Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Pregnant Pause

“I need your advice, Mr. Shickler.  I just turned 17, and I’m being pressured to have a baby.  What should I do?”

There are times in life when we’re faced with difficult questions, and this was one of them.  I was in a state of shock.  Standing before me was Michelle, a high school senior and student in one of my weekly classes.  Michelle was a bright student and, frankly, I was stunned by her question.

At the end of class, Michelle had asked if she could talk with me.  When she asked her question, my initial response was, “What??  What are you talking about?!”  She looked at me and said it again:  “I’m being pressured to have a baby and don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”  I knew Michelle had a boyfriend in class named John.  He was another great student, and so I was really struggling with what she was saying.  I felt unqualified to even have the discussion, but I managed to say, “Michelle, I don’t get it.  John seems like such a nice guy.  Why would he be pressuring you to have a baby?”  “It isn’t John that’s pressuring me, Mr. Shickler.  It’s my mother.”  Silence.  Confusion.  More silence.

Michelle went on to explain that her family was on welfare, and her mother had recently sat her down to discuss the situation.  She’d said that when Michelle turned 18, the welfare checks would stop coming in, and her family counted on those checks to survive.  If Michelle had a baby before she turned 18, the checks would continue.  Michelle lived with her mother and grandmother at the time. There were no men in the house, and from what I gathered, neither her mother nor grandmother were ever married.  Michelle’s grandmother had gotten pregnant as a teenager, as had her mother, and now it was up to Michelle to do what was needed to take care of the family.

I was floored by this conversation.  All I could think of was to ask Michelle what she would do if it was completely up to her.  If she had a magic wand in her hand and could waive it to make her desires real, what would she wish for?  Michelle was silent and looked confused.  She told me that she wasn’t used to thinking that she had control of her decisions.  So I suggested that she imagine she did, and asked what she would do then.  Another few moments went by, and then Michelle said, “I wouldn’t get pregnant.  I would go to college, and that’s how I would make a difference for my family.”

Michelle did get pregnant, and she had a baby girl.  But it wasn’t when she was 17; it was after she graduated from college and was employed in a career of her choosing.  I met Michelle nearly 20 years ago, and today she is living proof that any cycle can be broken, even one rooted in poverty and seemingly limited life options.  While Michelle’s story may not be representative of a typical teenager, there are millions of teens worldwide who are trapped in the cycle of poverty that’s often perpetuated by early or unplanned pregnancy.  Fortunately, there is hope, especially since there’s an endless supply of free magic wands.

What can we take away from Michelle’s story?  How can you deal with difficult questions and situations in your life?  What do you do when you have to make a potentially life-altering decision?  What guides you?  Here are some things to consider: 

Imagine that you do have the power to decide.  You may not be able to change the circumstances you’re in, but you can change how you react to them.  Then, rather than looking to others for answers, try to find one within yourself.  Everyone has passions in life.  Everyone has dreams they want to pursue, even if they’re buried deep.  Try to bring those passions to the surface and then lean into them.  Organize your life’s activities and decisions around moving your dreams forward.

You’ll face countless difficult questions throughout your life, and you’ll encounter many challenging circumstances.  Just realize how little you have to lose, because there really is no failure in life, only feedback.  Decide in favor of your passion, and your magic wand will never lose its power.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams

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