In what is sure to come as a surprise to no one, our recent public service ad campaign featuring Bristol Palin talking about her experience as a teen mother touched off a firestorm of discussion and debate. What may be surprising, though, is the extent to which those who responded through the lens of personal experience and those whose reactions were based on ideology differed in their responses.
Over the past week, I have received hundreds of emails in response to the ad campaign. The people who have a personal experience with teen pregnancy - either themselves, a family member, or as part of a program - were nearly unanimous in their appreciation. In a typical response, one teen mom said, "I'm so glad you're getting the word out about teen pregnancy. I'm 17 years old and have a two month old. I've had to take myself out of school for months and am having trouble finding daycare so I can go back. This is definitely not how I pictured my life. Young people need to know the reality."
These are precisely the people this campaign is about: those who are living with the challenges of teen pregnancy, day in and day out. Whether you are rich, poor or somewhere in between, teen pregnancy will change your life. As another teen mom said, "Being up all night with a baby is hard, and a scary prospect. But the key is that it never ends. It's just that why you are up all night changes."
Bristol Palin is both similar to and different from most teen moms in this country. She is similar in that she is juggling the demands of motherhood while trying to become independent; she's had to put her education on hold; she is missing out on being young and free; and she is a single mother. She also loves her child but wishes she had been older and better prepared for motherhood.
Unlike many teen moms, she is not facing poverty, she comes from a well-known family, and most importantly, when she speaks, people pay attention. The vast majority of teen moms in this country are marginalized and do not have a voice. They are too busy trying to get by and do their best for their children. By tapping into the voice of a teen mom who has a platform, the issue of teen pregnancy has been propelled into the national dialogue with striking force.
This ad campaign is not about politics, religion, or abstinence versus contraception. (For the record, The Candie's Foundation supports both.) It is about preventing teen pregnancy. Children need and deserve parents who are emotionally and financially stable. There is nothing ideological about that. Just ask a teen mom.
Founder, The Candie's Foundation