--- Making a Permanent Impression Since 1994 ---
By Jenny Jenkins The Tattoo Becoming a teenage mother means losing your freedom, said a recent Bristol high school graduate who is still coping with the consequences. "My daughter comes first. I'm always thinking what would be best for Lauren," Christina Darling, 20, said. Since her senior year in high schoo, Christina has struggled as a single mother. At the laundromat recently, Darling folded clothes and kept an eye on her daughter as she talked about her years as a teenage mother. When Darling learned she was pregnant by a boy she'd dated as a junior at Bristol Eastern High School, her relationship with her family turned rocky. At 17, she wasn't serious about the boy -- she never intended to marry him -- but they got engaged in haste when it became clear that a baby was on the way and she felt no support at home, she said. The couple moved into his mother's house, Darling said. She felt overwhelmed by the idea of motherhood and all the responsibilities of becoming an adult. Darling earned money from a part-time job, but found it disappeared when her fiance went on drinking binges. She left him after only a couple of months and moved back in with her parents, who by then were more receptive to the situation. When Darling returned to Eastern High, she said, she found out who her real friends were. Unable to afford a babysitter, Darling lost much of her old social life. Former friends turned their backs, uninterested in the trials of motherhood. Obviously, there wasn't much in common anymore. Her senior year was rough -- lonely and long. She studied hard and cared for the baby, missing many of the parties and activities her classmates took for granted. Money was tight. To provide for her baby, Darling gave up everyday items for herself. She skimped, rarely going out on weekends. For months, she said, she went without makeup. After graduation, she went on welfare and took a two-year nursing course -- a career path she plans to pursue. Those were tough years, Darling said, and public assistance was her only option. Darling says she hated being on welfare, but couldn't afford the high costs of insurance, rent and bills. Now Lauren is three, and Darling's parents and grandparents are extremely supportive. They supply most of Lauren's wardrobe, saving Darling hundreds of dollars a year. The child's father pays occasional visits, but is very inconsistent, Darling said. "It's not fair to Lauren to have him disappear and reappear whenever he feels like it," Darling said. Financially, he hasn't paid his share, Darling said. She plans to take him to court for back child support. These days, Darling doesn't date -- with school and Lauren, it's the last thing on her mind. Besides, she's lost her trust in men her age, she said, and she doesn't want to waste time trying. Despite the years of turmoil and confusion, Darling has goals for herself and is on her way to achieving her dreams. She's back at school this fall, aiming to get a bachelor's degree in nursing. "The timing is working out great," Darling said. "While Lauren's in preschool, I'm in school, too." Darling said she has a message for teenage girls who are sexually active: "Don't do it. If you do, at least take birth control and take it faithfully. Why take on this responsibility when you don't have to?"