5 Important Advocacy Tips for Young People

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the word advocacy? The first time I was asked the question two years ago, the first thing that came to my mind was Google. Why Google? Because I didn’t really know what the word meant. So after I Googled the definition, I started referring to it with different words like sticking up for yourself, expressing your thoughts, etc.

Advocacy work is done in three steps: 1. Giving the right information, 2. to the right people, 3. at the right time!

Advocating is very important and it is safe to assume we all do it in our daily lives without even knowing, all because we didn’t know what the word advocacy meant. As a Young Parent Policy Fellow, most of the work I do is advocating for young/teen parents in Boston, to help shape policies and change the perception around teen pregnancy. It is awesome! To me, these are five awesome things young people should know about advocacy and their impact in shaping policies:

  1. Your story is powerful! A personal, true story being told to help change policies is more powerful than assumptions or thoughts being made by people who are first of all not young, or parents.
  2. Who better to advocate for what young/teen expectant and parents need than a young/teen that is expectant or parenting themselves! That’s right; YOU know what YOU and YOUR family need to be happy, healthy, and successful so YOU would be the best person to advocate for all those things.
  3. Advocacy is done in many different ways like sending letters, emails, using social media, making digital stories, publicly speaking at an event, making phone calls. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but the fact that you are.
  4. Our voice matters! We may not be 35 with a master’s degree but what we have to say is just as important as what any provider, educator, policymaker, etc… has to say.
  5. Always remember, by advocating we not only help shape better policies and change perception for young/teen parents, we also prove to the world that young people are strong and capable leaders!

On Thursday, March 26th there will be an event at the Massachusetts State House called Teen Parent Lobby Day. Teen Parent Lobby Day is all about advocating and sharing our stories to help change the policies. Expectant and parenting teens have the opportunity to have a one on one meeting with their legislator and advocate for what they need. I am very excited for the event; this will be my second year going. It is a great opportunity to meet and connect with other young parents in Massachusetts.


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Stigmatizing Teen Parents is Not a Form of Birth Control

The February 16 Journal Sentinel story “United Way’s provocative teen pregnancy campaign designed to get results” inspired me (again) to share my teen pregnancy story. When I was seventeen years old and in an abusive situation, I found out I was pregnant. During the birthing experience, I thought that I was giving life to the child who would ruin mine. Before my pregnancy, I often saw how organizations depicted babies as a negative outcome of teen sex or that “it” would ruin or control my life.

Despite being raised by a teenage mother myself (along with more than 2 million teens across the country today), I had internalized those messages and believed my baby would serve as a form of punishment. 

Negative messages like these are perpetuated by organizations, like the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, who use resources to publicly shame teen parents rather than publicly provide teenagers with information on how to prevent an unintended pregnancy. The concept of using teen parents’ lives as a scare tactic is not innovative, educational or informative. Furthermore, United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County’s Vice President of Community Impact, Nicole Agresano’s comparison of teen pregnancy to obesity and smoking is incredibly offensive and dehumanizes the children of teen parents as objects of public health to be rid of, treating teen parents themselves as simple-minded, manipulated toys.

And even if your response is that you have EBIs (do you?) proving that stigmatizing teen parents is an effective method of birth control (which it is not), it is still morally and ethically wrong in every way.

We know that teen pregnancy rates are down across the entire country...

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We Made It!

As I was submitting my first blog post, I was also thinking about what I would like to post next. The thought that came to my mind was “We made it”. 

As I remember those comments of “You are just a baby having a baby,” and “Are you married?” I wonder where those people are who asked me those questions the first year I had my daughter? I honestly don’t even remember what they looked liked.  They weren’t just asking me questions they were also judging me. Looking down upon me thinking the worst. That my daughter would not be raised right. That she would end up in foster care just like I had been. That I am going to live off the government my whole life and that I am going to keep on having more baby’s so I can continue to get welfare. That their tax dollars were going to yet another unwed single teen mother. What they didn’t know is at the age of 13 before I had my daughter I was already working and paying into the “system”. That I stayed in school to get my high school diploma, was working at the same time and graduated when my daughter was three and a half when I was 18. That we were in individual and family counseling and attended several different parenting groups as she got older because things were difficult. They were not just difficult because I was young, but also because my parents couldn’t be the support that I needed consistently when I was younger and in early adulthood. Because of this I did know how to parent. Like when and how should I set boundaries? What kinds of things should I be teaching her? It was also difficult because there were people who instead of encouraging me and providing solutions they would make comments as stated above and others like the ones in...

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I Was 14 and She Was My Miracle Baby

Until the age of thirteen, we went back and forth from my parents to foster homes.  We were sometimes placed together in the same home, but not always. I was in three other homes that I can remember. I lived in one of them for a year. While I was there I contracted lice and scabies. Once when I was sick with a stomach bug, I was forced to eat my dinner–otherwise I was going to be sent to my room. It was awful! In another foster home, I remember there being a strict policy of how much toilet paper, one or three squares, you could use depending on what you needed to do. It was the strangest thing ever for me, because even while in the projects with my biological parents we never did that. My mom somehow always had enough to provide for us girls and even helped others who were less fortunate.

