“I just didn’t have anyone to really talk to who was on the same level as me as far as being a teen mom,” says Destiny, 20.
It’s hard to be lonely on this Wednesday night meeting of the teen mother support group Destiny helped form in the spring at Children’s National Medical Center. Slices of pizza have been eaten. As their toddlers play, four mothers are gathered around a table, sharing the highs and lows of their lives. They meet twice a month, and all the young women are involved with a program at the hospital called Healthy Generations.
The program does many things. It provides medical care for the teen parent and her child. (Some teen dads participate, too, though there are fewer of them, and they don’t come to this support group.) Social workers help teens navigate issues involving housing, child care, abuse or domestic violence. A psychologist works with teens who may be dealing with depression or other mental issues.
“I have two little kids,” says Dr. Lee Beers, director of the program, which is in the hospital’s Diana L. and Stephen A. Goldberg Center for Community Pediatric Health. “It’s hard to be a parent no matter what.”
Add to that the special challenges of being an adolescent parent — teenagers are “not good at thinking long-term,” is how Dr. Beers puts it — and it’s easy to understand why the program is so vital.
“But they’re amazingly mature and resilient,” Dr. Beers says. “Most of them want to be good parents. That’s a very motivating factor for them.”
Some of the moms who come to the support group admit they haven’t always had the best role models when it comes to parenting. They know their kids will model their behavior. Whose behavior should they be modeling?
Destiny is the driving force behind the support group. (She calls it her “second baby,” then jokes: “I don’t want any more.”)
“I’ve grown to love the people here,” she says. “Like Lindsey and Jen are pretty awesome.”
That’s Lindsey Doyle and Jennifer Floran, family service coordinators who work with the mothers. They also sometimes help steer the conversation, though for the most part the moms themselves are the ones doing the talking — in the meetings and outside them, too.
“Destiny, she calls and checks on me all the time,” says a mom named Tiffany. “And she texts me all the time.”
Tiffany is 19, and she admits that her nearly 22-month-old daughter, Yue, can sometimes be a challenge.
“She’s an interesting, unique baby,” Tiffany says. She’s grateful for any parenting advice the other moms or the hospital staff can offer.
Dr. Beers said that, on average, 30 to 50 percent of teen parents in Washington will have another pregnancy within two years. “In our program, it’s less than 10 percent, usually between 6 and 9 percent.”
More than 90 percent of the 2-year-olds in the program are up to date on their vaccinations. Participants are more likely to stay in school and graduate, too.
“It’s possible for us to do all this because we have this multidisciplinary team,” Dr. Beers says.
I ask Destiny what the best part of being a mom is.
“Waking up to him,” she says, nodding toward Haiden. Every morning she takes three or four Instagram photos of him.
“Even though I’m doing it by myself, even though sometimes Haiden and I are like rrrrr” — Destiny grimaces in the universal expression of a mother occasionally overwhelmed by her rambunctious child — “I like learning about him. I like teaching him new things.”
And in the process, Destiny is learning new things, too.
Giving support to a teen mom helps two lives: hers and her child’s. Similarly, donating to Children’s Hospital helps our entire community.
You can participate in our annual fundraising drive by going to www.childrensnational.org/washingtonpost or sending a check (payable to Children’s Hospital) to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.