Kizzy lives in a cramped three-bedroom apartment in an East Harlem housing project with her mother, a former crack addict who is on welfare, her little sister Tiger, 12, and her half brother Wesley, 2. Until her father showed up in her hospital room after Ethen was born, Kizzy had not seen him in 10 years.
She may be exhausted, but Kizzy credits Ethen with turning her life around. Although she has had two abortions—one at 13, another at 15—Kizzy says she quit using her birth-control pills "because it didn't seem that realistic to me that I could get pregnant again." Instead of having a third abortion, she decided she wanted this baby.
She no longer speaks to Ethen's 17-year-old father, who, she says, has a temper. She used to hang out with friends on the streets, but since her latest pregnancy she has been studying hard at the Center for Continued Education in Harlem, a school for pregnant teens and teen mothers. She dreams of taking her son to museums, of getting off welfare and going to college. She longs to leave her child holding a better hand than the one she was dealt. "I want to get out of this neighborhood so bad," she says. "A lot of my friends have died. I'm scared, because I don't want anything to happen to my baby or to me."
For the second time this morning, Mandisa is hungry. Five minutes later, Maresha decides she wants to breast-feed too, and Angela Myada, 17, cheerfully gets prepared to nurse her 4-month-old twins simultaneously. But first, both babies need their cough medicine, because both have colds. "They get everything together," says Angela, sitting in the living room of the three-bedroom apartment she shares with an older sister and her mother, Judith, who has multiple sclerosis.
Angela, a recent high school graduate, met the twins' father, Lee, in the summer of 1993 at the Jefferson Children's Center, where she worked as a teacher's aide, but the couple are no longer seeing each other. Lee's contribution to his new family so far? A $20 diaper bag. "That's it," Angela sighs. "That's my wonderful life."
Sometimes, Kristi Mullally admits, she longs for the good old days at Hicksville High. "I miss my friends," she says. "Some of them don't call anymore. They say, 'You can't go out, so why bother calling?' " When Kristi, 17, does go out these days, it's with 5-month-old Alexis and diaper bag in hand to attend classes here at a special county-run high school for pregnant teens and young mothers.
Kristi says she did not intend to get pregnant, but she and the teen she had dated, who, she claims, is Alexis's father (a paternity suit is pending), were not using birth control. "I just didn't think I'd get pregnant," she says. Now she is getting an instant education in the real world. "I didn't realize how expensive babies are," she says incredulously. "Formula is $20 a week."
Kristi's father, Jeff, who had been saving so his kids—Barbara, 22, Kristi and Jeff Jr., 12—could go to college, is now watching his money go for diapers and doctor bills. "You would think that after enough times of telling them, 'If you're out there, be careful....' " Jeff, a U.S. Postal Service mechanic, says. "But at a certain point, nature takes over." Still, Jeff, 41, and his wife, Barbara, 41, a hairstylist, seem to enjoy the commotion around their four-bedroom home. "If this hasn't pushed me over the edge," Jeff says with a smile, "this is one postal employee who's never gonna crack."
The door to the housing-project apartment swings open, and Ice stands inside, nearly lost in the shadows, clutching 5-month-old Devin to her bosom.
"Can I come in?" asks Donna Borg-ford-Parnell, a public health nurse who runs Seattle's Out-of-Home Teen Pregnancy Project, which assists homeless teens. Ice, 15, nods.
Abandoned by her mother when she was 12, Ice (a name she chose because she thought it sounded tough) was living on the Seattle streets until Borgford-Parnell helped her find this apartment and get financial aid. Now the nurse helps Ice weigh the happily gurgling Devin—15 lbs., 3 ozs.—and to change the little boy's diaper. As Kanin, the mutt she picked up at the dog pound, paces the linoleum floor, Ice talks matter-of-factly about her grim life. She survives on $440 a month in welfare payments. She met Devin's father on the streets, gave birth when she was 14 and hasn't seen the father since. "No," she says, "he's never seen the baby." She has just started studies at a local community college and hopes to become an aviation mechanic and some day travel the world. "Having a baby saved my life," she says. "Otherwise I'd still be on the streets—maybe dead."
