16&P (pt.1): Estranged parents, cohabitation, the pregnancy “decision”

Last night’s 16 and Pregnant was a double-whammy — meeting Kailyn and also watching Dr. Drew’s “Life After Labor” special. Unfortunately, with so more teens than last season to interview, Dr. Drew didn’t have as much time to try and force the teens to admit that they wished their babies had never been born and that they were huge mistakes.

Anyway, first we met Kailyn, a 16-year-old who had a rough life story. She had never met her father, had an estranged relationship with her mother, and lived with her boyfriend Jo’s family. Being a pregnant teen mom was just one of many obstacles Kailyn had dealt with in her short life.

We learned about having a mother who isn’t entirely present, the “decision” to get pregnant, expectations about meeting parents for the first time, and the difficulty of living with a partner.

1. Having an estranged mother. I missed the first three minites, so I’m not sure if they explained why Kailyn’s mother was so estranged, but she was. Although they lived in the same town, Kailyn lived with her boyfriend Jo’s family because her mother didn’t have a house or a job. She spent her time looking for a job, house, or with her boyfriend, which constantly upset Kailyn.

She even had the audacity to go crib-shopping with Kailyn and then stick Jo’s parents with the bill. After giving birth to baby Isaac, she begged her mom to see her and the baby more. Her mom had a new house that was five minutes from Jo’s parents’ place, and getting her mom to agree to stop by was like watching someone try to pull teeth. Her mom was finding every excuse she could about why she couldn’t see the baby, including telling  Kailyn it wasn’t on the way home from work because  she didn’t go that way. Kailyn suggested simply changing her route, and her mom was ilent.

On the reunion special, we learned that Kailyn’s mom was completely out of the picture, which obviously upset her very much. She was lucky enough to have Jo’s mom, Janet, in her life, as she basically took over in a mother-type role for Kailyn. This makes motherhood important for Kailyn in the same way that it did for Valerie and Lori (even though Lori was forced to give Aidan up for adoption) — they all sought some connection to family that they were missing.

In all the episodes with teens who grow up with a biological mother and not their father, it was interesting to see a teen who was growing up without a mother or a father. It showcases the fact that, although we assume single parents are usually mothers, this isn’t always the case — they might be fathers (16 percent of custodial parents are fathers) or perhaps they might be estranged like Kailyn’s mom. The estrangement factor — the fact that her mom lives near here but isn’t taking care of her at all — is what really makes Kailyn’s story unique and tough to put in the context of statistics.

2. The “decision” to get pregnant. People slip when they are fighting, and Jo — Kailyn’s boyfriend — did this when he exclaimed that the pregnancy was Kailyn’s decision.  I applauded his parents for jumping on that comment and telling him how wrong it was to say that, but it raises two important points: 1) that a woman is assumed to be responsible for birth control and 2) a woman’s decision to keep the baby gives her all the responsiblity.

Because only women have the ability to get pregnant, some people rest the responsibility of birth control entirely on their shoulders. Men often expect women do be taking birth control of some sort — the pill, the shot, an IUD, the patch or a vaginal ring. This was expressed in the movie Knocked Up, when Ben (Seth Rogan) and Allison (Katherine Heigl) argue about how they got pregnant in the first place, and Ben counters that he assumed she had been taking something.

Though it was framed in a comical way in the movie, it’s no laughing matter in the real world. Some men will take this assumed contraceptive responsibility on women and remove themselves from the pregnancy situation completely because they feel no sense of accountability. It’s a woman’s responsibility to protect her body, in their opinion, so they need to deal with the consequences — the guy was just along for the ride (no pun intended).

Ignoring the fact that if it’s a woman’s body is her responsibility then there should be no male counterattack on her right for abortion, another problem is that the “her decision” also leaves some men feeling like they shouldn’t have to care for a baby if she decides to keep it. If a woman and a man disagree on whether to keep, abort or put the baby up for adoption, then the man sometimes chooses to wash his hands of the situation by saying, “Well, I chose abortion, you didn’t, so it’s your decision and your responsibility now.”