We did not have extended family that would or could take us in. We only saw them on some occasions except for my uncle (my mother’s older brother). We couldn’t live with him because he was working full-time. However, he did bring us out every Saturday for bowling, or a movie, or the park, and he always brought us out to eat. I remember thinking he was crazy because he always told us jokes and I was not used to that. I was more used to the depression, dysfunction, and fighting in the house with us girls, mom and dad. I argued a lot with my mom and oldest sister. My sister and I fought because my mom would not set limits with me. I believe she was too sick to. My sister thought it would be better if I stayed home and not spend time with my friends. I didn’t want to be home because I didn’t want to see my parents sick. I just wanted to be a kid and have fun. She tried to be my mom, but I didn’t like it because I felt she was too controlling. It got so bad that we started fighting physically, so when my sister turned eighteen my mom made her leave and she went into a group home.

I felt like my mom was a broken record, repeating over and over...

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Enjoy Motherhood!

Being pregnant at 16 was very emotional. Exciting, motivating, emotional, frustrating, and a whole bunch more! As a pregnant teen I had a lot of questions and concerns, worries and doubts, thoughts and plans. Maybe it’s just me but I felt as if I were going to annoy my doctor if I was constantly asking and questioning things so I would just Google some stuff. Sometimes Google made me even more worried and anxious, which was horrible. I’m the type of person to over think and stress about the smallest things; imagine how much stressing I was doing. I signed up on all the baby pages existing to get information and receive emails tracking my pregnancy. I downloaded about 20 apps on my phone that all said the same thing. Soo many questions and concerns and nowhere to go to for answers besides the internet. A first time mom has a lot to learn. I look back now and realize I was going crazy. I asked things like “why am I 4 months and barely showing, Google said my belly is supposed to be 20 inches and I’m only 17 so what’s up? What I do wrong?”. “I forgot to take my prenatal vitamin, is that bad? Should I take 2 vitamins tomorrow or drink extra orange juice?” Ones that depressed me the most were “What do I need to baby proof my home?” or “How mych tuna can I eat in one week?” or “If the roast beef on my sandwich isn’t preheated to 193748 degrees, will my baby get an infection?”  

Kill me now this is too much,” I thought, but then would I cry and take it all back and thank god for blessing me with my baby, but 10 minutes later be going crazy again, lol. It wasn’t funny in the moment though.

Thankfully I received prenatal care at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and they offered me the opportunity to become part of a group called Centering Pregnancy, where you would receive your prenatal care with other young moms and sit down as a group for 2 hours going over everything pregnancy related. I was excited to hear...

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Contributing to Community

My name is Grace and I just recently became a Young Parent Policy Fellow at the Mass Alliance on Teen Pregnancy.  I am one of four other moms who are involved in the advocacy work. As a Young Parent Policy Fellow, our role is to advocate for the rights of expecting and parenting teens and for the programs that will benefit our community. I am also a mother to a not so little two year old boy. I am a student in college who aspires to one day provide healthcare services to adolescents. I am working to becoming a nurse but I am still undecided on what I really want to do. I also hope that my experience as a YPPF will help me to better serve the adolescent community, specifically pregnant and parenting teens.

My interest in advocating for young parents started when I found myself reflecting on my journey as the parent and woman that I am today.  I thought that my pregnancy was the most difficult time in my life but sadly it was not. Being mistreated and constantly hurt by the ones I loved was hard but I had hope. I had hope that once my son was born that we would have a perfect bond and that eventually everyone would come around to loving him as much as I did. After he was born and he grew more and more, things became harder. I was still in an unhealthy relationship and living in a home where I felt trapped. It become harder and harder for me to hide and cope with my struggles. I got terrible advice, put down and I was I was stereotyped as the classic Hispanic teen mom when I asked for...

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A Better Version of Myself

When I got pregnant in high school, I made the choice to parent at 18 years old. Though, the unpopular choice for a senior in high school I knew my life would be forever changed. Unlike what we are taught to believe, however, I didn’t think it would be changed for the worst.

Yes, I chose to parent after being told repeatedly that I had nothing to provide for my child. I had a job, but I was told it wasn’t enough. I had my high school diploma, but I was warned that that wasn’t going to suffice. I also had a relationship with my child’s father — but I was told he was going to leave me.

These cautions didn’t stop me. They inspired me to be better for my child — a better version of myself. And when I first began my journey advocating for youth, I can admit that I felt out of place.

I remember listening to other girls share their stories and thinking “Oh my gosh. I don’t relate to these girls, at all. My story is so different. I had the supportive mother, boyfriend and friends. I was not kicked out my home. How will we connect?” But then soon enough something in me realized it wasn’t a lack of support that made these girls and I the same… It was the constant scrutiny by onlookers and peers that connected us.  The unwarranted parenting advice, the display of obvious disapproval of our choice to parent, the questions — the inevitable “You’re a baby having a baby.”

I once tried to shield myself from these harsh realities. I used to shut...