Borgford-Parnell closes the door behind her, the visit over. "She's actually doing amazingly well," she says. "But the baby will soon be walking, so we'll have to remind her that there shouldn't be dog food on the floor. You have to remember, these are only girls. They need help with things like that."
They met at the grocery store where they both worked. On their first date they went to see Spike Lee's movie Malcolm X. He was the first man she ever slept with, and they used condoms. Allen Jones III, now 22, was with Laticha Allen, 18, that June day when she learned she was pregnant. "He was nervous and hysterical and everything," says Laticha, smiling. "He was just freakin' out." He got over it, says Laticha, as she tries to diaper 9-month-old A.J., who is rolling around on the bed, and he refused to leave the delivery room when Allen Jones IV was being born on Jan. 3, 1994.
Allen visits little A.J. every weekend and contributes to his support, but Laticha, who is moving from her mother's apartment into her own, is prepared to go it alone. "He still kind of likes to do that teenager stuff," she explains. "This made me grow up." Laticha, the former editor of her high school newspaper, graduated from Hyde Park Career Academy last spring and plans to start college, probably at Chicago State University, next semester. For now, though, she is surviving on $278 a month in public assistance, supplemented by $206 in food stamps. "I'm going to have to bust my butt to stay in school," she says. "Public aid ain't no joke. It doesn't stretch very far." She looks over at her son. "I can go without eating, but he can't. I can go without some new clothes, but he can't."
St. Charles, Mo.
Time to say bye-bye. "I put in five more diapers," Kim Dickinson, 18, tells Carol Collins, a teacher at the Emmaus Child Care Center. Her son David, who is almost 2, begins to cry as Kim unbuttons his denim jacket. But his mother needs to get to class at Linden-wood, a liberal arts college across the street from the duplex where she is living with her aunt and uncle, and then to her 30-hour-a-week job at Grandpa's, a discount chain. She hands David to Collins, gives him a hug and kiss and then, without looking back, hurries outside. "It's really hard to leave him," she says.
New York City
Jeffery Mims, 19, has just finished helping little Jeff, almost 2, get dressed in his new outfit: green pants, black top and printed vest. "You look nice," he says proudly. Little Jeff seems well-behaved, but his father warns that looks can be deceiving: "He's quiet, but he does what he wants no matter what I say. He's in the terrible 2s." Little Jeff vehemently disagrees: "Me no terrible 2s!"
Mims wants his son to have the childhood he never had. He grew up in a two-bedroom Harlem apartment with nine other people, started having sex at 10 and selling drugs at 11. His father dropped out of sight when Jeff was a child, and his older brother Sam, a drug dealer, was killed four years ago. In 1991, Mims, then 16, was arrested for selling heroin to an undercover policeman and served six months in prison. Soon after he got out, he fell in love with Twanna Gaines, who was already pregnant with little Jeff by another man. From the beginning, says Mims, who soon joined Louise Wise Services' young fathers program, he wanted that baby. "I love him to death," he says. "I'll do anything for him."
Last March, Twanna and Jeff, a part-time office clerk for a book publisher, had a daughter, Jac'quazia. Now the couple, who share a two-bedroom apartment in a Manhattan housing project, are talking about getting married and opening up their own beauty parlor. Jeff, who is studying for his high school equivalency certificate, is dragging his feet on the marriage thing, but he vows to be a good father. "I will always be in their lives," he says, as he and little Jeff head off for a walk. "They are my family."
"How're you doing?" asks Lucy Wilbert, a patient advocate at the Reproductive Health Services clinic.
"I'm okay," says Kelly H., holding her abdomen. "It went fine."
"Does it feel like menstrual cramps?" Wilbert asks.
"Girl, yes," Kelly answers, laughing through her pain.
The decision to abort was an easy one for Kelly, 19, who works as a hotel desk clerk, is studying pre-law at the University of Missouri—and already has a 22-month-old son, Willie. Kelly and Willie's father—the only sex partner she has ever had—were using condoms, and Kelly also was taking the pill, but she became pregnant anyway. "I was mad, real mad," Kelly says. "I want so much now for my child and for myself. I didn't want to add another one."
