Christine Koh

Hello!

I'm Christine Koh, a music and brain neuroscientist turned multimedia creative. I'm the founder + editor of Boston Mamas, co-author of Minimalist Parenting, co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, and creative director at Women Online. Drop me a line; I'd love to chat about how we can work together!

Featured Mama Isabela Garcia

garcia_1.jpgWelcome to Boston Mamas Rock! – where we’re giving a voice to fabulous local mamas from all walks of life. Read on for today’s interview with Isabela Garcia, a young mother who has overcome the challenges and stereotypes associated with teenage pregnancy to create a loving environment for her son, while pursuing her education and contemplating future aspirations of becoming a psychologist or doula, writing a book, and advocating for more realistic sex education in schools.

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Christine: Welcome, Isabela. I should start by saying that this is a very, very different – and possibly controversial – interview for us. For obvious reasons, we do not recommend that teens choose to get pregnant, but we were inspired by your story and feel that you are representative of a cultural reality, and have handled your teen pregnancy and young motherhood with resilience and courage. Thank you for taking the time to share your story.

Isabela: You’re welcome.

Christine: You had your son Jeremiah when you were 16 years old. How did you react when you learned that you were pregnant?

Isabela: I told my mother immediately, because [I knew] it would make the situation a reality. I was mainly questioning how I would finish my education, as I had maintained the reputation of being an outstanding student and was worried about how my mom would react, as we were very close. Luckily, with the assurance and support of her and Sam (my child's father), I was put very much at ease and looked forward to the journey ahead of me. I looked at it in a positive manner and never felt sorry for myself.

Christine: How do you cope with the judgment that comes with being a teen parent? Do you use these instances of judgment to fuel your own commitment to parenting? What have been the biggest challenges?

Isabela: I ignore all the judgment and criticism I face from strangers, as the people around me know the truth about the commitment, love, and hard work I put into my son from my pregnancy up until now. I just would like to remind the people who want to judge and criticize that at 17, I spent my Friday nights playing and cuddling with my infant, reading stories, and doing work after he went to sleep...while their 17-year-old teenager was most likely at a party or other unknown location underage drinking. I would never go back to that lifestyle.

Every time I get a dirty look or a judgmental face - and trust me in Boston it's the worst, not only because I'm young but also because I have a biracial son - I just smile and push my son to his playgroup a little quicker.

I would say the biggest challenge is connecting with other older mothers. I attend the same classes with their children, the same libraries, breastfeed my son the same way, question my son's development at every milestone, have the support of my husband and family, etc., but instead of looking at me as an equal mother they look at me as a "teen mother." I'm just a mother. Period.

Christine: What support systems do you have in place? Is your partner also a teenager? Is he working or in school? Do you have relatives helping you? Essentially, how are you making life work, particularly in a highly educated city (meaning, job competition can be tough) and a challenging economy?

Isabela: I have plenty of support systems. I have strong relationships with my close friends, and my mother and grandmother support me tremendously...as does my dad, although he took a longer time to adjust…but in the end I proved any doubts he had wrong. My husband is 22, and he is an accounting major at Eastern Nazarene and does part time work in the financial district. We live in our own apartment, and Sam works while I stay home with Jeremiah doing what every other city mom does. We live quite well thanks to the hard work that Sam puts in. I took 3 classes last semester, and finished with 3 A's. Occasionally, I'll do babysitting here and there...but I bring my son along. I live in a highly educated city, but I'm also a highly cultured and educated young woman, coming from an immensely educated family. My husband comes from a family of educators and is well traveled and highly capable..so that really is not an issue. I feel grateful to have strong role models surrounding me.

Christine: What resources did you draw on to help you through your teen pregnancy and early parenthood days? For example, were there any organizations you found supportive or books/websites that you found especially helpful?

Isabela: I like to refer to my pregnancy as a pregnancy, not a "teen pregnancy." It was not different than any other woman's pregnancy. I had the same symptoms, ate the same healthy foods, and went through the same joys of pregnancy. I took my pregnancy seriously the minute I saw that positive line. I read Dr. Sears’ pregnancy and baby books, and What to Expect When You Are Expecting. I researched endless amounts of websites and books to make decisions on circumcision, natural labor, and breastfeeding. I also had a great OB at Hampshire OB/GYN, and a great delivery. Once I had Jeremiah, I pretty much had most of it figured out. And any questions I had along the way, as ANY new mother does, I received from a close relative or a nearby book. But in most situations, I went with my motherly instinct…and it worked!

