Along with many youth across this great nation, my beautiful young cousin just graduated from high school. She celebrates a great accomplishment that only a little over half of Native Americans achieve. Definitely cause for celebration. She is also several months pregnant.
My initial reaction upon finding out was shock, followed by a deep, dark sadness. I grieved for the stolen youth and opportunities. I grieved for the loss of spark in her eyes when I saw her at her reception, which the family went about having with no “daddy” in sight. Only the very discerning eye would have noticed her slightly bulging belly.
I’m not sure if anyone in our health services department keeps tabs on how many teen pregnancies we have on my pueblo annually, all I know is that out of last year’s graduating class at her small, tribal charter school, 6 of the 7 girls have children now. She is, quite simply, the next in the succession of breeders building the bricks of the adobe wall that is our community; a community that reveres Indian babies seemingly more than anything in the world.
For us Natives, teen pregnancy is far from unusual and miles from uncommon. Thereby, I came to the realization that I couldn’t be truly shocked. Statistically speaking, it was bound to happen. Honestly, I had a feeling it would happen. But does that make it ok? And that being said, why did I not say anything to her about it?
Let me make one thing clear. Her parents are not old and out of touch. They are not poor or abusive. They are a fun loving couple who have been together for years, ride a Harley and seem to be genuinely in love with one another. She’s very close to her older sister who is also married with children. Which leads me to wonder if they ever talked to her about about sex and healthy relationships? Was there ever a discussion about birth control? Was abortion an option?
For most Natives I know, abortion is another taboo. Very rarely is it discussed openly. I’ve been told we as Natives don’t believe in abortion, but is that entirely true? I have a strong feeling if anyone knew how to “do away” with an unwanted pregnancy before the current medical procedure came about, it was Indian women. Furthermore, do we vigilantly oppose abortion yet embrace the fact that tons of our young girls are bringing Native babies into the world with absolutely no skill set, resources, or fathers? I don’t know about you but I have seen some messed up, horribly incompetent young Indian parents. I don’t need the nitty gritty stats of teen pregnancy to know it blows.
I too was once a teenager in my cousin’s shoes. It’s hard for me to admit it openly, but it’s true. No one in my family told me abortion was taboo because no one ever talked about sex. My mom, also a teenage mother, perpetuated the cycle by choosing to remain silent when she knew I was sexually active. The only thing she ever said to me was, “Don’t get pregnant!” As emphatic as it sounded, it obviously did little to dissuade me from having sex. Luckily, I lived in the city and my boyfriend at the time knew how to get me into the “system” for what was essentially a free abortion. How did he know? Because he had got his girlfriend before me pregnant too.
If you want me to say I feel guilty about it, I don’t. I had plans, dreams. I wanted to go to a good college and get out of the 'hood. I knew there was something bigger out there for me and I knew it wasn’t going to happen if I had a kid attached to my hip. I also knew at that ripe young age, that I didn’t want to be another minority statistic. And here I am, so many years later, several degrees later, still without biological children, finally, finally, feeling like I might be ready to give a child a life that it surely deserves.
Let me share with you a startling observation I made recently. A student at my college, who I am friends with on Facebook posted a picture of a box of disposable ovulation tests that had been found in the commons area of the dorms. There were several comments about how gross and crazy the whole sight was. I seriously didn’t get it. What exactly was revolting about it? I mean, I’m assuming they weren’t used. Maybe it was the fact that they were found in the commons but still, is it that gross? Is being proactive about your fertility that crazy?
These aren’t children. This is college. A tribal college, filled with dorms and young men and women having lots of sex. At least one of those females was thinking ahead enough to determine her fertility (never mind she lost or misplaced the box), I’m assuming in hopes to avoid this very situation my young, shy cousin has found herself in; that I too, once found myself in. But instead of empowering the concept, it was torn down and made a thing of ridicule on the walls of Facebook.
Are we as a Native community laying (no pun intended) the responsibility of sexual education and contraception on the schools? The TV? Or even worse, the youth themselves? Who taught you about sex? Who didn’t teach you about sex? Do you want to perpetuate that cycle? Or have you already perpetuated it?
As for my young cousin, what should be a day of celebrating her step into adulthood and promising future now feels like a bittersweet homage to the wasted potential of Native American women. Can she be the competent mom the accepting community expects her to be? Sure. Can she rise valiantly to the challenges motherhood will bring to a jobless young woman, living on the reservation? Most likely. But shouldn’t we expect our community to support, nurture and enrich our youths’ lives before the onset of parenthood and its myriad responsibilities? Do we care so much about breeding that we’ve forgotten how to breed capable parents?
Who’s to say she won’t surprise us all. Time will tell.
Christina M. Castro (Jemez/Taos Pueblo) is a newcomer to The Thing About Skins and will provide some much-needed female energy to fold. She is a writer, educator and community organizer. With degrees in English, Creative Writing and Education, she has worked with predominantly Native American students at schools throughout the Southwest. In 2008, she had the opportunity to work for Barack Obama’s Campaign for Change as a Field Organizer in the eight northern Pueblos of New Mexico. The invaluable experience and training she gained has only strengthened her resolve to continue her work for social change. She currently teaches English at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.