An hour after the abortion, Kelly is ready to go home, where she will sleep off the effects of the surgery. "I'm fine," she says. "I won't have any regrets about this."
The day after a home pregnancy test confirmed what Amy Smith, 17, had already guessed, she threw up in typing class. Then she broke the news to her mother, Bernice, who had had Amy when she herself was 17. Bernice wasn't surprised. Not long before, Amy had gone to see her best friend, Andrea, in her old hometown of Burnsflat, Okla., and Bernice correctly surmised that Amy had taken up with her boyfriend Carmen Arriaga there. "She made a mistake, and she got caught," says Bernice. "But I'll be there for her."
Amy, a high school junior in Spring, plans to move to Burnsflat to be with Carmen, 19, after their baby girl is born, but she is in no hurry to marry. She has other concerns. "I worry that I won't be a good parent and that I won't be able to provide for my child financially," she says. "I think about that every day. I just know that I'm going to do the best I can."
St. Peters, Mo.
Tori Michel, blood spotting her nightgown from her still painful episiotomy, comes downstairs for a breakfast of toaster waffles. She lingers over a photograph of herself that usually sits on the mantel, a glamor shot taken for her 16th birthday that shows her with a tornado of blonde curls, glossy-red lipstick and a décolletage-baring gold gown. "Before and after, huh?" she says, sighing.
Kevin Howe, 24, lights a cigarette as he arrives at a small, tidy apartment near the center of Portland. Then he repairs to the kitchen to pull together a snack of chop suey for Kevin Jr., his 1-year-old son, from leftovers in the refrigerator. He is playing Mr. Mom because Kevin Jr.'s mother, April Baker, 18, is spending the day at Portland Regional Vocational Technical Center, where she is studying to be a day care teacher. But the role reversal is only one of the things that's different about this young couple: Kevin and April chose to become parents. "I was getting kinda old, and I wasn't doing anything with my life except drinking it away," says Kevin. "I'd been going out with April for 1½ years. So we decided to have the baby."
Kevin does his share, and then some, of helping rear their son. Shortly after 7 this morning, it was he who fed and bathed the baby. Most nights he is also the one to get up when his son wakes, sometimes just slipping a tape into the VCR to lull him to sleep. He has also taken a course in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and is in a weekly parenting class for young fathers.
Howe was once a promising competitive freestyle swimmer, but his temper got in the way. "I got thrown out of Portland High in the 11th grade," he says. "A teacher grabbed me, so I took a swing at him." At the time things were already unraveling at home. His single mother, who relied on welfare to support him, died when Kevin was 17. After that he bounced around, sleeping wherever he could find a couch.
Now, because he can't find a job, Kevin does housecleaning around his apartment building, a seven-unit, government-subsidized residence for young parents run by the YWCA, to earn money to cover family expenses. But he is perplexed about a more permanent career choice. "I'm not sure what I want to do," he says. "I'd kind of had this idea lately that I'd like to be pre-med. But I saw Chicago Hope and it changed my mind—there's a lot of paperwork in being a doctor. I want something with a lot of money that I enjoy doing." Meanwhile he faithfully plays the lottery and earns "$15 a pop" giving plasma twice a week.
After the snack, Kevin washes the dishes, keeping an eye on the baby, who is wobbling around the apartment using a rolling toy horse for balance. The young father's advice to prospective teen parents? "Don't do it. I'm glad to have Junior, but I think I took April's youth away from her."
Evergreen Park, Ill.
In her seventh-period chemistry class, her last of the day, Becky? Anderson, four months pregnant and, like her baby's father, a 16-year-old junior at Evergreen Park High, fights overwhelming fatigue to follow her teacher's lecture. Five days a week she also faces a 5-hour stint at her after-school job as a cashier at Kmart. Since rising at 6 a.m., she has been dealing with her frequent bouts of morning sickness. "I feel sick while I'm showering," she says, "but it really hits me when I'm brushing my teeth. That's usually when I throw up, and then again at night after I take my prenatal vitamin."
But she will bear this, and other hardships, on her own. The baby's father, whom she sees during the school day, is no longer involved with her. "He was so different from the others," she says. "He was very, very sweet, and I knew he cared about me." But in time the two began to bicker, and "I don't believe in marrying someone just for the baby," says Becky. "If you're fighting all the time, what's the point?"
