Life of a teen mom

Life of a teen mom

Looking down at a baby girl with little feet, tiny and delicate fingers, and a display of features that increasingly resemble her own, 2012 graduate Mary Duncanson peered upon her newest family member. Although only a teenager, Duncanson wasn’t looking at her little sister, or even her niece; she was looking at her daughter. In fact, Duncanson found herself a new member of a population eligible to earn roughly $60,000 a year from MTV as a teen mom. She discovered she was pregnant in January of 2013 at the age of 19, and although she isn’t and was never planning to be part of MTV’s popular series Teen Mom, Duncanson does believe there is importance in sharing her story.

“I found out I was pregnant sometime in January, right before I was going back to college,” Duncanson said. “During the first couple of months it was kind of denial. I was like ‘No, nothing is going to happen, it doesn’t feel like anything is moving,’ but then once she started kicking, it hit me.”

Duncanson was with her boyfriend, now fiance, when she discovered the news. They were visiting her dad at home before returning to the University of Arkansas where the two attend school.

When I found out I was pregnant I knew I really needed to buckle down and make her have a future.”

— Duncanson

“I just came out crying and my Dad was like ‘What’s wrong?’ and I was like ‘I’m pregnant!’ and he was like ‘Oh my God!’” Duncanson said. “It was just one of those ‘Alright, it’s happening so let’s do it.’ My dad cried, but he said ultimately he’s proud of me for making this decision, because it’s not easy.”

To say the pregnancy wasn’t easy would be an understatement. On top of the typical struggles that come with pregnancy, Duncanson experienced bullying from students she knew in high school.

“A lot of people were just like ‘Oh it was bound to happen’ and stuff like that or ‘You should abort it’ and stuff like that which is really messed up,” Duncanson said. “But that’s high school. I mean, they’ll learn to grow up, it doesn’t matter. I have my family. I’m generally happy in life so why does it matter what people think?”

“People made the typical “teen mom” comments because they are ignorant,” Duncanson’s best friend Marianne Winarsky said. “I personally don’t respond out of anger so I told Mary not to either. In the eyes of children it “looks bad” [to be pregnant], but some people are ready before others. Mary has always been the type of friend to step up to the plate before others and that’s how I knew she would be just fine.”

Despite the negativity from former peers and the added pressures of attending college while pregnant, Duncanson found herself thriving under the circumstances, using her situation as motivation to better her life.

“[In high school] I guess I was a partier. Everyone knows that everyone I hung out with partied,” Duncanson said. “We went to clubs on school nights, we drank during the day, I mean it was pretty much like that. My grades were terrible when I first started college because I was still partying and stuff, but when I found out I was pregnant I knew I really needed to buckle down and make her have a future.”

When I found out I was pregnant I knew I really needed to buckle down and make her have a future.”

— Duncanson

Duncanson finds herself better off than before. After giving birth to her 6 pound 15.9 ounce daughter Reagan on September 4, 2013, Duncanson returned to school with a renewed academic focus and aspirations to get a chiropractic degree. She and fiance Alec Jackson live in an apartment only two miles from the Arkansas campus and have worked out a schedule where at least one of them is home with the baby at all times.

“Alec and I have worked out a schedule where when I’m in school, he’s with her and when he’s in school, I’m with her,” Duncanson said. “We never have to really pay for daycare.”

While balancing motherhood and an education isn’t particularly easy, Duncanson finds it manageable, especially with the help of family and neighbors. Other than the responsibility of having another human being to care for, she finds the biggest change in her life to be the appearance of a daily schedule.

“I have a structure now,” Duncanson said. “I have to wake up at a certain time and I have to stick with her schedule. She takes a nap every day from 1-3, and I can’t go anywhere, I have to make sure she’s napping.”

Duncanson finds herself with freetime only after Reagan goes to bed at 8:15 p.m. While her new schedule and lifestyle has put her on track towards securing a better future for both herself and her daughter, being a young mother comes at a cost.

Since discovering she was pregnant at 19, alumni Mary Duncanson has grown to accept and love the challenges of motherhood.
Since discovering she was pregnant at 19, alumni Mary Duncanson has grown to accept and love the challenges of motherhood.

“I’d have to say [the biggest challenge of being a young mother is] not being able to go out with my friends a lot, not being able to do what I used to do,” Duncanson said. “A lot of the people I used to be friends with are now like ‘Oh you can’t drink? Bye. You can’t party? Bye.’ That’s how I lost a lot [of friends]. It was hard at first, I was like ‘Man, I’m really missing out on life.’ Everyone went on spring break, and I wanted to go on the spring break trip with everyone, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t drink, and I had to stop smoking. But ultimately, I guess that changed my life for the better. I’m on track, I actually have a future now.”

Duncanson is grateful for the support she has received, but is working towards being financially independent. Though she and her fiance pay their bills, her father is still paying for her college and half of the couple’s rent.

“We want to get to the point next year where my parents don’t have to support us, and my dad isn’t paying for stuff anymore,” Duncanson said. “When I first found out I was pregnant, my whole house all started putting our change into a bucket every time we got change, and it ended up being like $2,000 bucks. And we’re still doing that. All of the money will go towards [Reagan’s] trust fund, it’s like a young savers account, so it all goes in there, like an investment. We’re not gonna pull it out.”

Despite the financial support she was receiving, the young mother was financially burdened while pregnant.

“I didn’t go to any lamaze classes or anything, I couldn’t afford it,” Duncanson said. “I think what was hardest was when I had to start working again [after having the baby]. I worked eight straight hours and they wouldn’t give me time to pump at all, so I had to stop breastfeeding which really stinks, because that’s what I wanted to do for a whole year because it’s better for development.”

Between keeping up with school, searching for a more accommodating job, and being a mother, Duncanson finds her newfound responsibilities as a wake-up call from the carefree life of most teens in high school.

“In high school I was like ‘Oh, life is easy, I don’t need to worry about anything!’ and now you’ve gotta worry about bills, you’ve gotta worry about all this other stuff,” Duncanson said. “There’s a lot more to life than just high school.”

Don’t cause a permanent situation based on temporary decision if you are not ready.”

— Winarsky

Several resources are available to young girls who become pregnant and lack the resources that were available to Duncanson. But, with or without resources, being a mother remains a serious responsibility.

“[If you are pregnant,] give it your all because your thoughts and choices are no longer just your own. You live for more than just yourself now,” Winarsky said. “To the friends who aren’t pregnant, really think about what you are doing. Don’t cause a permanent situation based on temporary decision if you are not ready.”

While the teen birth rate has actually been in decline for the past 20 years, it is unclear whether society has grown more or less approving of teen moms.

“I think it’s half and half,” Duncanson said. “Since I’ve gotten pregnant I’ve noticed a lot more girls are getting pregnant, but ones that are younger than me, like in high school. I don’t judge them, because it could happen to anyone, but it’s a responsibility… a big responsibility. I’m glad I had the support I did, not everybody has that. I guess people still aren’t accepting it because it’s like you’re a kid. I was lucky enough that I wasn’t. I grew up, I had support. My little sister was in [the room when I was giving birth] and she was like ‘I am never having sex, never!’ And she’s 15, so it was like a perfect time to show her what it’s really like.”