(Copyright 1994. The Tattoo. All rights reserved.)

The Tattoo

--- Making a Permanent Impression Since 1994 ---

October 24, 1994

Life as a teen mother

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?"

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