Becky has a prime example of marital troubles close at hand. Her mother, Debra Tully, was considering a divorce from her third husband when she learned that Becky was pregnant. (Becky claims her father—Tully's second husband whom she divorced—had sexually abused her. Although he was found not guilty of the charges, an Illinois social service agency recommended that he be allowed to see Becky only during supervised visits.)
Tully herself had her first child at 18, and Becky's sister Anne Marie, now 21, has four children, the first at 14. Tully thought that Becky would be the one to break the pattern, so when she learned of Becky's pregnancy, "I was totally devastated," she says. "Becky was the one I knew would go to college. I had such high hopes." But Debra believes she knows what led to her daughters' early pregnancies: "My girls never had a decent male figure in their lives. I know from my own experience. They were seeking that ultimate love, to feel special. You're blinded by your needs—and you wind up wrecking your life."
Questaleicia Steemer, 18, is trying to earn her bachelor's degree in engineering from Texas Southern University, and she is getting a big assist from her mother and grandmother. They are the ones who care for her 2-year-old twin boys, Quintis Defray and Quantis Detroy, while she is at classes. The babies' 27-year-old father provides no support. He has never even seen them.
Arriving at her grandmother's home midway through a 19-hour day that began at 5 a.m., Questaleicia, still wearing her notebook-filled backpack, scoops up a squirming Troy and Tray. She does not count the twins as a burden. Before they were born, she often prayed, she says, "for somebody to love. I wasn't thinking of children. I didn't care if it was a dog, a cat, a turtle, a frog. It could have been anything."
Sixteen-year-old Colleen Fitzgibbons, her 20-week pregnancy clearly apparent beneath her flowered top, clambers into the stands of the Jefferson County Schools Stadium, where she is joined by her 18-year-old fiancé, Lenny Armenta, a 5'10", 230-lb., former high school football star. "All the girls wanted me," he boasts, rubbing her back and running his fingers through her blonde hair. But Lenny wanted a challenge. "This was the goody girl. Everyone was, like, 'Nah, you won't get her in bed.' "
But he did, and since they used condoms only occasionally ("They're too expensive—$3.69 for three of them," says Lenny), the two are now expecting a baby. The child is due, Colleen volunteers shyly, on Valentine's Day.
One by one, Colleen's friends come to greet her and touch her belly. Among them is 16-year-old Katie Muller, who begins to cry. A friend since kindergarten, Katie has been angry that Colleen was planning to move to Fremont, Neb., where Lenny had a football scholarship at Midland College. (The move has been on hold since last week, when Lenny injured his back and gave up his scholarship.) "She came up today to say she was sorry," says Colleen. "I thought she would understand that I can't do everything like before. It's hard to think about missing homecoming and the prom. But I said, 'Katie, I'm tired and I get worn out. I go to school. I work. And I'm pregnant.' "
Larry Sharp, 37, vice president of the National Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Development, is paying a visit to DeShawn Jackson, 18, and his girlfriend Yaisa Taylor, 17, in a working-class neighborhood on Cleveland's west side. It is Sharp's ninth stop during a day of counseling young men on the obligations of being a parent. DeShawn's child is a 16-month-old daughter named DeShawnte. "What impact do you think it would have on your daughter if you married her mother?" Sharp asks the young father pointedly. Recently released after three months in jail for a drug-trafficking offense, DeShawn says the baby is too young to know if her parents are married or not. "Do you want to be a good role model for DeShawnte?" persists Sharp.
DeShawn kisses his daughter, wipes her nose and holds her up as he tries to teach her to stand on her own. "Yes," he replies.
"Then the best role model and best dad you can be," says Sharp, uncertain his message is getting through, "is the man who loves and respects the baby's mother."
It's bath time at St. Anne's Maternity Home, founded in 1908, a 96-bed, live-in facility for unwed mothers, most of them from foster homes and many of them deeply troubled. In her toy-strewn bedroom suite, 18-year-old Yansy, a former foster child who is estranged from her parents, tries to catch her rambunctious 11-month-old son, Niko. "He's a real daredevil," she says brightly. "He'll fall, but he won't cry. He'll climb and do a back flip and fall again."
