Thursday, February 15, 2007


She walked into the NICU with a slow gait, her head bowed, and not making eye contact with anyone. When I began talking to her she answered in short, quiet phrases. A former heroin and methadone addict whose other children had been removed from her custody, her body language and demeanor practically screamed "I have no self confidence."

And why should she? Unemployed herself, she was walking into a room full of productive, gainfully employed people. Her mothering skills were thought to be so marginal that she had to have Protective Services check her out before she could take her baby home. Everyone in the NICU knew that, and she knew they knew it. It was no wonder she felt insecure.

As I talked to her about normal baby things - feedings, car seats, and so on - she began to open up and talk more. She seemed very nice and concerned about her baby and asked appropriate questions. I also noticed that her hair, with the coarse texture typical of many African Americans, was beautifully woven into fine braids, something that took no small amount of time and effort to do. Could this attention to her appearance be a sign that she was now going to take better care of herself and her baby?

A little later I talked to another mother, a 17 year old first time mother. Her own mother had lost custody of her long before because of incompetence, and for the last three years she had lived with her aunt and uncle. Now, though, just after delivering her baby, they had kicked her out of the home, because they had one rule: she couldn't have any kids. The uncle might have been swayed to take her back, but according to our social worker the aunt had nothing good to say about her. Protective Services was in the process of trying to find a placement where she and her baby could go together. She, too, had body language that almost said "Kick me, I have low self esteem," which is hardly a surprise, given her history.

Two mothers, both with sad histories. I couldn't help but feel a little cautious optimism about the first one, because it seemed that maybe, just maybe, she had put her problems behind her. But the second one was just discouraging. With role models like hers, it would take a near miracle for her and her child to turn out better than the rest of her family.


Blogger SuperStenoGirl said...

It is always so sad to see young girls with histories like this. It begs you wonder if having a baby was a way of allowing them to have someone who loved them unconditionally, as opposed to their current situation with having no one.

As always, it is heartbreaking to know that this type of abuse goes on and reminds us not to 'judge the book by the cover' in cases of multiple young girls ending up pregnant. We've no idea how they have lived or what kind of life they have had.

These girls are victims of their environment and personal choices. Which is equally as sad.

But they are young, and have their whole lives yet to realize that they do not have to STAY victims. That no matter how difficult, overcoming their past can be done. And should be.

8:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How sad... I agree with superstenogirls first paragraph


2:33 AM  
Blogger Magpie said...

That's heartbreaking. And the more so because if they were in the NICU, they had tiny early needier-than-usual babies.

And I too agree with superstenogirl's first paragraph - they may well be seeking unconditional love.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Chris and Vic said...

And what do you think these young women are saying about us, when they walk out of our doors and are no longer on our turf?

That we are holier-than-thou?
That we are goodie-two-shoes?
That we are geeks/nerds?
That we are booksmart without being streetsmart?
That we are bigots (they would use a different terminology)?
That we just don't get it/get them?
That we live in ivory towers?
That we cannot begin to understand their culture?
That we are racist (again, another terminology for this concept)?

The young women are often caught up in a matriarchal culture--it fits with their culture to get sex/temporary attention from a male, but not hope for a marriage-style commitment. These young women then become mothers, which is the cornerstone of the cultural expectations.
They seem to be tough, unsentimental mothers, especially
to their sons. They raise their kids in an off-handed way, with the help of other females in their circles. These are "cousins" and "aunties" and a grandma. (I get at this by asking every newly delivered mom if she has help at home.)
They seem not to be as protective of their kids as other cultures.
They believe in letting their kids learn by hard knocks.
Appearances are important---they may be frighteningly poor, with not enough of the most basic necessities, but they have designer shoes and jackets.
If you think about these cultural values, point by point, you and I may find some things to respect and admire.
I don't feel as sorry for them as you-all do.
Chris and Vic

10:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a lot of sympathy for the aunt who kicked her niece out. Let's face it - having a baby out of wedlock at 17 is a largely predictable result of irresponsible behavior. The teenage mother was probably a bad influence on her younger cousins, and keeping her in the house would make the situation worse. A 17-year-old should be able to find her own apartment and getting her own job.

12:20 PM  
Blogger MotownRunnerGirl said...

Hi Neonatal Doc, I don't see an email address on here but I would like to ask if you would consider being interviewed for a newspaper story? I am not sure if you'd like me to make my pitch on here as this isn't really the forum for it. If you are interested, I would love to hear back from you. You can reach me at 313-222-6823 or email me at Again I apologize for the pitch on your blog but I don't see any other way of contacting you. I look forward to hearing back.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Chris and Vic said...

