PART 1: Alumnae teen mothers share their experiences
The Sagamore has conducted research on the prevalence of teen pregnancy in the town of Brookline. We have interviewed five alumnae teen mothers from the classes of 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2013. We also reached out to teen mothers from the classes of 2015 and 2016, but they declined to comment. The five teen mothers' stories are shared here exclusively.
March 16, 2016
Elizabeth Carey ’04
Elizabeth Carey ‘04 had her son when she was 17 years old, but the reality of being pregnant was something that was not foreign to her.
Carey, who was in a relationship with her son’s father for five years prior to and five years after having her son, said that she had an abortion when she was 15 but knew that she would never want to have another.
“I had an abortion when I was 15, and I knew after that that I didn’t want to have another one,” Carey said. “I feel like when people make the decision to have unprotected sex, that they need to follow through with that decision and the consequences that come with it and getting pregnant is one of them. If you’re old enough to have unprotected sex then you should be old enough to take care of a baby.”
Carey found out she was pregnant for the second time when she took a pregnancy test to support her best friend, who thought that she was pregnant. Carey did not expect the test to be positive, but hers was and her friend’s was not. According to Carey, it was a major surprise.
Carey said that she went to school during her junior year until about seven months into her pregnancy and made up the time she in summer school.
Carey said that the students at the high school were supportive during her pregnancy.
“I think it was pretty good for me because I was on the cheerleading squad, so I had a lot of friends and a lot of support,” Carey said. “For me it was ok. I had guys that were bribing me to try to get me to name my son after them. It was really good for me.”
According to Carey, staff at the high school allowed Carey to be just like any other student and did not make a big deal out of her pregnancy, something she greatly appreciated.
“They did not treat me any different. I was still a student at BHS,” Carey said. “They supported me in a way of not treating me any differently. That was really cool. That was really good. I barely got any special treatment. I appreciated going to high school and having no one look at me any differently.”
According to Carey, her pregnancy did not alter her life goals very much, as she was always responsible and determined. She is an older sister and often had to take care of her younger sibling. Also, Carey said that she was independent when she became pregnant, which made the transition from life as an average teenager to a teen mother easier.
“I had a place to live on my own,” Carey said. “I was making my own money. I had a career, so I feel like that is the same as if I had waited.”
Although Carey and her son’s father have separated since his birth, which was hard for her son, she said that he is loved at both households, which makes the transition process easier.
“The hardest thing for my son to get over has been the separation between his father and I because then he ended up going from house to house,” Carey said. “It was kind of hard on him at first, but now he’s okay with it. He is being spoiled at both houses.”
Carey said that her and her son, now 10, are very close and that he means the world to her.
“My son has become my best friend,” Carey said. “We have a great relationship. I can be a mom and I can be a friend if he is feeling down about something. I could not see a life without my son.”
Seana Collins ’05
Seana Collins, who was in the high school class of ‘05 but graduated early, had her daughter when she was 17 years old. Collins said that she tried to hide her pregnancy for as long as she could.
When she admitted to her guidance counselor, also pregnant at the time, that she was pregnant, her guidance counselor strongly advised to tell her parents about the pregnancy, which was seven months along at that point.
“I guess my guidance counselor just took a look at me one day and knew I was pregnant because she was pregnant too,” Collins said. “It was like the pregnant woman knowing a pregnant girl was pregnant. She gave me about two weeks to tell my parents but everyday I would tell her I couldn’t tell them yet because I was so scared.”
Collins said that it was difficult to tell her parents because teen pregnancy was such a rarity in the community at the time.
“How do you tell your parents at 16, ‘Hey, I’m pregnant,’ when you don’t know anyone that’s ever been pregnant, besides older people?” Collins said. “You didn’t see any girls your age with kids because you grew up in Brookline and it didn’t happen then.”
Collins’ parents had mixed reactions to the news of her pregnancy, but having the early support of her father was beneficial to her.
“My parents didn’t really have time to cope with it,” Collins said. “My mom was extremely upset with me. My dad has always been the more lenient parent so he was very open to talking about it and he was there. My mom was there but my dad was the first one that was just there for me. I was finally able to talk to someone about it.”
