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the night ten of my daughters gave birth

April 16, 2011

About 20 years ago, I was working as a houseparent in a group home for adoles-

cent girls.  With an average of 20 residents and an all-but-me female staff, I was

at sea in an ocean of estrogen.  To try to fit in, I would retain fluids once a month;

but they told me a thermos didn’t count.

The home’s social worker got 10 of the girls enrolled in an innovative program to

teach them the responsibility of parenting.  They attended classes on the physical,

emotional and financial costs of child-bearing.  Then they got “pregnant”.  They

took turns wearing a rig that simulated carrying a baby.  They wouldn’t let me

try it as a gesture of empathy, but one girl offered to slug me in the bladder.

Shortly after supper chores one night, the social worker announced on the P.A.

system “Ladies, your time has come.  Report to the van.”  They were going to the

hospital.  I drove.  They really got into the spirit of it.  When I rattled over some

railroad tracks, one of them yelled “My water just broke!” 

At the maternity ward, each girl did symbolic paperwork for admission, was briefly

examined by a nurse, and received a doll.  The girls were to treat the dolls as infants

for two weeks.  Then they could keep the dolls or return them to the program for

$10 each.

The girls were required to have the dolls with them at all times, except when they

went to school.  Then they had to arrange for daycare, which consisted of lining the

“babies” up in front of the staff office in the commons area.  One day when the girls

were gone, the social worker put a small Tootsie Roll in each diaper.  Judging from

the “ewwwwwwws” of the “moms”, they still had a lot to learn.

For more realism, the staff played a tape of a real baby crying over the P.A. system

in the middle of the night.  The girls were told to get up and find out why their kids

were upset. The other girls found this most annoying. Actually, the “moms” did too.

The program made its point.  I don’t know how the girls fared after they left the

home, but they got to face a fundamental challenge of life with lots of support.  At

the end of the two weeks, 8 of the girls chose to keep their “babies”.  The girl who

might have learned the most returned her doll, saying “I’m nowhere near ready

for this.”

The other girl who returned hers simply shrugged “I need the $10 for car tags.”

  1. April 16, 2011 2:51 am

    When I was 24, I was the house mom in a group home for unwed teenage moms. I got free rent and a monthly stipend. On top of that, I worked a 40 hour a week job with a daily two hour commute, and I was a single mom to a 2 year old. Believe me, that was an experience!

    The biggest reason given by girls who went to St Anne’s, which was a residence for pregnant teenagers who had been thrown out of their houses was that they wanted someone who would love them unconditionally.

    These 14 through 17 year olds had no clue that no one would rent to them, and their parents usually wouldn’t let them come back home. They got a rude awakening, but St Anne’s was good because they would put the girls through vocational training so they could get a job soon after giving birth.

    It truly was the school of hard knocks. The girls at the facility you were at were lucky. Damned lucky. Hopefully it taught them a good lesson, and delayed the onset of pregnancy.

    • April 16, 2011 10:42 am

      Thank you for sharing that, Rosie. Had a girl at our facility actually become pregnant, she would have had to go to a home like St. Anne’s.

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