Teen Pregnancy: A Day-in-the-Life

Teen PregnancyCourtesy of the Family

Stephanie has a harder, longer day than most high school seniors. While they're hitting the snooze button, 17-year-old Stephanie is already in a mad dash to get two people out the door: herself, and her 10-month-old daughter Melanie.

VIDEO: Taking care of six month old and herself, mom reveals: "Its pretty stressful."Play

It's not a life she ever imagined for herself, but it's reality for the nearly 500,000 American girls who become mothers each year.

For Stephanie, motherhood came when she was just 15 and a sophomore in high school. A popular cheerleader, she was the proverbial last person anyone thought would get pregnant.

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The news surprised everyone -- especially her. "Throwing up was the first sign. I really thought I had the stomach flu. But eventually it was becoming clear that I didn't have the stomach flu. And when I did find out I was in denial."

Stephanie was in such denial that it took three or four pregnancy tests before she accepted the terrifying reality. Scared as she was about her future, Stephanie was even more worried about how her conservative Catholic mother, Milagros, would react.

"The day I told my mom was very stressful and heartbreaking because I know she wants the best for me. And I knew she was going to be disappointed in me," she recalls. After all, Stephanie had gone to church every Sunday and dutifully listened to her mother's lectures about the "birds and the bees." And she did use birth control -- at least most of the time. "It's not something I remembered taking daily," she admitted.

At first, Milagros was furious. "After the tears came anger and she told me to leave the house," said Stephanie, who stayed with her older sister for a week and a half.

Milagros eventually calmed down and allowed Stephanie to return home, under one condition: she had to do her own chores. The tasks would be a homework assignment in preparation for her new life as a mother.

"I'm going to have to learn how to be independent because eventually I'm gonna have to learn how to do everything for my child," explained Stephanie.

The training proved to be necessary, since Melanie's father has left most of the parenting to Stephanie.

Juggling Diaper Bags and Backpacks

According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, this scenario is typical -- only 8 percent of teen fathers or fathers whose children are born to teen partners marry the mothers within the first year of the child's life.

Initially, Stephanie wasn't sure she was cut out for being a single parent.

"Melanie was born in the summer and my mom was away at work and I was pretty much the one who had to do everything," she said. "It gets very frustrating when you're a mom and you don't know what to do with your own child."

The unprecedented challenge of motherhood became even greater a few months later, when Stephanie started her senior year of high school. With three generations of women under one roof, and diaper bags and formula to prepare, it was tough making it to class before the bell rang at 7:24 a.m.

"I have to feed her, dress her and be on time to school. It's pretty stressful because I'm always thinking, 'Am I going to make it in time?' I always pay attention to the time and I'm like, 'OK, it's 7:21. I've got 3 minutes to go.'"

On her way to class each morning, Stephanie dropped Melanie off at a nursery located inside her school.

Sue Belski, the Program Director at Salem High School's Children's Friend and Family Services Teen Parent Program, is a combination mentor, counselor and sounding board to many of the school's teenage parents.

"I think a lot of people make the assumption that once you become a parent you reach this level of maturity, which isn't true," Belski said. "They're still adolescents, and they're just like their peers in terms of not understanding what the real world is. They still need to be parented themselves."

The Teen Parent Program creates a safe haven for students and gives them a fighting chance at beating the gloomy prospects facing most teen parents. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the dropout rate for high school mothers is a staggering 60 percent, compared to just 5.6 percent for those without children.

Stephanie Graduates: 'My Daughter is My Motivation'

But Stephanie triumphantly beat the odds. Earlier this month, she walked across the stage at Salem High and received her diploma, as her proud mother and gurgling little Melanie watched.

Milagros has changed as well, her initial anger quickly giving way to grandmotherly adoration. "When I see my granddaughter...and she is smiling, I can see God smiling to me," she said.

For Stephanie, the diploma represents lessons learned both inside and outside the classroom.

"Having my daughter has brought me nothing but joy, but the journey to achieve my goals has been a difficult one," she explained. "A year and a half ago I did not believe I'd be in this place but I think she was brought here for many reasons. I think she's here to better me as a person. I was not on track, and now I am. I feel that my daughter is my motivation and she made me who I am today."

Inspired by her daughter, Stephanie now plans to attend a community college and become a pediatric nurse.

In spite of her success, Stephanie still has a few words of caution for other young girls: "Be smart. That one moment is just a moment. A kid is a lifetime."