According to Collins, her mother was initially upset when finding out about Collins’ pregnancy because of her experience being a teen mother. However, Collins said that, regardless, her mother began supporting her after the birth of her daughter.
“My mom was a teen mom, and she didn’t want that for myself or my sister,” Collins said. “I think she was a little disappointed, but once you see the baby everything changes: your negative thoughts, and how upset you are. Everything goes away once you see the baby. She is still coming around, and now she has four grandkids. She came around, although it took some time.”
According to Collins, the topic of teen pregnancy was rarely discussed in the town during her pregnancy, over ten years ago.
“When I was high school around ten years ago, there weren’t a lot of programs about teen pregnancy,” Collins said. “Not a lot of people talked about it. It wasn’t a big thing, especially in Brookline. It was something I actually kept from everyone except a few close friends. My parents didn’t even know. I found out by taking a pregnancy test with one of my friends. was something you just didn’t talk about. We might have talked about sex education, but sex education didn’t lead to teen pregnancy.”
Collins said that while attending high school classes for all nine months of her pregnancy, it was especially hard not having adequate education on the topic of teen pregnancy. This was a factor in her decision to hide her pregnancy from her classmates.
“ was tiring,” Collins said. “I really didn’t know anything about being pregnant. I didn’t know anything about it because there were no programs telling girls about it. It was more, ‘Don’t do this, or don’t do that.’ I didn’t know how to take care of myself. No one knew I was pregnant. It was something no one would expect. ”
Now Collins also has a son, born in 2015. According to Collins, her daughter, now 11, is a great help with her son. Collins also said that, as an adult parent, it is easier to appreciate the little moments and milestones of her son’s childhood, something that she was unable to do as a teen mom.
“When I was younger, I didn’t really get to enjoy my daughter’s first steps, her first words, or her first anything because it was always like, ‘I have to do schoolwork. I have to get here,’” Collins said. “You’re always rushing through life when you’re a teen mom. You don’t realize the little moments, they go away fast. Now, with my son, every moment I have with him is like the first everything. It feels great watching my son grow up. I kind of wish I was doing this with my daughter when she was younger, but she still has a great life. She does swimming, skiing, piano. She goes to church twice a week. She has a good base.”
Collins said that she and her daughter have a very good relationship, something that came from her determination to provide for herself and her daughter after finding out about her pregnancy, now over ten years ago.
“She’s like my best friend because we grew up together,” Collins said. “I was 16 when I was pregnant. I was a child myself. It wasn’t that I was bad in school, but I was a kid. I was skipping class and traveling around, but once I had my daughter it was like she depended on my life. I went from a B student to an A student, showing up to class on time, doing my homework for the whole week by the time it was Tuesday. There were some changes. You realize that you’re actually second in your own life.”
Vena Priestly ’06
Vena Priestly ‘06 had her first child when she was 18 years old. She now has two sons and is currently pregnant with her third child. Priestly said that she was surprised when she found out she was pregnant for the first time. After missing her period, she went to the doctor and and took a pregnancy test that showed a negative result. Priestly said she only found out after taking a blood test when she was over two months along in her pregnancy.
Priestly said that people reacted judgmentally to the news of her pregnancy, partly due to the negative connotations around teen pregnancy in the town of Brookline.
“When I started telling people I was really ashamed and scared because Brookline is a very high-class town,” Priestly said. “I didn’t want people to judge me. When I said I was pregnant, people would say, ‘Oh, are you giving it up for adoption?’ That would be the first thing. Then people would be like, ‘Oh, do you know who the dad is?’”
Despite the reactions of others, according to Priestly, the lack of a mother figure in her childhood made her want to be a present, supportive parent.
“My mom has severe bipolar disorder, so she didn’t raise me,” Priestly said. “My dad did. I think that without realizing it, I wanted to be a mom. It was an unconscious type of thing. I was really excited about being a mom and actually nurturing a baby. I wanted to be there for my kid and that was important to me. When I was pregnant, I stopped everything, made sure I did well in school so I could go to college and be the best mother I could be for my baby.”
Priestly said that her father was disappointed in her, at first.
“I think was just really disappointed because he worked so hard on raising my sister and I,” Priestly said. “I think he was just scared and upset that I was making really bad decisions and that I was going to give up my life.”
