No, says Sandy, who is 17, it is not the way she thought it would be. Not this, not sitting home day and night in the small living room of one of those identical town houses that stretch row on row, pushing back the cornfields outside Gaithersburg.

She sits cross-legged in an easy chair, her 7-week-old son is on the couch. Between them is a table holding a pack of cigarettes, an ashtray and a paperback novel called "Lovechild. " The plot's all right, she says, but a little outdated. "This unmarried girl has a baby you know, and they treat her like she's some sort of outcast. It's kind of old-fashioned."

One of every five babies in America is born to a teen-ager these days, mothers have become a hot issue, caught in the bright flash of public attention. There are select congressional committees studying them, there are bills that have been introduced in the Senate to help them and there are endless studies.

The number of teen-age pregnancies in this country has reached "epidemic proportions," say groups like Planned Parenthood and Zero Population Growth. There is a wide gulf now between the old morality, which made a child conceived out of marriage a subject of shame and taboo, and the more recent trends that find a third of the nation's teen-agers sexually active.

Now, it seems, there is a niche of acceptability for newborns who become, for some of their young mothers, a way to patch up a multitude of tears and rents in the fabric of growing up.

"It's weird, you know," says Sandy as the sound of children at play on a spring afternoon floats mockingly through the window. "All my friends in school ever talked about was marriage and boyfriends and kids. But all my life I said I never wanted kids, I wanted my freedom."

She pauses, and looks down at her son asleep on the couch, at sea in a pair of yellow pajamas four sizes too big. "All he does is sleep," she says. "You're so boring," she tells him. "Why are you so boring?"

"I still wonder about adoption," she says. "But then I think, what else have I got? Everything would be pretty empty without him."

Now, the present seems to her 'pretty hopeless,' and the future is as vague and unreal as it is to most teenagers. At 17, it is the past that seems most comforting. "I wish I was a little girl again." Sandy says, "I'd do things a lot different, I think."

She found out she was pregnant. "Stupid, that's how I felt," because only a month before she had gone to the family planning clinic for birth control and left, impatient when she found out there was a 20-minute wait.

But she felt something else as well. "I was finally going to have something that was mine," she said, "and nobody could take it away. I'd never had anything that belonged to only me."

The television in the corner blares forth an endless skein of soap opera as she talks. "My dad says people who watch those things aren't any better than the trash that's on 'em." she says. "But they seem like real life to me - guys cheating on their wives and girls getting in trouble.

She met her baby's father in a hot summer night. She remembers, and she liked the way he looked walking down the sidewalk in blue jeans and his white T-shirt, and she liked his long blond hair in the steet light.

She asked if she could come along, she said.

She did not ask him nine months later, to come and see his son.

But she feels trapped now, because her father says that the child is completely her responsibility and he has forbidden even her 13-year-old sister from babysitting for her on an occasional Saturday night. She has ruled out a day care center - she does not, she says, want the baby surrounded by strangers.

And so she thinks about finding a man to marry now, but she is not fooled, she says, by gauzy notions of love and commitment. "I just want to meet a guy who's allrignt, you know?" she say, her voice suddenly angry. "Not some little kid how's just interested in (sex). There's got to be somebody out there nicer than that."

The child cries and she is asked what it will be like as he grows older. want him to call me mom."

"It's hard to believe something so beautiful came out of me," says 17 year old Jane of her 6-month-old son. "I'm prouder than heck of him. Iwant everybody to know I have a baby."

He is her benediction, the confirmation of her sense of herself. The baby, says Jane's mother, "has been a very settling stabilizing factor. It has made her easier to get along with. She doesn't seem to need to prove her independence as much as she did."

She got pregnanat by the boy she was going steady with, and it "just sort of happened." It was the first time they had had sex together and she was not using contraceptives.

It was not because she didn't know about it. She had, in fact, "seen all those dumb movies" about reproduction and prevention since the third grade, and her family had talked about it at the dinner table. Birth control, she said, "sounded like something whores use."

Her parents had discussed the options with her - adoption, abortion. "She was so young," her mother said. "We didn't want her to cut herself off from her future." She decided to keep the baby. Abortion, she felt strongly, was immoral. And she herself had been adopted at birth. "I know what it's like," she said, "to wonder who your parents are."

But it was her mother, her adoptive mother, who told she was pregnant when she had complained of nausea in the morning during Christmas vacation. And it was her mother who was ther in the delivery room and who helped fix up the basement as a nursery. "Once she made her decision, there wasn't any question," Jane's mother said. "We knew we would do everything we could to help her."

Mother and daughter alternated getting up at night when the child was first born, trading off the responsibility of feeding him. Jane's mother took over the responsibility of caring for the tiny end of the umbilical cord until it disappeared. It "grossed me out," said Jane.

But it is a delicate dance that mother and daughter must manage, a tricky psychological balancing act to keep the roles in order and the generations straight. Sometimes, says Jane's mother, she looks at mother and child and sees two children and blinks twice to remember she is a grandmother now.

Sometimes, there is a frustration born of becoming a mother again just at the time when that part of her life was ending. And sometimes there is a fierce tug of war, as her daughter fights to protect her rights as the child's mother, while only slowly relinquishing those she held as her mother's child.