Niko's father, a Marine private, occasionally writes to Yansy, but the two have no plans to marry. Her goal is to become a computer-graphics designer and to raise Niko, she says, to be "happy and free. He's my love. I always wanted to have a baby, ever since I was 1."
Niko slaps water in the shower stall, while Yansy pours buckets of water on his head. "He's like me," she says, "very independent. He hates to be confined. He hates to follow rules."
Afterward, Yansy places Niko on her bed and dumps a cloud of baby powder on him. She watches approvingly as he slams his tiny fists on the blanket to send puffs swirling above his head. In one month, when she graduates from high school, rules require that she and Niko leave the security of St. Anne's, a prospect that doesn't seem to faze her. "I'm glad I had Niko young. We can grow up together," she says. "I'll never be too old to take him to the playground. We'll enjoy the same rides at the amusement parks. We can do everything together. We can be a family. Just us two."
On a rare night out, Faye Cottier, 17, and Alton Cuny, 20, members of the Oglala Lakota tribe, depart for a high school homecoming dance, leaving 18-month-old Dalton behind with Faye's mother in the three-bedroom house they share. On the 2 million-acre Pine Ridge Reservation where the couple live, alcoholism, drug use and an unemployment rate of more than 80 percent combine with a high rate of teen pregnancy to foster trouble and violence in some households. But Faye, an honor-roll student at Little Wound High School, and Alton, an unemployed construction worker, are a model couple. "It's hard," says Faye. "But a lot of girls don't have the family support I do."
Both Faye and Alton hope to attend college, and say they have few regrets about their early parenthood. "I hadn't really thought about being a dad until it happened," says Alton. "But being a parent is the best thing that ever happened to me. No more raising hell."
Faye agrees that, though it is a challenge, parenthood has its joys. "I just like holding him, looking at his hands to see what's there that wasn't before," she says. "I compare them to mine to see how he's growing."
At 5 a.m., when the contractions began, Leedteena Farris got herself ready for the trip to Loyola University Medical Center. Nearly 6 hours later, at 10:51 a.m., Tytianna Latrisha Monee came into the world weighing 7 lbs. 4 ozs., and Leedteena, 17, became the mother of two. She is visited by three aunts, her parents, a cousin and her 11-month-old son, Timothy Carltrell.
When Leedteena returns to the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her disabled parents, she will manage without much support. Timothy Farris, the 19-year-old father, "does his part," she says. "He helps with both babies. He buys stuff." But he was not present at the birth of his second child. "With my first baby, he came in the room, but he got scared by me being in so much pain and left," says Leedteena. "He said he wanted to be in the room this time, but I don't know if he could have took it or not."
Leedteena seems resigned to her children becoming teenage parents themselves someday. Her mother, Diane, had Leedteena's sister Glaisa Farris, at 15, and Glaisa became pregnant at 15 herself. "It's a pattern in my family," says Leedteena. "I'll probably be disappointed, like my mother is with me. If I had it to do over, I wouldn't have no kids right now. I'm happy, but I know it wasn't time for me yet."
Watching television next to him on the couch, April Baker leans back onto Kevin Howe's shoulder. It is the first display of affection the two young parents have shared all day. "I got her an engagement ring about seven months ago. It was a $300 ring, but I got it on sale for $100," he says. "She lost it. Then I got her a necklace, and she broke it. Next year, for sure, we're getting married. I'm going to get her another engagement ring. If I have to glue it on, I will."
The TV program ends, and the two head for bed. Kevin lies down, and April crawls under the covers on the wall side of the bed, with the baby between them. Shadow, a 10-week-old black kitten, joins the family at the foot of the bed. "Kevin kept begging me and begging me to let us get a cat," says April. "He told me, 'It's for Kevin Jr.' " Cats, however, are against the rules in this subsidized-apartment house, and Shadow will be moving to April's father's house after the weekend.
As the young family settles into sleep, their bedroom window is open, and the chill night air billows through thin dime-store curtains. It rains all night. Twelve days later, April will come home with news that she is once again pregnant.