However, according to Priestly, her father’s views on her pregnancy soon changed after the birth of her first son, when he realized that that was the time that his daughter needed him the most.
“I think that once I actually had the baby he started being more supportive,” Priestly said. “He was like, ‘I need to help this girl get out of this relationship. I need to help this girl because she’s not seeing it.’ I think that he stopped stressing about it and tried to help me instead of being mad. I think that’s what changed. He changed his energy, and it eventually worked.”
Priestly, who had postpartum depression after her first pregnancy, said that her condition was caused because of the changes in responsibility from being pregnant with a child to actually having the child.
“After my first pregnancy, when I had my son, I was really depressed,” Priestly said. “I had postpartum depression. That normally that happens with your first kid because you being pregnant, you can walk around, you can do things by youself. Do you want to get your hair done? OK, then get your hair done by yourself. Then, when you have your baby, it’s a wake up call, like, ‘Oh my god, this thing is with me all the time.’ It doesn’t sleep. It doesn’t talk. You have no one to talk to because everyone is at work or doing something else and you lose your mind.”
Priestly also said that she was in abusive relationship with the father of her two sons. According to Priestly, the reason she did not break off the relationship for so long was because she had not often seen functional relationships between parents, given that she came from a single-parent home. Also, she said that she believed her sons’ father when he would say that he was going to change.
“The reason I stayed in the relationship was because he would hit me and then lie to me and say how sorry he was,” Priestly said. “He’d say that he cares about me so much that it would hurt him. He was very controlling, but I thought that it meant that he cared so much about me. I’d think, ‘Oh, he’s going through my phone because he cares. I thought at the time that I was in love, that he was in love with me and that we would have a family. It was a fantasy in my head. I really think he had love for me, but it wasn’t an “OK” love. It was unhealthy and dysfunctional.”
Priestly said that she finally hit a breaking point, after an abusive altercation, that encouraged her to finally break up with her sons’ father.
“I refused to go to the hospital because I had the baby with me,” Priestly said. “I had to think about my children. I was like, ‘Do I want my kids to grow up and think that it’s ok to hit women?’ That’s really what changed my mind. If they see that, they’re gonna do that. That’s why I broke up with him.”
According to Priestly, she and the father of her sons have not seen each other for four years. He does not have visitation rights with his children because Priestly put a restraining order on him after the incident, which he also went to prison for.
While Priestly said that she made risky decisions as a teen mom, she also believes it has made her a better mom and made her eldest son very independent.
“I didn’t think a lot as a teen mom,” Priestly said. “I took a lot of risks. After I had my kid, I did go to school and stuff, but I still made stupid mistakes because I was a teenager. Now I don’t have people to my house and chill and smoke and drink and stuff. Now I don’t do that. When you’re younger you tend to make those type of mistakes. I know I was not making the best choices as a mom, but I learned from them. The older you get, the more cautious you are.”
Priestly said that she is thankful for the support her father gave in caring for her son. This support allowed her to get a college education.
“I used to go to school in the morning and would go to daycare,” Priestly said. “Then, I worked at a hotel at night being a busser and my dad would babysit all the time for me at night. A bus would come and pick up my baby, and then my dad would go and pick up my baby from the bus stop. Without my father, I really don’t think I would have graduated from college.”
Priestly said that growing up along with her first child fostered a special relationship between the two of them.
“I’m really close with my kids in different ways,” Priestly said. “My older son and I, we’re really close. We have a special bond because he was always with me if I wasn’t at work or at school. He was such a well-natured boy. He went to anybody. He was such a good kid. Because he was my first kid and I messed up with him sometimes, I am so close to him. I think that both of my kids can approach me with any issues or problems. I think that because I was forced to grow up with them we have such a strong bond. I grew up with them. We are more friends than parent-child.”
Karla Renderos, class of 2013
Karla Renderos was in the class of 2013 before she decided to leave the high school due to the stressfulness of her experience in the Opportunity For Change program.
After her decision to leave in her junior year, Renderos began to work at Dorado Tacos in Coolidge Corner, where she met her boyfriend, Pedro.