But there was no theough of marriage when she knew she was pregnant. "I was 16 then." Jane said. "I wasn't ready for marriage. I had a baby to deal with."

And so, as the child grows with the green leaves in the neatly landscaped Arlington yard, a balance is struck, an accommodation is made. Jane goes to classes now at a local community college while her mother minds the baby. Her father's colleagues at the government agency he works for come to an open house, and there are no eyebrows raised, only admiring glances.

Jane drives to school in the car she bought with salary from a parttime job and eyes the boys in her business classes and thinks she will become an accountant.

Yes, someday she will marry. "I want him to be comfortable," she says. "I want him to grow up thinking he's great. I want him to be your besically middle class kid."

In Bonnie's bedroom in Wheaton, there is menagerie of stuffed animals and a poster of Elvis Presley and a stereo and a pom inviation, engraved with the theme "Do You Know Where You're Going To?" In Bonnie's bedroom there is a papier-mache Snoopy dog that she made in the eighth grade and it is the thing she is the proudest of.

All in all, there is just barely enough room, amid the chaotic memorabilia of an 18-year-old, for the crib that holds her infant son.

She didn't want the baby. She tried, too late, to get an abortion. She tried, through most of her pregnancy, to pretend it wasn't happening, keeping the fact from her mother through the spring of her senior year, the prom, graduation, the family vacation at Virginia Beach.

She was seven months pregnant when her mother finally backed her against a wall and confronted her with her suspicious of what would soon be obvious. "I was scared," Bonnie said, of her months of silence. "I just couldn't believe it. I guess I just thought that maybe somehow, it would go away."

She had planned to give it up for adoption. But after the delivery, the doctor leaned down and told her it was a boy, a six-pound boy, and then it was too hard, somehow, to give it up. She told her mother that the baby was coming home with her, and her mother went out and bought $160 worth of toys.

The baby would cry in the middle of the night, and she would wake, and then go back to sleep, thinking it was all a dream. "I would look at him sometimes and say, 'He's mine?'" she said. "And then I'd say, 'He's mine!'"

She is glad, now, that she kept him.

"Before I got pregnant," she says, "I would do just about anything I wanted. I didn't have much responsibility. Now I'm doing something that's worthwhile. Now there' someone I have to pay attention to."

Her mother is a thin, sparrow-like woman, who apologizes for the nervous chatter with which she fills the room.Together, mother and daughter display the chests and drawers of infant booty - the rows of baby shoes, minature Adidas tennis shoes and tiny desert boots, T-shirts that say "Foxy Baby" and "Born to Boogie," tricycles he won't be big enough to ride for years, stuffed rabbits and rubber ducks and mobiles and grinning pastel animals of all descriptions.

"This kid's got everything," Bonnie says. "This kid's got it all." Bonnie's mother comes home nearly every day with another toy for the boy, haunting the toy sections of department stores for something new. "I don't know what comes over me," she says. "I just can't seem to help myself."

The baby has not been that much of a change, Bonnie says. He has meant a postponement in looking for the clerk-typist's job for which her GS-2 civil service rating qualifies her, and he has been an obstacle to her social life. "Sometimes," she says, "i feel like wearing a big sign that says, 'I'm not looking for a husband.' Once they hear you have a baby they think that's all you're interested in."

Motherhood doesn't put a stop to a young girl's fantasies either. Walking along the sidewalk, in a neighborhood populated with teen-aged boys washing their cars, she talks about the day-dreams of dancing professionally of being a truck driver, constantly in motion, of racing sleek cars at high speeds. "There would be a lot of satisfaction," she says slowly, "of being in control of that much power."

At home, the daydreams splinter with a baby's cry. It's time to feed her son his dinner. "I guess the only thing I wish," she says, "is that all this had happened three years from now."

Betsy and her child live in Northern Virginia with foster parents because her mother refuses to let her return home with her child. "My mom said, "I've already raised six kids, you go raise your own,'" she said.

But Betsy doesn't think it's all that hard. "All you have to do is change his diapers and feed him." she said. "What's so hard about that?"

What was really hard, she said, was convincing the pupils in her junior high school class that she was really pregnant. "I guess it was like a phase or something," she said, "but everybody was saying they were pregnant."

No one in her school really talked about sex much, she said. "It sorta depended on what group you were in. There were the kids who smoked (marijuana) and the kids who drank, beer an dthe kids who . . . " She peers through limp hair she had cut especially to look like Farah Fawcett-Majors. "I just didn't think I could get pregnant," she said. And no, it wasn't really all that much fun. I just did it to please him."

"I hope it wasn't puppy love." she says. "They say when you're 15 that's all it is, but I hope it isn't true."

She will finish high school while she lives with her foster parents and then she will get a job as a commercial artist. And life, of course, will be a lot better for her baby than it was for her. Her son, she says, "will not have a mother who yells." like a mother. "I'm more like a full [TEXT OMMITTED FROM SOURCE]

But right now she doesn't feel much like a mother. "I've more like a fulltime babysitter," she said, and babysitting was something she always liked to do. "As long as the kids weren't too old. I never liked older kids too much."