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Relieving Stress Can Be Simple

I am not 100% sure how to do it all. Juggling school, work, parenting a toddler, financials,  and being a partner, and making sure there are date nights. Lately, I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed with everything. I sometimes just want to crawl into a ball and stay in bed all day.

But, then I think about how I should deal with these stressful times. Therapists are really helpful and it’s comforting to know you have someone to always talk to, besides a significant other. Taking walks outside and exercising can also help relieve stress. Doing what makes you happy and taking time for yourself is so important. In order for you to be the best for your child, you need to be the best you can be for yourself first.

Here are some examples of what people do to release stress. Hopefully, it can help some people who are reading this. 

  1.  cooking
  2. watching tv
  3.  writing
  4.  meditating
  5. listening to music
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Teen Moms Deserve Safe Spaces to Vent

In the past few months, there have been a few new anonymous apps and websites developed with the intention of providing a forum for people to ‘vent’ and anonymously and share their secrets with the world. While millennials have used apps like Whisper to seek advice or share their stories with strangers, so have millennial parents. We know that some parenthood isn’t always sunshine and giggles, and this rings true for teen parenthood too.

I can imagine which feelings young parents share on Whisper, often times feelings that are regretful and wishful of a different outcome for their lives. Unfortunately, some were eager to pick up on the reality that young moms can feel regretful and overwhelmed by parenthood. Instead of asking, “Why don’t young moms have safe spaces to share their honest feelings and find support?” some chose to perpetuate the stigma that young moms are fighting against every day. Truthfully, our society hasn’t done a good job of creating a safe space for moms to vent about parenthood and our society certainly doesn’t provide a safe space for young moms to share the reality of what their lives are like without exploiting them for an unrelated agenda. 

Here’s my secret:

“Mom, Mom…MOM!” All yelled within two seconds of each other. “What!” I finally respond, with a voice elevated enough to answer my neighbor’s children. I know my name is “Mom” I got it, but is it just too much to ask if I don’t have it shouted for immediate attention three times consecutively? I get, and I’m sure all moms have realized more in the last year that they will only be shouting “Mom” with loving intention and I will get annoyed by it. Does that make me a bad mother? Does my age determine whether annoyance is a valid feeling...

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Being in School as a Pregnant Teen

Going to high school as a pregnant and parenting teen led to many mixed emotions, negative thoughts, shame and stigma, but most definitely also an eagerness to graduate. That desire to graduate was only reinforced by all the negative things society had to say about young parents not graduating and dropping out of school. In my school the rumor went around after every vacation I tool that apparently I wasn’t coming back. Completely bogus. A lot of the mixed emotions and negative thoughts were the awkward things I experienced during the school day throughout the school year, not only pregnant but coming back after birth. Luckily I was able to graduate on time in 2013.

In May 2014 I submitted my oral testimony at the Boston Public School (BPS) policy hearing about my experiences in high school, and why the expectant and pregnant policy should be passed for the upcoming school year. With all the advocacy done towards the issue, on June 4th 2014 the policy passed! Now BPS has a great policy on expectant and parenting students. Pregnant or parenting students now have the opportunity to finish their high school education without being mistreated or unaware of their rights. I am very excited to see the results on how this policy improves the graduation outcomes for the BPS students.

After graduating high school I quickly enrolled in Bunker Hill as a full time student. Due to my child care inconveniences and lack of motivation I didn’t complete the fall or spring semesters for the 2013-2014 school year. I knew i wanted to go to school, but the pressure lead me to take on a college responsibility before I was really ready. After being out of school for two semesters I finally realized I wanted to be in school and i am ready to go back and kick ass! I am now motivated, something that I didn’t feel right after I graduated.

In my situation it took me...

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#TeenMomForever

When I got pregnant my senior year of high school, I honestly never thought much about how being a young mom would impact me in the ways it has. I remember growing up, thinking, I would NEVER want to fuck up and be a teen mom. To be pregnant in high school, not married, to be a single mom, those were not positive things for me to be. I grew up around conservative ideals of motherhood and female sexuality. I hid the fact that I was on the pill and having sex with my boyfriend. Of course, some of these would good boundaries, but I wasn’t hiding them to establish healthy boundaries with parents (I don’t think I really knew what healthy boundaries with parents was). I was hiding my sexuality because I was terrified they would hate me.

So, coming close to 14 years ago, I got pregnant. I was also on the pill. I had sex for the first time, literally, the month prior. My pregnancy was a horribly lonesome time. I hid my pregnancy from everyone. I wore baggy clothes and acted as if nothing was different. I felt ashamed and I blamed my morning multivitamin for my morning sickness. I would throw up in gym and band class. Band would end and here I was packing up my flute quickly, feeling the urge to puke, and running to the garbage can or bathroom … leaving class without permission. I was hiding saltine crackers and PowerAde in my locker, eating and drinking them quickly between classes. Trying to keep the puke down. Looking back, it is amazing how I survived. Seriously. When I see teen girls pregnant, I usually think: fuck, I hope you have support because it’s fucking rough. Now, I’m 32. If I was...

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