Renderos found out that she was pregnant, despite taking birth control, after missing a menstrual cycle and taking multiple at-home pregnancy tests.
“I realized I had missed my period, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, am I pregnant?’ Renderos said. “I went to work, but before I bought four or five pregnancy tests because I was paranoid. I peed on all of the sticks, but then I went to work. I completely forgot about them. So, when I went back to my boyfriend’s house I was like, ‘Let’s look at the sticks.’ They all smiley faces and plus signs and that’s when I realized I was pregnant.”
Renderos said that as soon as she found out she was pregnant, she knew that she was going to carry the child to a full term. Renderos said that her culture and religion ultimately affected her decision in keeping her son.
“Me being in a Hispanic family, we were taught to be responsible for our actions, not mistakes, because I don’t think my son was a mistake,” Renderos said. “My religion, being Catholic, it is a sin to have an abortion. For some other people, it might not be a sin. For me, it was.”
Renderos said that she went through many emotions upon learning of her pregnancy.
“Right then and there, I knew that nothing would be the same,” Renderos said. “Since I was pregnant, I knew that I would have a baby, so I was scared about what I could offer a child. I didn’t know exactly what to do, and I was hoping that my parents wouldn’t be so upset to the point where they didn’t want to help me.”
Renderos said that she avoided telling her father at first, but, one day, he picked her up from a medical appointment and offered to pay for some of her prescribed medications but became suspicious after both Renderos and the pharmacist would not tell him what it was for. Her father continued to ask her until she broke down in tears and told him that she was pregnant.
The reactions of both her mother and father surprised her. While she thought that her mother would be accepting of her pregnancy, she believed that her father would be upset with her. However, this was not the case.
“When I said, ‘I’m pregnant, dad,’ he was so happy,” Renderos said. “He starting laughing, and then he started hugging me. That was a surprise for me. I thought my mother was going to be happy but she was pretty upset. She felt pretty disappointed in me. She expected more from me, in terms of taking more precautions so that I wouldn’t become pregnant.”
Renderos said that sometimes teen motherhood is difficult because of the life of little responsibility that many teens are accustomed to.
“When you’re a teenager, sometimes you still have your mom doing your laundry,” Renderos said. “You don’t realize how much a responsibility it really is. All you want to do is have fun. The fun doesn’t completely end, but your fun, as in hanging out with you friends, isn’t going to happen anymore because they’re going to be like, ‘Oh, you’re bringing the baby with you?’”
Renderos said that she wishes that her parents had had more birds and bees-type conversations with her.
“My parents didn’t really have a talk with me,” Renderos said. “All of the stuff that I learned about sex and everything was from school. I feel like I was a little under-informed. I wish my mom had talked to me and filled me in a bit more, like on birth control. I wish we could have talked about contraceptives so I didn’t have to everything behind her back. I wish that I could have had that relationship with her.”
Renderos said that her lifestyle has changed for the better since the birth of her son.
“I know for a fact that the stuff I did in high school, I don’t do it anymore,” Renderos said. “I know that I have to make a nice place for my son to live and try to be a good mom. That’s my biggest priority right now. For other moms, those responsibilities don’t really kick in. When you’re a teenager you’re not legal. When girls hit 21, they want to go out to clubs and get drunk and everything. That isn’t so important for me. I know that the clubs will be there forever, but my son will only be two for such a short period of time.”
Sanna Beygelmakher, class of 2013
Sanna Beygelmakher was a junior in the class of 2013 when she first found out that she was pregnant with her son, Lucas.
According to Beygelmakher, those around her had varying reactions to the news of her pregnancy. However, Beygelmakher said that her father, who she considers to be her best friend, was always accepting of her pregnancy and helped her through the process.
“My dad is the one who was supportive from the start,” Beygelmakher said. “He’s the one who took me to get the pregnancy test. He stood by my side no matter what. My mom was shocked, even though she had a feeling I was pregnant before I even told her.”
Beygelmakher said the experience of obtaining a pregnancy test was very stressful for her.
“Actually the first time I went to get the pregnancy test, I just couldn’t even walk down the aisle,” Beygelmakher said. “I just froze, and I was like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me.’”
