McDowell County teen sees baby as a 'gift'
July 19, 2012 ·
Birth rate in West Virginia among older teens rose 17 percent between 2007 and 2009 while the rest of the nation saw no increase at all. The latest data shows McDowell County has the highest teen birth rate in the state.
Seventeen-year-old Brandy stood in a busy McDowell County high school auditorium. It was second semester, her sophomore year, one she said she’ll never forget, as a pregnant teen.
“I’m scared to death about it," she said, "about complications and different things like that and how I’m going to get through school."
"I have a lot of supportive friends and a lot of supportive family to help me through it and stuff."
Babies born to teen moms are more likely to suffer from low birth-weight, low literacy, and even greater health problems. Mothers are more likely to live in poverty.
Brandy is the oldest of five children being raised by her father. She says it took her dad some time to come around to the idea of being a grandfather.
“They was upset and disappointed a little,” she said, “but they accepted it, after maybe about a week, they started to get into it.”
Brandy’s father asked that we share his daughter’s story without mention of her last name. He’s hoping the story might help others to understand the challenges his daughter will face. To Brandy, he suggested writing a book about her experience and encouraged her to finish school.
According to West Virginia KIDS COUNT data, between 2008 and 2011 McDowell County had close to a 24-percent drop-out rate, the highest in the state.
“It’s going to be different because I’m going to have to wake up in the middle of the night and get all the bottles and stuff," Brandy said. "Then also doing my homework and getting ready and going to school the next day."
"I think it’s going to be it’s going to be a challenge, one of the biggest changes in my life I have.”
Letting go of her own adolescence seems to be the first sacrifice. Brandy says her friends have been supportive.
“We don’t get to go out and hang out as much or anything because I’m always trying to get something for the baby," she said. "But they’re very understanding about it.”
Between 2007 and 2009 McDowell County had the highest teen birth rate in the state. More than 15 percent of children born in the county were to young mothers between the age of 10 and 19 according to West Virginia Kids Count data.
“We have a lot of teen pregnancies,” Executive Director of the county’s Family Resource Network, Kathie Whitt said.
The organization is called FACES. That’s short for Families, Agencies, and Children Enhancing Services.
Although McDowell County is listed with the highest rate, Whitt suspects there are even more pregnant teens in the county than the numbers show.
“If you say well we know we have 13 or 18 girls that are pregnant because they’re receiving benefits," she said, "when actuality you have 20, 40 to 50 kids that are pregnant but because they are not receiving benefits through the school they can’t get listed as being one of those pregnant teens."
"We know the numbers are higher but the data is not there unless they are receiving services; they don’t get counted as the number.”
Whitt’s concerned that her county is not doing enough to educate teens about the challenges that come with a new baby. She says there are resources available in her office that never get used.
“Teen pregnancies has its own set of issues around it and I’m not so sure what we’re doing in McDowell County about teen pregnancy," she said. "I know we placed 30 infant simulators in the schools years ago and I don’t know that they're still being used."
"We have the fetal alcohol syndrome baby, the newborn baby, the shaken baby syndrome and the drug affected baby that can be used in their curriculum, and we don’t get calls for them."
For Brandy, there is no turning back. Although she said goodbye to most of her social life and faces mounting challenges, she stays brave for her unborn child.
“There’s other teenagers and stuff they have bigger problems than I do but I look at mine as a gift instead of a problem," she said.
A few months have passed since Brandy expressed her gratitude and optimism. She recently gave birth to a healthy baby girl and has moved in with the baby’s father. Brandy’s father reports she’s looking at online opportunities to complete her high school diploma.