Media has fostered the creation of the teen parent stereotype. It is one defining these individuals as incapable of taking care of their children and doomed for failure.
This is a stereotype that 16-year-old Estrella Alvarez is defying every day.
Unlike other freshmen at HISD’s High School for Law and Justice, who carried the weight of curiosity and anxiety for the upcoming high school experience, she carried more. Estrella began high school pregnant after conceiving her baby at the age of 14 and gave birth to her baby girl Bella Marie at the end of freshman year.
Estrella said, “I lost friends because their parents thought I was a bad influence. It made me pretty sad because it wasn’t just their parents’ decision. My friends didn’t want to hang out with me. I felt and heard the judgement, and I was always the center of attention walking around with a big bump in front of me. It was kind of embarrassing because who gets pregnant at 14?”
As Estrella reflected on her early stages of motherhood, she described it as challenging. She said, “I feel like I had to grow up faster than everyone else.” Wanting to prove that she could take full responsibility for Bella, Estrella skipped hanging out with friends even though the father of her child did not and preferred to complete even the smallest tasks alone. Such tasks included watching the baby during her five-minute showers by placing her in a swing in the bathroom with her.
Although her mother was disappointed because of the circumstances, she never left Estrella’s side and neither did the mother of her baby’s father even though, he himself provides little support. Estrella expressed, “Bella’s dad is in her life, but he doesn’t really help much. He only buys her a box of diapers and wipes every now and then. His mom helps me out more. She takes care of Bella while I’m at school and doesn’t make me pay her. But that’s about all the support I get, and that’s not enough.” Not being able to benefit from co-parenting is a burden to Estrella. And, unfortunately, the feeling of incompleteness does not stop there.
Other than a young mom, Estrella is most of all a young woman who, just as her peers, has hopes and wishes, but they are often put on standby because of motherhood. She said, “I get lonely and jealous when I see my friends on social media having fun or going home after school and taking naps with nothing to worry about.” One of the simplest things she wishes for is having more free time even if it is just to sleep. “I have sleepless nights, and I still go to school and try my best to stay alert. I try to do most of my homework during class while also trying to pay attention to the lesson my teacher is giving.” She is determined to keep up and stay on track. However, this determination is nothing new. Estrella recalled a time in her childhood when she and her older brother would compete to get the best grades. Though her brother is now in the Air Force, and they are no longer in competition, this drive has not left her.
Now a HSLJ junior, this young mom with “no future” is the historian of National Honor Society, the treasurer of the Students Against Drugs club, and a member of the Ladies of Justice Dance Team. Last but not least, Estrella is in the top 10% of her class and does not plan to stay there. Estrella said, “I will try my best now to move up to at least the top 5%, so I can get a full ride scholarship to Houston Baptist University or the University of Houston.” This mama has goals!
When asked what she wants as a future career, she replied, “I want to become a civil rights attorney or a mechanical engineer. I’m leaning more toward the engineering field since I love math and science.”
Why would she not be so driven to work toward such a luminous future? Not only does she work hard, but she has motivators. Estrella said, “I would say that my biggest motivators were the people who doubted me, the people who said I couldn’t do it. Look at me now. I have a beautiful daughter and I still managed to do better than most people who do not have nearly as much as I to worry about.”
Though Estrella is defying the teen parent stereotype day-to-day, she is aware that this may be a judgement discouraging other young parents. Offering wisdom she said, “The message I would give to somebody is to just keep going no matter how hard it gets. Your child is a blessing and should only be a reason to make you better. Do your best to prove those stereotypes about teen moms wrong.”