The babies were all cute, but the mothers were mostly exhausted. Sometimes the dads stuck around, sometimes they didn’t. Most of the girls were still single, one was married. One guy made a movie and literally found a lady off the street to talk about her life, one adult student did a movie about sex education. All had fascinating stories to tell at last night’s premier movie at Out North Theatre, which was produced by Pro-Creativity, with movies and stories created and told by the directors in their own voices. After each act, the mothers stood in front of the audience and answered questions from the audience which took a lot of bravery.
If pressed to sum up the evening in one word, a theater attendee (Anchorage Family Examiner’s husband) said he would say that it was, “honest.” He had gone, dragged by his wife who had also stuffed their 14 year old, complaining daughter in the car, because his wife didn’t want to go alone. “Come on,” he mocked her voice to a waitress at an all night cafe, “It’ll be fun! Do you realize that the last few times she said that I have wound up with fake blood and a fake knife stuck in my side as we helped a rescue team prepare for a disaster, and that I was forced to don on medieval regalia at an SCA event where I had to joust for her honor?” But last night’s event was not ending up with him in any uncomfortable gear are laying on a floor in a semi-dark room, only with thought provoking questions and comments on a topic that scares every parent: teen pregnancy.
The stories were not hard luck stories about fallen girls who have no future. All of the young women are bright and should they have a 20 year reunion, no one will be surprised to see these women being leaders in their communities with children who will be well on their way to wonderful careers and follow in the footsteps of success of their mothers. These are stories of girls who were what most would identify as normal teenagers; they hung out with friends, had a boyfriend and got pregnant. Motherhood for them is what motherhood is for anyone who has had a child to raise, but when most teenagers still have milestones to meet, such as going to senior prom, wearing cute clothes, and “buying stuff,” they had a rapid gear shift into adulthood, where senior prom wasn’t a priority, they were wearing maternity clothes (tents, no matter how well made, are never attractive,) and thinking of money in how many diaper packages or formula* it will buy.
Since many of the movie maker mothers are under 18, AFE is reluctant to share their names.
“I wanted to throw up,” said the mother of one mom. In her story, “When I got pregnant” she interviewed various family members about how they felt when she announced her pregnancy. The first thing that struck AFE was how young her mom looked and indeed, she spoke of having a teen pregnancy herself. She was not unhappy about her grandchild, but just about knowing what an abrupt end her daughter would have to her own childhood while she stepped up to the task in front of her.
A very important point made in many of the films was how much a pregnancy affected those around the girls/young women. Step parents were affected. Mothers of the mothers were affected. Some needed space to process what had happened. One grandmother was asked what advice she would give to teens and she blamed herself and said that she didn’t feel qualified to give advice to teenagers since her own daughter didn’t take it from her.
Another mom spoke of getting her little one out the door. The most simple tasks like going out to the car that took her little more time than thinking about going required her to get a diaper bag ready, make a bottle, make sure her baby was clean and dry, and suddenly several minutes had passed. There were camera views of her having her baby at school with her, which every new parent realizes is not easy. She still had to do the things she always did, but had to make extra time for her baby. Her story was telling it like it is with a lot of humor thrown in (she made baby spit-up at 3:15 funny as she explained doing extra laundry,) which is what staying somewhat sane as a parent is all about.
One of the moms came to Alaska from out of state and her story was complicated, where she spoke of having had to deal with a lawyer before she came up and how she was fortunate to find a school in Anchorage that allowed her to bring her baby to school and finish up her schooling.
A father spoke in one of the films about how his girlfriend getting pregnant ruined his life in some ways, but cried with overwhelming love as he told of how in other ways, his life was made greater by the presence of his new baby.
There was nothing shocking in the films, which is good. With as much wrong that could happen, the teenaged moms are having no unusual problems. They are not incapable monster mommies, but they are also not Prince[sses] of Bel Aire living an easy life. The combination of 11 short films was strengthened by the stories being presented together. Single mothering is hard, but possible. One girl left an abusive relationship and her life was much easier doing it alone than with an abusive boyfriend thrown in. Another girl got married and her video was delightful as we heard what sounded like her husband narrating life from her baby’s perspective.
Missing from this, which the director probably had little control over, was the new father’s voices. In a day and age when DNA dads are often vulgarly referred to as sperm donors (though none of the young women in the documentaries referred to them as such) it would have been nice to hear what they had to say about what happens from the guy’s perspective.
Over all, the showing was great and worth going in for from Mat-Su. AFE's 14 year old left, not having learned anything new because she has six younger siblings, but she was contemplating how short the teen years are and hopes that teens seeing this realize that putting off sex now (people get pregnant all the time on birth control) until they are older is not a bad idea because, as one of the moms explained that when someone becomes a parent, their role as a child ends.
*The mothers did say that they were encouraged to breast feed, and all did for varying lengths of time.