We learned in nursing school that the average age of first intercourse, across all cultures, over every time period in history where records are available, is 15. Are most young women using birth control at that time? Are they asking their moms and aunties to help them get birth control? If a mom or auntie is not approachable about sexuality, then a pregnancy may follow by age 17, I would guess. It is more logical than tragic.
I have seen girls who were children until they had babies of their own. Then they joined the matriarchs and "came of age" in their culture. This also makes sense. And it is not tragic.
NeoDoc sees these young women as tragic when they are viewed from our cultural filter and perspectives. They are not necessarily so within their own context.
The question to ask is: Will you be able to return to school? Who will watch the baby for you so that you can finish shcool?
If we have the time/inclination to really talk to these young women, we can ask them about enough food, WIC (Women, Infants, Children, a public assistance pgm where I live), and the prospects of being on welfare rather than supporting themselves. Then we will really know if they are okay or not. Social workers can help them navigate the system and finish school and find opportunities despite their obstacles, if the young moms want this (we need to ask if they do) and if the social workers are not judgmental. In my area, teen moms can live at Rosalie Manor with their babies; there is a highschool, Lady Pitts, that accomodates the teen mother/baby dyad.
Chris and Vic

10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris and Vic,

It's all well and good to point out that such circumstances are not as bad as we may consider them in this culture, but the fact is, these young mothers live in our culture. A high school diploma is the barest of bare minimums needed to earn a living wage today, and often even that is not enough. Viewing WIC and Welfare as longterm support is not only overly optimistic (as typical welfare doesn't provide much and often results in the mother's purposely getting pregnant again to get more Welfare money, continuing the cycle), but totally impossible-- many states (and it may be a federal thing) have enacted tough limits on how long an individual may receive Welfare benefits. In my state the total is two years. After the limit has been reached, the women are forced to find a job, and with only a high school education (if they're lucky) the women are forced into low-paying, dead-end jobs.

Yes, they ARE products of a different culture. But the culture they come from does not give them the tools they need to escape poverty and achieve success within the dominant culture. (That's not putting a value judgement on either the dominant culture or the culture of which you speak; it's just a fact that with the exception of a small percentage of people in the entertainment world, most people who achieve success and are able to earn a living in the US adopt many, if not all, of the basic values of the dominant culture.)

If we who live in the privilege of the middle and upper classes are content with there being a permanent lower class out of which it is nearly impossible to escape.....if we think that single teenage motherhood is okay because it's accepted in the culture of the poor.....we are saying that it's okay for these young women to remain poor with no way out.

I don't accept that. As superstenogirl said so eloquently, they don't have to stay victims. We should focus not on getting them on Welfare but on getting them the education and training they need to have more choices.

11:26 PM  
Anonymous Chris and Vi said...

Anonymous, if the two young women in ND's example could read what you wrote or hear you say it out loud, would they feel welcomed into mainstream culture?

My approach is to ask and listen, finding out out where they are, and then encouraging them to take some baby steps upward.

There is a major campaign where I work (and I have worked to make the campaign genuine and sincere) to develop cultural sensitivity. The post I wrote comes from that perspective.

I also come from the perspective of one who was once on welfare---I was a single mom with 5 kids on welfare when I went back to school. I know well the dissed feeling that ND describes that makes you look hang-dog . . . And the most helpful thing for me was to be encouraged rather than pitied or looked down upon. Those of us who are luckier must be encouraging, gently encouraging.

I also want to say that I sincerely repspect some aspects of the culture--I appreciate the "toughness" and lack of male dependency that these young women have. They have the potential to be self-sufficient and self-protective with their toughness. I see a lot of "shows" of anger, and I understand it. And I think it often serves them well. Those of us raised to value politeness and mannerliness may find it abrasive, but I can see it . . .
Chris and Vic

10:42 AM  
Blogger neonataldoc said...

Interesting stuff, everyone, thank you. Chris and Vic, when they leave the hospital I hope that these moms just think for a moment or two, hey, that doc was a nice guy. You may admire the lack of male dependency these moms have, and I respect that. But the flip side is that kids brought up in single parent homes just don't do as well as a group as kids in two parent homes.

I don't expect miracles for my moms. I just want them to have a shot at bettering the lives of themselves and their kids, maybe just a little bit, by getting an education, or taking care of themselves, and so on.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The statement that average age of first intercourse is always 15 is absolutely false. In the 1800's Ireland had an average age of first marriage at 30 for women and no reliable birth control was available - yet illegitimate babies were rare. The only possible explanation is that women kept celibate until marriage.

Ireland was extreme, but not unique. Many countries have first marriage well past puberty but virtually no illegitimate babies. Women are quite capable of controlling themselves if they are required to.

10:49 PM  
Blogger sexy said...







1:58 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home