Child mothers — a 'social catastrophe' The Salina Journal Sunday, January 19,1986 Page 32 CHICAGO (AP) - For Kim, the last blush of girlhood — the whir of jump ropes, playground flirtations and slumber parties — faded and went cold at age 13. Kim got pregnant. Today, Kim is a high school freshman. She has a 10-month-old daughter and a stoic streak. "I just have to take it as it comes," she says with a shrug. "Suffer the consequences — whatever good of bad comes." Kim is a child mother. She is one of almost 10,000 girls in the United States each year who, at 14 years and younger, are wrested from the cocoon of childhood and thrust, bewildered, into motherhood. For teen mothers, the road is tough enough. For child mothers, the path is tougher, and longer. Physically, emotionally, socially, America's youngest mothers are at a disadvantage at every turn. Their risks of problem pregnancies and of delivering small, sickly babies are higher than normal. They're so immature that they often treat their babies as dolls to dress up or, at best, brothers and sisters. Unlike older teens, it will be years before child mothers have high school diplomas, jobs or homes of their own — in short, years before they themselves will be grown up. "Almost every (negative) consequence associated with teen pregnancy is accentuated for the younger girl," said Shelby Miller, a research associate in Atlanta for the Child Welfare League in New York. She is the author of "Children As Parents. "The repercussions go on and on and on." Many child mothers have second babies while still in their teens, further miring themselves in a swamp of poverty, ignorance and despair where they create new generations of child mothers. Studies indicate 15 percent to 25 percent of children who bear children get pregnant again within two years. "It's a social and cultural catastrophe for everyone concerned," said Dr. Richard Naeye, who studies disorders of newborns. He is chairman of the department of pathology at the Pennsylvania State .University College of Medicine. More than half of all child mothers are black; black girls 14 and younger are seven times more likely to have a baby than their white peers. Social workers and academics believe middle-class families are more likely to have a daughter's pregnancy terminated or her child adopted than poorer families. While the actual number of child mothers is small, the adolescent pregnancy problem is much larger. Statistics indicate about 15,000 girls younger than 15 have abortions each year. "There was a time when girls got pregnant in high school — now "There was a time when girts got pregnant in high school — now they're pregnant in grammar school." — Cecelia Morton they're pregnant in grammar school," said Cecelia Morton, head of the home economics department at Farragut High School here, which offers day care. "They look so much like babies themselves," she added. "They take on so many adult responsibilities." But many young mothers fail to grasp their new responsibilities. They regard their infants as if "this is my baby doll. Everything is going to be fine," said Ruby Taylor, a social worker at Marillac House, a social service agency on the city's West Side. They spend money they can't spare to dress their babies in expensive "slugger" outfits or patent leather shoes as if they were playthings. That immaturity extends to their • babies' care. At Marillac, Taylor supervises a program for pregnant teens and young mothers called Project Hope. There she dispenses advice: Don't jump rope when you're eight months pregnant; Kool-Aid and mashed potatoes do not make babies strong; a baby need not be rushed to the hospital for a stuffy nose. Some girls, with offspring on their laps, are taught the facts of life after life is a fact. The new knowledge sometimes supplants childish fantasies. The girls tell of their beliefs, now painfully dispelled, that "it can't happen the first time" or if "you do it standing up." Only three in 10 girls aged 14 and younger use contraceptives the first time they have sex — the lowest percentage for any group of females, according to Child Trends Inc. of Washington, a non-profit research group. Peer pressure is common. Girls say, ' "He kept asking me. He told me he loved me,' " Taylor said. "He said, 'My friends are making fun out of me.' They don't think they have choices to say no." Once pregnant, most young girls are too irresponsible to cope with impending motherhood. That has consequences for parent and child. As do most adolescents, pregnant girls tend to eat the wrong foods, Naeye said, and find themselves "competing with the unborn infant for nutrients." Girls 14 and younger are also the slowest to seek pre-natal care: about 20 percent receive no care until the seventh month, if at all. The combination can produce costly, even deadly results. Young mothers have much higher than normal rates of anemia and blood poisoning. Their risk of delivering small HARDWARE STORES ii \iiim\iu V/HJJK OF i HI; MONTH While Supplies Last Oak-Look Toilet Seat accents popular bathroom fixtures and accessories and features non-corrosive top-mount hinges for easy installation. This attractive printed oak-finish seat is reinforced for extra strength and cleans up with just a damp cloth. MI QUANTITIES LIMITED Open !) a.m.-!) p.m Mon.-h'ri. Saturday It u.m.-fi p.m. Sui.dav i!-.:«) :•::$() WATERS^HARDWARE K25-I5B7 babies — 5% Ibs. or less—is twice as high as those of women in their 20s. Such babies are more susceptible to lung, brain and intestinal problems, resulting in long hospital stays and hefty bills. While dire medical consequences can be avoided with monitoring and nutritional counseling, other problems have no such ready solutions. Few girls can afford day care, leaving them little option but to leave school. An Atlanta study found that one in three mothers aged 15 and younger dropped out within a year of giving birth. Child mothers, lacking education themselves, also tend not to talk to their babies — again, treating them more as playthings. "They feel silly talking to a baby who doesn't understand," Miller said. Consequently, those babies suffer. An April 1985 report by the National Institute of Child Health Development said adolescent mothers have infants with slightly below average IQs. Later, these children have trouble adapting in school. Parental support and social programs can help some girls overcome these odds and gain a measure of stability. A study of 185 mothers aged 15 and younger in Chicago, Cleveland and Minneapolis found that over a 1ft- month period, six in 10 did well — they remained in school and led stable lives. All had some help, usually prenatal or delivery services. But special programs usually drop off after birth, and a child mother's own mother remains the key to success, said Miller, who conducted the federally funded study. Josie, 14, is lucky. Her mother cares for her 5-month-old daughter while Josie attends school. The arrangement helps her stay in school but does little to stimulate her maternal instincts. "It's hard to believe I have a baby," said Josie, who, like other young mothers, asked that her last name not be used. A poster of rock star Michael Jackson hangs above the crib. "It's sort of like she's my mother's baby." Social workers and scholars seek a reason for the phenomenon of child mothers — one that transcends the tragic mixing of biology, ignorance and carelessness. Whether the reason exists remains unclear. "The only mark of growing up at all may be having a baby," said Jennifer Knauss, executive director of the Illinois Caucus on Teen-age Pregnancy. "That's her identity. 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