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Christine: Your nominator said that you delayed school so you could exclusively nurse but now (as an 18-year-old) are taking courses at Quincy College. What kind of schooling are you pursuing and how are you balancing school with family life?

Isabela: I was supposed to finish high school a year early, but I left school in April of 2007 as a junior. I was due in May. I did tutoring to finish up any loose ends up until I gave birth so I could graduate. I plan to pursue a degree in psychology, focusing on child psychology. But I'm thinking about becoming certified as a doula. I will see how it plays out. Balancing school and family has been rewarding. I go to school and have personal time as well as study what I love, while my son bonds with his grandmother, grandfather, or father.

Christine: I also understand that you want to write a book about your experiences as a teen mother. What would be the angle and message of that book?

Isabela: The message of the book would be not to focus on the mother's age and the hardships she will face. But to be filled with important facts, ideas, and support that will offer the mother a chance to make conscious decisions regarding healthy eating, dealing with unsupportive peers, and in some cases absent partners, so she can avoid these hardships. I also would love to encourage attachment parenting ideas, and realistic ones, so that these moms learn ways to feel closer to their child, instead of seeing him/her with resentment. More importantly, I would offer ways in which to take advantage of their youth and make it work for them.

The point it not to inspire teen pregnancy. The point is to inspire young mothers to make a stronger statement and be taken more seriously. Because at the end of the day they are still doing what every other mother does...but some of them don't have the love and support that older women do. Therefore, they make poor choices. But if the world would stop being so judgmental when the situation does occur, then some of this could be avoided. Plus, the book would have some of my sarcastic humor, and be easy to relate to since I've been there.

Christine: Several of my writers and I have discussed that as a society, we need to demand better sex education, and then support the needs of young families and single parents. Do you have any interest in pursuing advocacy around spreading awareness around teen pregnancy issues? If so, in what ways?

Isabela: It's sad how much girls don't know about their own bodies. And there's a direct correlation with the lack of sex education. I would hope that the government and school systems would realize that if they don't deal with real issues like explaining the pull-out method, birth control, sex on a period, etc. – and the REAL questions that these girls have - they end up with more teen pregnancies and jeopardize the future of our next generations. I really would love to be an advocate for stronger and more realistic sex education in the schools and with families who weren't as educated. Just because a 15-year-old girl has a 35-year-old mother, it doesn't mean the mother will always educate her properly about sex and protection, because she may not know the truth, regardless of her age. I would love to go around and speak in high schools or to teen girls and answer questions and explain the issues I faced with pregnancy at a young age...because it's much easier to relate to an 18-year-old with an almost 2-year-old than a stranger who had her kids at 25.

Christine: You clearly have embraced motherhood, but parenthood is the hardest job out there. What would your message be to other young women regarding waiting for parenthood?

Isabela: I would say to young women thinking about becoming pregnant, to enjoy every minute of being a child and young adult. There is nothing to rush for! You will still be a great mother in 10 years. But you will have more support, more life experience (no matter how mature you think you are), and more time to enjoy yourself…and the partner who supposedly wants you to have their child. If a pregnancy does occur, enjoy those months and educate yourself as much as possible. And hold your head up high, make responsible choices, and all good things will come! We're women after all.

Christine: One of my contributing writers – who is a parent educator at Planned Parenthood - shared a feature on teen pregnancy in the media and how to talk to kids about the topic. How do you think being a teen parent will shape how you educate your son about choices around parenthood?

Isabela: I will educate my son about the truth and realities of sex and pregnancy at a young age. My son, unfortunately, will feel the stigmatism of having a young mother, because sadly that's how people are. But hopefully he will see beyond that, and look at it as a lesson for his future life, but still have pride in his past. Because whenever that time comes, I feel certain we will be in a great place.

Christine: Is there anything else you would like to share with us about your experiences, or your goals for you and your family?

Isabela: In the end, I'm proud of who I am and my choice to have my son. I'm grateful that I have the love and support of Sam and our family…and a wide support network that many girls don't have. I could have taken the easy way out, but where would that have left me? I wake up everyday thrilled to experience a new adventure with Jeremiah. Or hear what new thing he's learned. Sam and I just got married on February 28; we had a big traditional wedding and all of our family was there to support us. I don't look at my story as a sob story...I look at it as an interesting and rewarding twist of motherhood on my journey as becoming a woman who stands out in the world.

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