Beygelmakher said, in the end, she lost some friends due to the change in her lifestyle after she found out that she was pregnant.
“My friends were accepting, but it was hard for them to deal with the fact that one of their closest friends, someone who they used to go out and hang out with, was pregnant,” Beygelmakher said. “They couldn’t comprehend that I was going to be unavailable. I can go out to eat and go on walks, but not much else. I definitely lost a lot of friends because of that.”
However, the same friends who were, at first, supportive of her pregnancy, wound up spreading rumors about her, which has affected how she chooses friends to this day.
“When you’re pregnant it might seem like no one is there for you, but they all want to see your kid,” Beygelmakher said. “Those are real friends. Even when you’re older, when you have kids and a family of your own, and in life in general, you learn that you just can’t trust people. The people who I thought had my back and who I thought were there for me, actually were shady and messed up. They backstabbed me. You have to be careful.”
Some of Beygelmakher’s classmates at the high school said derogatory things about the fact that she was a teen mom.
“I was called every name in the book,” Beygelmakher said. “They would say, ‘Oh, you’re 16 and you’re pregnant? You’re a whore?’”
Ultimately, Beygelmakher said that she chose to drop out of the high school. This decision was a result of negative reactions from some of her classmates, coupled with the fact that she was trying her hardest to make the best health decisions for her future child.
“I said to myself a thousand times,” Beygelmakher said, “‘I’m going to go to school. People are going to look at me. People are going to talk about me. But, I’m going to focus on my education.’ I was young, though, and I wanted to focus on my pregnancy and not what other people thought about me. Education is definitely important to me. When I look back on it, I think I should have stayed at the high school, despite the fact that I was pregnant.”
In addition, Beygelmakher said that she was disappointed in the type of help that the administration at the high school gave her.
“Everybody knew I was pregnant, but no one from the administration reached out to me,” Beygelmakher said. “I wished that they did, especially because I’ve seen them give so much support to other students. It’s like, ‘Yeah, I honestly did mess up.’ I was trying to be a good student, but it didn’t happen. I was a bad student. I did try. They did try to get me to go to class and do whatever I had to do, but the type of support that I actually needed from them when I was pregnant, nobody reached out to me.”
Beygelmakher said that she carried her son to a full term and had a generally healthy pregnancy.
According to Beygelmakher, the times immediately after having a child are very stressful but also fulfilling, regardless of whether one is a teen mother or not.
“You’ll go days without eating or sleeping just because you’re trying to be with the baby and make sure the baby is ok: clean, showered, fed and pampered,” Beygelmakher said. “You want your baby to know that you are their mother and that you are there for them always.”
According to Beygelmakher, the father of Beygelmakher’s son no longer plays an active role in their lives.
“(My son’s father and I) still keep in touch, but just as my son’s father,” Beygelmakher said. “He loved my son, but our relationship got to the point where it was really stressful. So, he decided that if me and him weren’t going to work out, he didn’t need to be here any more. He didn’t understand that his son was here and that’s the reason he should have stayed.”
However, Beygelmakher has since married in Jan. 2014. Beygelmakher’s husband has been in Lucas’ life since his biological father left. He is a great father figure to Lucas and the two have established an incredible bond.
Beygelmakher said that she is thankful to have her mother and her grandmother to care for her son while she is working at Clover in Cambridge, Mass. However, she hopes to enroll him in a program where he can interact with other children regularly.
“I really think that, in order to grow a little bit more and live a little bit more, my son definitely needs to be in school or daycare,” Beygelmakher said. “That’s why I’m looking into it.”
Even though Beygelmakher did not graduate from the high school, she said that education is very important to her. She is currently enrolled in GED classes locally and goes to two classes a week. She hopes to learn phlebotomy, the practice of drawing blood, and eventually become a registered nurse.
According to Beygelmakher, a woman can never be fully prepared to have a child, but, regardless, a mother has to persevere for the sake of her child.
“No one is ready for having a child, but you have process it and say, ‘This is what I have to do for myself and for my child,’” Beyghelmakher said, “You’re never ready no matter what age you get pregnant because it’s always going to be a new thing. “You get frustrated. You get stressed out. But, at the end of the day, you have to think about the baby because that’s the most important thing.”