Should a man have to support a child he didn’t want to keep? Well, considering he initially made the decision to have sex, and pregnancy is a consequence of sex, he isn’t without responsibility. He might not like the result of his actions, but the actions were originally his and he was merely banking on the fact that pregnancy wouldn’t happen — he took a risk. Although then we get into the women who try to get themselves pregnant to save a relationship, etc.

3. Expectations about meeting parents. Whether it’s someone who was adopted meeting their birth parents or someone who has an estranged parent, it seems like people have a lot of expectations about parents whom they’ve never met. For Kailyn, there was a lot of excitement about meeting her father, but the excitement quickly faded when she spent an entire week alone with him.

One of the problems was that her father wasn’t really the one who arranged the visit — his sister did. Kailyn’s aunt was excited about connecting them, but there was an unfortunate disconnect between Kailyn and her father because he wasn’t extremely interested. This left Kailyn disappointed, and it illustrated that much like trying to force someone into rehab, some things won’t work unless the person involved wants to do them.

Another problem was one that is understandable — Kailyn likely had a lot of expectations about what it would be like to meet her father. Excited because her aunt had contacted her, she was eager. But as the adoption information site laboroflove.com explains, meeting your parents — whether you were adopted or abandoned — for the first time involves having realistic expectations:

First, it is important to understand what exactly you are looking for. If you are looking for acceptance, don’t count on getting it … If you are looking for some self-identity, you can’t expect to get that either. However, if you are trying to find out information about your family history, or even a family medical history, you can usually accomplish these sorts of things. Anything else, while great when it happens, may be somewhat unrealistic.

It was difficult to watch Kailyn go through this — it seemed like after 15 minutes of conversation, she knew her expectations were far too high, and she immediately wanted to go back home. I don’t blame her; she was seeking this missing part of her and assuming their biological connection would lead to a physical connection — one where they would be able to talk about anything and there would be no awkwardness because they were blood related.

We saw this on an episode of True Life (I’m Looking for My Father), when Craig met his dad, who left him at the age of three. Despite the negative reaction from his mother and sister about his search, he eventually found him. He was elated, but I’m not sure he got what he wanted — they hung out once or twice and talked on the phone, but then contact diminished and he was pretty much in the same place he started.

It’s tough to understand how, though the saying goes that blood is thicker than anything, that DNA connection isn’t enough to build long-lasting relationships after years of being apart.

4. The difficulty of living with a partner. Something all these episodes of 16 and Pregnant touch on is how difficult it is to live with someone. Many people move in together on the show, and I don’t know how they deal with living with a partner and taking care of a baby for the first time. Even for people like Kailyn and Lizzie, who were living in their parents houses with their partner, it’s difficult.

I am all for cohabitation before marriage because sometimes you just don’t get along with someone if you actually have to live with them — see their habits, daily routines, idiosyncracies, lifestyle — it’s important to know if you’ll mesh well. Perhaps your partner is always looking neat, and then you find that s/he is a complete slob and filthy. You want to know these things before you start talking about houses, marriage, etc.

For Kailyn and Jo, sharing a bedroom was really difficult. There weren’t anymore trips to the movies or dates because it seemed like Jo’s space was being infultrated — he saw her all the time, so the last thing he wanted to do was spend his free time with her, too. At 16, they yearn for freedom — having someone else always around suffocates that freedom.

Living together is a big step, especially at such a young age. Combine being thrust into responsibility with losing any sense of privacy and freedom, and it’s a recipe for disaster. You’re trying to figure out how to get along with each other and compromise about living — whose stuff goes where, who does the dishes, how things are arranged — and then you have to raise a baby. What added to the stress was that Kailyn and Jo were sharing a bedroom, so neither really had any space of their own like they might have in an apartment.

________________

Part 2 of this post will come shortly, after I’ve watched the full Life after Labor episode!

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