'It’s not an easy road’ - Teen moms share their challenges in an appeal to young girls to avoid sex
After experiencing sexual abuse and poverty, becoming pregnant at 17 seemed like a death sentence for Lisa Brown*.
"I took a pregnancy test which came out positive. It felt like it was the end of the world for me," said Lisa, who is now a second-year university student.
"It was a total disgrace for me. Everywhere I went people would look down on me. Nights, I would lay down on my belly looking at ways to end my life without feeling pain," she confessed to a group of mostly pregnant teenage girls during a recent Girls Empowered for Motherhood and Success Conference, hosted by ScotiaFoundation.
But with the help of institutions like the Women's Centre Foundation of Jamaica, Lisa said she began to realise that she could still achieve her dreams. She admitted, however, that being a mother and a student is no easy feat.
"Many days, my baby went without diapers [and] formula. All I could do was pray and cry to God to send help," Lisa recounted.
"These challenges gave me the courage to work harder, because education was the only way out," she said.
Based on her success in six Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects and three Caribbean Proficiency Examinations, she was able to matriculate into university and is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Education.
Like Lisa, 20-year-old Yasheka Brooks is happy that she did not drop out of school despite the ridicule and discrimination she faced as a teen mother.
She became pregnant at 14 years old, and while this might have been a setback for her, since she had to repeat the ninth grade, she has managed to secure 10 CSEC subjects and is now studying nursing at the Excelsior Community College Nursing School.
"Being pregnant in high school is hard work. It came with low self-esteem, discrimination, emotional abuse, and I can go on. The year 2011 was one of the worse years of my life. This was the year I got pregnant," she said.
"Teachers, children and even members of my community were very judgemental towards me. I was the subject of every mother and teenage young girl in the community," said the young mother who was very active in church at the time.
Fortunately, she received financial support from her mother and her child's father initially.
"After a long day at school, I had to reach home on time to collect the baby from my mother. Each evening that I came home, I had to wash the baby's clothes and attend to my daughter so that she could go to bed and I had to do my schoolwork," said Yasheka.
"Many nights, I had to have her in my arms while I did my paper or while doing projects," she recalled
When the relationship ended with her child's father, Yasheka sought other means of financing her schooling. She sold sweets at school and bag juice in her community to the boys who would gather to play football. She worked at a supermarket while attending sixth form, and then later on started rearing chicken in her backyard.
Yasheka started out with 15 chickens and by the end of her first year at college, she had 150. With her business, she was able to fund at least 60 per cent of her tuition. She has since applied for student loan to help finance her studies and is awaiting approval.
"Go to school, listen to your parents and stay away from sexual activities," Yasheka warned the teenage girls at the forum.
"Sexual intercourse can be very enjoyable, but the after effect is life-changing. I have told many young girls in my community that my life is not as easy as it seems to be, and they may not be lucky as I am in having a mother to take care of their child while attending school," she said.
Both girls were recipients of the GEMS award which was presented by the ScotiaFoundation last Friday. They were recognised for their resilience.
*Name changed on request.