Helping Teen Moms Graduate: Ch 1 Don't Judge

Published December 10, 2023

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. . . until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it. 

–Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus to Scout

An excerpt from Chapter 1 of the award-winning book, Helping Teen Moms Graduate . . . 

Pregnant teens become creatively savvy in figuring out ways to hide their pregnancy. Wearing oversized shirts and jackets. Turning aside or clutching their jacket to hide their pregnant belly. Lying to classmates, keeping it a secret from their parents, assuring others they are simply putting on a little weight. They take painstaking efforts to keep their secret confidential, to the point of self-denial.

Unbeknownst to them, there are long-term consequences to keeping such a secret out of fear, judgment, and scorn. Inadequate prenatal care. No Lamaze classes or a doula to walk them through the process. No home visits from a nurse.

Students take these measures in large part to avoid their greatest fear: being judged, shunned, looked down upon, and shamed. In Chapter 1, you’ll hear the voices of graduates and new moms on how they were judged, and resounding messages to educators, loved ones, and other supporters on how to help pregnant and parenting students graduate: Don’t Judge. 

To judge someone in its simplest definition is determining a person’s value, worth or potential based on one’s biases. Judgment shows up in varying ways societally. We see it when a woman clutches and pulls her purse close to her body when someone she considers questionable walks by. We see it when a person dressed casually is treated markedly different in a business from someone in professional attire.

Sadly, pregnant and parenting students see it in the grouped whispering of peers. Even more disturbing, they experience it when teachers, administrators, and others lower their expectations once their pregnancy is obvious. When someone assumes and responds from their determination of another’s condition, status, wealth, education, or race/culture, judgment is at play. 

A common thread, among the graduates interviewed the award-winning book, Helping Teen Moms Graduate: Strategies for Families, Schools, and Community Organizations, is they felt people judged them, and the harsh looks, disapproval, and judgment hurled in their direction, hurt them. One participant, Quincy, attests to this. Quincy became pregnant at age 15 and is clear on how being judged negatively hurt her. Her driving force to healing her pain became proving those she believed were standing in judgment, wrong.

“When I was pregnant, I had all kinds of people looking at me like, “Oh, she's pregnant? She's only fifteen, and she's pregnant? Oh, that's not nice. That's not cute.” And I even had some elderly people looking at me. They looked at me weird, then turned their heads, and squint their eyes like, “Well, why is she pregnant?” I could tell they were judging me.

My grandmother was angry with me because I was the only child and grandchild, so they expected so much from me, and to find out that I was pregnant, it was like, “Oh, oh.” Like disgust. And so, it hurt me, and I was saying to myself, “I'm going to prove all of you wrong. I'm going to prove all of you wrong; because—just because I'm pregnant does not mean I have to stop living my life.” It doesn't mean that I'm not going to make the good grades that I was making, or I'm not going to be successful and go to college.”

Quincy proved, those standing in judgment of her, wrong. She graduated from high school, and at the time of the interview, she was a freshman at the local community college. She and the other graduates agreed: they were able to overcome being judging and graduate because they had support: 

  • Support from home–a strong female family member who wouldn’t let them give up.
  • Support from school--their teachers who did more than educate. They inspired, encouraged and challenged them to not let their teen pregnancy hold them back. 
  • Support from the community -- teen parenting programs that were driven to help them succeed “by any means necessary”. 

There is more of graduates' stories and strategies to help more pregnant and parenting students graduate, in the award-winning book, Helping Teen Moms Graduate: Strategies for Families, Schools, and Community Organizations.