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A Hard Road For Young Mothers
May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month
Support Group: Public health nurse Holly Jordt, front center, plays with 3-month-old Kassandra Brockel, while meeting with Victoria Mooney, Savannah Gibson, Nakita Mulligan, Sara Ferren and Fallon Smith during a teen pregnancy group at LASER Alternative School in Kalispell. Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
Sitting in a classroom in the old Linderman School building, the group of five teenage girls talked to each other about boy problems, clothes and their upcoming finals.

But for these teens, boy problems meant trying to communicate and figure out life with their respective baby’s father, clothes talk meant wondering where they could find inexpensive or free clothes for their babies, and class stress meant, in their words, the difference between beating expectations for teen mothers or ending up as a statistic.

For about an hour, these young women met with public health nurse Holly Jordt to chat about their issues as teen mothers as part of the Baby Steps program, formerly known as the MIAMI Project.

Jordt works specifically with teens, but the Baby Steps program includes high-risk women of all ages, connecting them with public resources such as Medicaid, the WIC food program, family planning and the Flathead County Health Center at the Flathead City-County Health Department.

The service also works with teen fathers, as well as all types of dads, Jordt said.

May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month and Jordt and Mandie Fleming, a health promotion specialist with Flathead Family Planning, hope to promote resources available to teens, but want to push prevention so those resources aren’t needed.

And as the five girls discuss their day-to-day lives, it’s easy to see there’s nothing easy about becoming pregnant during one’s teenage years. For Savannah Gibson, 15, it meant leaving behind her life and boyfriend in Billings and moving to the Flathead after she was kicked out of her home there.

With 3-month-old Kassandra in her lap, Savannah is well spoken and bright, but worried she won’t be able to finish enough credits to get a diploma. She would graduate with a GED if necessary, but a diploma would be nice, she said.

But since she goes to school twice a week, she only has two credits so far as a freshman and time is ticking away.

“I’m going to be 33 when she’s 18,” Savannah said, looking from her baby to her peers. “Soon, she’s going to be walking and I can’t even drive yet.”

The other girls are supportive, and tell Savannah she’s done a great job with Kassandra. Getting a diploma is important to all of them, and as Nakita Mulligan, 19, said, it will be helpful for getting a job in the long run.

Nakita is a senior this year and expects to graduate. She is 17 weeks pregnant, and it has already changed her life. Supporting the life inside her has made tasks such as walking up the stairs more difficult; she has gained weight and her joints ache.

Relationships are also a cause of stress in her life, and she told Jordt that she has to find a way to make sure she gets enough sleep at night. Her previous night-owl way of life doesn’t cut it anymore now that her unborn baby is waking her up early in the morning.

“The way I’m dealing with it now is focusing on getting my final in history done,” Nakita said.

Fallon Smith, also 19, can relate to a lack of sleep. Her 3-month-old daughter Mia has her awake by 5 a.m. so Fallon can get her ready for daycare. Financial worry is a big part of Fallon’s life now, and she hopes to get an apartment closer to town to save money on gas.

Having children is a costly endeavor in general, but the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services estimates teen pregnancy is expensive for taxpayers as well as families.

In 2004, the costs associated with teen pregnancy was roughly $18 million per year in Montana, with $8 million in federal costs and $10 million in state and local costs. The price of teen childbearing includes public sector health care costs, increased child welfare costs, increased prison costs and lost tax revenue.

On the other hand, DPHHS reported in its 2010 annual family planning report that nationally every $1 spent in family planning services results in $4 saved in public expenditures.

That same report noted that Montana saves an average of $12,257 in Medicaid costs for the prevention of one unintended pregnancy. These costs include “prenatal care, delivery, and the first year of an infant’s medical care.”

In 2009, 32 percent of high school students reported that they are sexually active, and there were 1,629 pregnancies for girls between 15 and 19 years old, according to DPHHS.

Fleming said one of the biggest challenges she faces with Flathead Family Planning is getting the message out about the clinic’s services out to teenagers. The public service promotes delaying sexual activity, Fleming said, but it also teaches about birth control, contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and other important topics.

“We want (teens) to be able to talk to (their) parents, but sometimes that’s not realistic,” Fleming said.

Family planning services cannot release confidential information, Fleming said. There is a teen clinic every Monday afternoon from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. where clients have access to all family planning services, including STD testing, treatments and pregnancy testing, Fleming said.

The clinic works on a sliding fee scale, so for many teens that would likely mean a donation, she added.

As a public health nurse, Jordt visits the local public high schools as a resource for students with questions and to promote prevention. She is trying to do as much as possible with the grant that funds Baby Steps; that program also gives the girls partial school credit through the Bridge Academy and the LASER Alternative School.

They discuss their babies and their stresses through the flexible curriculum, Jordt said, and they learn how to navigate the world in their new roles as teen moms.

“I think it’s been a huge addition to what we do,” Jordt said.

In the classroom, the girls discussed which responsibilities in their lives are necessary and which can be put on hold if they get overwhelmed. Things like television, texting and Facebook often hit the backburner, they said, while their children, schoolwork and working are high-level priorities.

The girls said their pregnancies have changed nearly every aspect of their lives.

Victoria Mooney, 18, whose 7-month-old daughter Valentina has been active and giggling throughout the meeting, summed it up: “It’s just … it’s hard being a mom.”

For more information about the Flathead City-County Health Department services, visit www.flathead.mt.gov/health or call 406-751-8150.
On 05-23-12, thinker commented....
While I would say this article is more balanced than the sob story articles about teenage girls who can’t support themselves, much less their children, and expect taxpayers to foot the bill,  I find it to be fairly objective, except for the paragraph about the “responsibilities”…
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