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Altitude and Attitude: Teen moms and a changing culture
The saying goes that altitude depends on attitude, or how high one goes in life depends on one’s outlook. For teen moms, their altitude includes diapers, midnight feedings, baby formula in addition to midterms, ballgames and what to wear to prom. For too many of these moms, the whole mixing school and baby becomes a series of choices for an overwhelmed and exhausted girl. Choices must be made. Consequences faced. In order of priority, baby comes first, school second. 

Teen pregnancy in the 21st century has more to do with lost opportunity than loss of life. Young mothers earn less, get less education and don’t have the career success of their peers. Babies born to teen moms are more likely to be premature because teen moms are less likely to have complete prenatal care. 

Not all teen pregnancies are created equal. There is a big difference between a fifteen year old sophomore having a baby and a married nineteen year old having a baby. Kentucky recognizes this difference and points its prevention programs toward younger teens. Kentucky is trying to help these moms. According to Beth Fisher, of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Communication Office, programs like Health Access Nurturing Development Services, known as “Hands On”, provide home visits and support for first time parents. “Hands On” is for all first time moms, not just teens. The program provides information on pregnancy, baby care and on infant growth and development. It’s available in every health department in the state.
Mainstream American attitudes toward teen pregnancy have evolved over the years, There are regional and socio-economic differences that can be seen by looking back at the map of Kentucky.  In pre-World War Two America, the reasons for having large families were as economic as they were social. Women started having children at a young age and kept having them until their child bearing years were over. Infants succumbed to disease and most families lost at least one during childhood. Children were part of the economic engine that kept the family fed. Prior to child labor laws, children worked and contributed income to the family by factory work or joined their agricultural families in the fields.
Social mores dictated that marriage meant sex. Before birth control, sex meant babies. For women whose social standing would disappear with an out of wedlock baby, sex meant marriage. For married couples, lack of babies meant either lack of sex or something was wrong with somebody. “One big happy family” was the goal.
Having children was a risky business for women. Little was known of germs and their relationship to childbirth. During World War One, more American women died in childbirth than American soldiers died in the Great War. Dr. Margaret Sanger, an early 20th century medical pioneer, treated birth control not so much as an issue to limit family size as to save women’s lives.

Health is now just one of the reasons to address unplanned teen pregnancy. The other reasons have to do with altitude and attitude.

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