Evergreen Park, Ill.
Still in the maternity top and pants she wore to school, an exhausted Becky Anderson lies down in her bedroom decorated with helium balloons and porcelain dolls and tries to feel her baby move. She is more and more preoccupied with the impending birth and about how she will care for her child once it is born. "My mom will watch the baby while I'm in school, then I'll take over for her," she says hesitantly. "Financially, I'll work a few days a week, get free food for the baby for the first year through government assistance, and the baby's father will contribute."
Becky is also worried about finishing high school. She recalls a recent visit with Kim, a 16-year-old girlfriend who has a 2-month-old son. "Can you get him to sleep when you want him to?" Becky had asked. "Can you get your homework done?"
"Sure, you just rock the baby in the infant seat with your foot while you read," Kim told her, showing her how.
Becky cradles her belly. "Sex lasts for 15 minutes, which, compared to the rest of your life, isn't worth it," she says. "I made a mistake, and I'm going to have to live with it. But I won't have a normal life."
New York City
It has been 8 hours since Kizzy Bonilla put her son down for the night, but now she is up, awakened by Ethen's movements. Although he has a crib in her room, he sleeps beside her. "I'm afraid of crib death," she says. "I can see his chest go up and down if he's in bed with me."
The way Kizzy's life has been going recently, she has reason to be wary. Last year, a former boyfriend, 16, was murdered on a Harlem street in a dispute over a necklace. "That day I was walking up the street when I heard a gunshot," she recalls. "I went home not thinking about it, and they called me and said, 'Yo! Guess who died?' I couldn't believe it, so I went to the funeral home. They shot him in his head, so it was swollen and purple."
Then last summer, while seven months pregnant, Kizzy was attacked in the lobby of her apartment building by five girls because one of them thought she might steal her boyfriend. "I almost lost the baby," she says. "They kicked me in the stomach. They use drugs. They dropped out of school. They're jealous because I'm going to get out of here. They want to see other people doing bad. I've got to go on for a better life."
Even the previous evening had gone badly. She had pulled out her psychology textbook to study for a test only to discover that it had been ripped apart by the family's pit bull puppy, Hugo.
In 2½ hours she will have to get up for a Saturday class. But now, with dawn approaching, her baby is hungry and wide awake. Kizzy stumbles from the bed into the kitchen to warm a bottle. The formula ready, she props herself against the head of the bed and offers the bottle to Ethen, who begins to suckle. Kizzy's head nods, and her eyes close, but as she begins to drift off her baby stirs and sneezes.
"God bless you," she murmurs.
Adan Chamul is determined not to be like his own father, who left Adan's mother when Adan was 4 months old. He didn't reappear until Adan was 12, three years after the family had moved to California from their native El Salvador. The reunion was not a happy one. "He didn't want to have anything to do with me until I was able to work and earn money for him," says Adan. "I said no."
Adan's resolve to stick by his own girlfriend was tested early on. Two months after he and Claudia Resendiz moved in together, Adan became the first in his circle of friends to get a girl pregnant. "My friends were real upset," he says. "They told me, 'Kick her out of the house. Dump her.' But I didn't want my baby to grow up like that, without a dad," he says. "It's not the baby's fault. It was our mistake."
Adan dropped out of high school, now earns $6 an hour as a plasterer and also gives cautionary lectures at local schools on the pitfalls of being sexually active. "When Daniela needs milk or something, he goes to the market right away," says Claudia. When Claudia had a severe kidney infection during the last half of her pregnancy, Adan came to sleep in her hospital room.
Not that being together is always easy. "We definitely have our ups and downs," says Adan. "Sometimes we get screaming at each other, and she says, 'Get out.' So I'll go sit in my car for a couple of hours."
Adan, sleep-numbed, sits at the kitchen table with 7-month-old Daniela before heading off to his construction job. The dim gray of day begins to light the morning sky, bringing with it the endless cycle of testing realities that all parents are heir to, but which impend most heavily on the young and the poor. "I regret having her at such a young age," says Adan, "but I love her and I'll never regret that she is here. We're going to grow up. All three of us."
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- Jennifer Mendelsohn,
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- Ken Myers,
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