CINCINNATI -- Her grandmother was a teenage mother. Her mother was a teenage mother. And like the two generations of women before her, Rosemary Oglesby-Henry was a teenage mother.
Her brother and sister were teenage parents, too. But Oglesby-Henry decided the cycle would stop with their generation.
“I didn’t want any of our children to be teenage parents,” she told me.
She spent years encouraging her own kids and young relatives and then got inspired to start Rosemary’s Babies back in 2013. The nonprofit organization provides teen moms and dads with mentors and training to help them break the cycle of teen pregnancy and the generational poverty that so often comes with it.
She will be raising awareness about the problem of teen pregnancy with a panel discussion at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 28 at the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. Called “Teen Pregnancy: Then, When & Now,” it's open to the public. Full disclosure: I will be moderating the panel, and I’m looking forward to the discussion.
Janelle Hocker will be there, too.
Hocker is the executive director of Nella’s Place, a group home for girls in Walnut Hills that she started in 2014, and she will be one of the panelists at the event. Although Nella’s Place doesn’t cater specifically to pregnant teens, it serves girls and young women who have experienced trauma and are especially vulnerable to the whispers of young men who promise to love them, Hocker said.
“A lot of girls, they glamorize it,” she said of pregnancy. “They think it’s cute to show how big their belly is on Facebook and how they can paint on their bellies. We have to come together as a village again to help these young ladies.”
I was not a teen mom, and neither was my mother. But several of my high school friends became pregnant before they graduated. And I remember the uncertainty that seemed to surround their situations, at least from the outside looking in.
It’s not that any of us wants to see tiny babies as big problems.
But anyone who has been a parent -- or has even cared for an infant for a few hours -- knows how much work they can be. Both Oglesby-Henry and Hocker said they want to help young people understand how to break the cycle of teen pregnancy and how that can help our community reduce a whole host of problems.
They deserve better
Oglesby-Henry believes strongly that teen pregnancy is closely related to our region’s unacceptable rate of childhood poverty.
Her own experience taught her how difficult it was to earn enough money with a high school diploma to care for herself and a baby on her own. Over time, she struggled to get through college to create a better life for herself and her kids and to set an example for them, too. She has since completed college, has earned a master’s degree and is married.
“Within communities and families that are in poverty or low-income, there’s a lot of single-family homes, there’s no marriages and there’s a lack of education,” she said.
Oglesby-Henry doesn’t say that to be judgmental. She works to educate young people that they deserve better. And Rosemary’s Babies does that by working with teen parents, their babies and the teens’ own parents.
“To break the cycle, both parties have to say, ‘This is not OK,’ especially when you’re looking at that child and saying we both have to work together to make sure this one does differently,” she said. “We have to start to change the trajectory of not only the teen parent, but the parent of the teen parent.”
Oglesby-Henry met recently with a young mom who is 18 and living with her grandmother and her 5-month-old baby. The young woman wants to get her own apartment to be independent. But she told Oglesby-Henry that she has no idea how to pay bills or what bills would be a part of living on her own.
“She doesn’t even know how to write a check or how to open an account,” Oglesby-Henry said. “There’s still a lack of support and understanding surrounding teen pregnancy.”
She said “still” because Oglesby-Henry said the landscape for teen parents hasn’t changed much since she became a teen mom more than 20 years ago. That’s one of the topics she wants the panel discussion to address.
“There’s still transportation issues, still housing issues, still a lack of support for the life skills that these children need to go out here and be productive citizens,” she said. “So they end up in poverty because they don’t know anything.”
‘Still love on them’
That’s not what Hocker wants to see for the girls and young women who stay at Nella’s Place.
Her residents are between the ages of 11 and 21, and they end up at Nella’s Place because they can no longer live at home. Sometimes that is because of abuse or neglect. Other times it’s because their parents are battling addiction or have been sentenced to prison.
All of them have been through trauma of some kind, which Hocker said lowers their confidence and makes them more susceptible to peer pressure.
Hocker and her staff talk to the girls and young women about the importance of abstinence but also advise about birth control. They talk about the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the importance of self-esteem. They encourage the residents to set goals and make “dream boards” to see a better future for themselves. And they take them on trips to college campuses across the country.
“So that they know that there is hope,” Hocker said.
And for the girls that do get pregnant, she said, it’s important not to give up on them or their babies. That’s how she advises friends and family, too.
“Don’t panic,” Hocker said. “Start using your resources. Still love on them, encourage them and let them know it’s going to be all right.”
So often, parents tell girls they are “dirty” or “nasty” if they get pregnant as teens, Hocker said, and that doesn’t help.
“The No. 1 thing is just communicating,” Hocker said. “Do not throw them out there to the wolves, period. It just becomes a pattern, and the child is lost in the system.”
The public is welcome to be part of the discussion that Rosemary’s Babies will host at United Way of Greater Cincinnati. Oglesby-Henry needs to know by the end of the day Feb. 23 how many people will be there.
We hope to see you there.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.
To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.