Monica Woodruff is 18 years old and the mother of a 7-month-old daughter. Darcell Henderson is 15 and the mother of a 3-month-old son. Both young women live in Washington, and both appeared recently before a House subcomittee studying teen-age pregnancy to tell their stories -- and to tell other young women that children who have children forsake their own childhood.
"Even though I love my baby and I'm glad that I have her," said Woodruff, "being a teen parent is not something I wish for my friends or my younger sister.
"I never had sex education in school, but it would have been helpful. When I was 16 I started having sex and my boyfriend used condoms off and on. I used the pill sometimes too but got careless and stopped.
"Being a mother is hard work at any age but being a teen-ager makes it even harder . . . . Babies aren't like playing with dolls. They cry and sometimes need constant attention. Having a baby has forced me to be more responsible and look at my life differently. Things I may have wanted to do before getting pregnant, like college and a career, are different now. Before I think about my dreams, I have to think about taking care of my baby.
"Now I've gotten my GED graduate equivalency diploma but I want to do more and do better but I've got a baby. My message to all teens is to think carefully before they have sex and try not to get pregnant. There are a lot of things girls should do first . . . .
"I could be making plans for my future, but instead I'm making plans for my baby's future."
Henderson testified that she became sexually active at 14 and did not use an effective method of birth control. "They didn't start sex education in my class until after I got back to school from having my baby. I think it would be better to start teaching sex education at younger ages.
"Being a teen parent has changed my life and I tell my friends that they shouldn't have sex and if they do, they should use some protection. Some of my friends listen but a lot of them don't. Some have babies just to keep their boyfriends but it doesn't work.
"I can't do everything my friends are doing because now I have a son to worry about . . . . Sometimes I'm late for school because it takes me so long to do everything in the morning for me and my baby."
Some 525,000 teen-agers gave birth in 1983 and 10,000 of them were 14 years old or younger, according to a new report by the Children's Defense Fund. More than 300,000 had not finished high school, and 36,000 had not finished eighth grade. "About 31 percent of these births are paid for by Medicaid at an annual cost of $200 million," the report found. About 60 percent of all mothers on Aid to Families with Dependent Children were teen-agers. Of white mothers age 25 and under who are heading families, more than 70 percent are poor, as are 85 percent of their black counterparts.
"Yet," argues the CDF, "we are being told by some that we cannot afford $100 million this year to establish more comprehensive school-based clinics which have demonstrated their effectiveness in reducing teen pregnancy rates. That's equivalent to one MX missile."
Rosann Wisman, executive director of Planned Parenthood for Metropolitan Washington, told the House subcommittee on public assistance and unemployment compensation that 14 cities are offering health services, including family planning, in or near schools. She said reports from the experiment at four schools in St. Paul, Minn., showed that fertility rates declined from 59 births per 1,000 female students in 1976-77 to 26 per 1,000 in 1983-84.
The health centers offer general health checks and educational programs, as well as family planning programs and contraception. "These clinics have been very successful . . . . The main reason is location. The clinic is where the young people are," said Wisman. "On the average, a teen waits nine months to a year after initiating sexual activity to seek a method of contraception. The main reason teens cite for delaying is that 'they just didn't get around to it.' School-based clinics eliminate that excuse."
The success of the program in St. Paul suggests that school-based health centers should be expanded, even though such programs are sure to be lightning rods for political and religious elements that have been preaching chastity and battling sex education in the schools. Their approach has not worked. Confused, uninformed young women such as Woodruff and Henderson are paying the price, and so are the taxpayers.
Those young women had the courage to tell their stories in public; perhaps it's time for us to listen.