Yesterday my teen daughter and I went to visit a shelter for pregnant teens. This was something that we wouldn’t normally do and it led to a conversation that we probably would not have otherwise had. It really was something that provoked a thought process in her. And it was an experience that she will remember always, and it was a glimpse into what reality looks like for some teenage girls.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and we had her girl scout meeting at 3 pm. The troop leaders had arranged for the girls to visit a local shelter in the community. More specifically, a shelter for pregnant teens. My daughter and her friends are 14-15 years old, and the young women in the shelter were from around age 16 to early twenties. We walked up the stairs to an older colonial home with a keypad on the front door. Right into a great big room full of awkward silence.
Inside, the girls filed side by side to stand in front of a few girls seated on a wicker couch on the opposite side of the room. The director greeted our group, and apologized because she had thought that our girl scouts would be much younger. The two girls, the residents of this home, were approximately 16 years old. They were giggly and spirited, and relatively close in age to the girls standing in their living room.
The director began the tour, starting in their shared living room, kitchen, and shared sleeping quarters. This particular house can accommodate nine young women at a time. While they are still pregnant, they share the top floor of the house. There were beds set up in one room, allowing each girl very limited personal space. Those that have already delivered, receive a room on the second floor for them and their newborn.
They are then allowed to stay for 6 weeks after delivery, unless of course there are extenuating circumstances that would warrant a longer stay.
In this house, these ladies are taught life skills. They are assisted in a job search to find employment close to the home. They are taught how to manage their money, and expected to earn the things they need to survive. The skills they will need to become self-sufficient and in order to care for the child they will soon be delivering.
My daughter and her friends stood there in silence. When the woman asked if anyone had any questions, the girls looked at the floor and did not mutter a sound. I can only assume because they cannot fathom how one could land in this predicament. It is far from their reality. They haven’t had serious relationships yet. Nor had they had the misfortune of being abandoned by their parents and left to fend for themselves before they even became pregnant. Because for them, they were victims of neglect.
To keep the conversation afloat, the troop leaders and several mothers were eager to ask questions about how the establishment is ran. How do the girls end up there? Do they have family to help them?
Most of the girls there had unprotected sex and did not plan to become pregnant. Without the proper education and guidance, many young woman can find themselves in this situation. There were others that found themselves pregnant after being assaulted. According to the director, not many of these young women give their child up for adoption. Their short time inside this safe haven is like a fast track course to adulthood.
Before leaving, the director asked to take a group picture of all of the girls together. They all huddled awkwardly together on the front stairs of this old house. Our naive, sheltered daughters smiling alongside several very pregnant young ladies. And this awkward encounter, this short glimpse into their lives, meant to be an educational experience.
The troop brought gift cards as a donation to the house. We walked back to our cars and the girls said their good-byes. My daughter and I sat in our car for a while. I was genuinely curious to hear what her thoughts were on what she just experienced.
The following content was written by my daughter regarding her thoughts and feelings about our tour of the shelter.
There is a very thin line from where I am now, an educated, sheltered, girl who lives with her family, as oppose to a girl who made one bad mistake and now is pregnant, homeless, and without a family. My experience at the shelter is definitely one of those memories I will compare to everything. I will hold it with me forever because it was such an unbelievable and unrealistic environment, though of course it happens whether it was an accident, a traumatic experience such as rape, etc.
Decision making is a key role in this life of ours. There are small things such as deciding what to get at a diner or what to spend your allowance on. However, as we mature, bigger topics such as deciding where you will go to college, what career you want for yourself, and who you will spend the rest of your life with. But the big difference between these aspects in our lives is the level and age they are supposed to be thought about. At the age of 14 or 15 we should be celebrating that we are kids, we should be creating our childhood, and having fun for as long as we can. Thinking about adult stuff like sex, marriage, drinking, etc., it just isn’t the time or place.
These girls could have been the average teenager, listening to music, going out with friends, shopping at the mall, but they all made one big mistake.
They tried to be adults when they weren’t ready to be adults. During my time at the shelter, I didn’t hear many specific stories about how the girls I met got there due to privacy reasons, but I heard common and general ones. Some were persuaded into having unprotected sex, some were raped, and more. The easiest way out of a situation like this is to not put yourself into one to begin with, like my mom tells me. Believe the person the first time when they show you their true colors, because most of the time they don’t change and its important to remember, you can’t change them either.
The shelter was a big, older house and was an off white color. When I first walked inside, I got “homey” and “cozy” vibes. It was a very relaxing environment, despite the silence during the introduction part of our tour. There is a day and night staff, and the couple I met were extremely kind and gave my troop and I a lot of information about the facility. It was a very organized system they had and it taught many life skills that some of the girls weren’t familiar with such as cooking, buying items, caring for a baby, how to deals with money, responsibilities, etc.
I took a lot away from this trip. I learned how one mishap can literally turn your life upside down.
It is so important to understand that having sex, getting pregnant, ending up with a baby… It is nothing to mess around with. However, I think the talk my mom and I had afterwards, really triggered something inside of me. The person that told you they loved you, hurt you, and possible left you. It has to be the hardest thing in the world.
I can’t even begin to imagine what these girls have gone or are going through. It’s such a scary thought to find out you’re pregnant and have nowhere to go, no support, nothing but the clothes on your back. The shelter is truly a beautiful thing and it helps so many people. The staff also informed us that most of their stories end up being successful, which made me happy.
This experience also taught me to be so grateful for what I have.
I admit I take for granted what I have sometimes. But I have a wonderful family who loves and supports me and takes care of me. Those girls must have at some point had a family, but maybe things didn’t go smooth. They didn’t have anyone to lean on or have someone to talk to. It’s so upsetting, but it is true. I’m glad the shelter exists because it truly is helping so many.
My mom is my all time best friend. She helped me go through so much, from when I was 5, up to date. We talk about everything whether it’s about my crush at school or homework or choir catastrophes… Anything! She listens and that’s the biggest thing I could ask for. Not many people have that, which is why I say, thank you, mom. I love you.
Well, that about sums up our experience from Sunday.
Although it was slightly awkward, I do believe it did have an impact. It definitely opened the doors for discussion between my daughter and I. My hope is that my daughter not only learned some valuable information from this, but also perspective. Sometimes it is easy to take things for granted. The little things that our families have grown accustomed to may be out of reach for some. Those things like feelings loved and safe are truly a privilege in some cases.
Have you ever visited a shelter like this with your children? Let me know in the comments how you handle these topics with your children. I know everyone has their opinion on how to handle these things. I believe that being educated is always a positive thing, and the more knowledge you obtain the more power you will have in your life.