Brittany Kennedy admits it wasn’t easy to walk the halls of her Akron high school while pregnant.
There were the occasional stares, whispers and rude comments.
She never wanted to be a teen mom. “Heck, no!” she said.
The 19-year-old brunette whose goal is to become an obstetrician/gynecologist can rattle off the reasons why, starting with the fact that it’s just plain hard to go to school, work a job and be a doting mother.
Her advice for other teens is simple: Don’t get pregnant.
For whatever the reason, fewer Ohio teens are.
Statewide, the number of teen births dropped 26 percent between 2007 and 2011, falling from 16,351 to 12,080, according to a Beacon Journal analysis of new statistics released by the Ohio Department of Health. Meanwhile, all Ohio births declined 8 percent over that same time.
Teen births, those to girls ages 15 through 19, fell in 83 of the state’s 88 counties. They rose, and only slightly, in Geauga, Mercer, Monroe and Vinton counties, and stayed the same in Morgan County.
In Summit County, teen births declined 27.6 percent, falling from 706 to 511.
Among the state’s six most populous counties, Summit had the fewest number of teen births in 2011.
Cuyahoga County led the state with 1,467 that year. Franklin was second with 1,343, and Hamilton third with 943.
Harrison County, in eastern Ohio, had the fewest with 13.
Meanwhile, the state birth rate for teens (births per 1,000 female teens ages 15 to 19) fell 25 percent over the same five-year period. It was 31 in 2011, slightly below the national rate of 31.3, which is a record low for U.S. teens.
The decline in Ohio mirrors a drop nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported earlier this month that the national teen birth rate also fell 25 percent between 2007 and 2011.
Why the decline?
Experts cite several potential reasons for the decline. The top one involves easier access to effective birth control.
Then there are other explanations, such as teens being less sexually active, parents having more frank discussions with their kids about sex and teens paying attention to television shows like Teen Mom on MTV that don’t glamorize being a mother.
There also are fewer teens in Ohio to give birth. The female population for ages 15 to 19 in the state dropped nearly 3 percent from 2007 to 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Overall, it’s difficult for a teen to manage school and graduate and financially support the child,” said Jennifer Shartle, executive director of Pregnancy Care of Summit County in Akron. “It’s hard for a teen when you’re not mature enough and you’re not financially stable to take care of the baby.”
She knows from experience.
“I was a teen mom so I know it was a struggle to stay in school,” said Shartle, who received help through the agency that she now heads. “And if I didn’t have the support of my family, I don’t know what would have happened.”
Pregnancy Care offers services and education classes to parents, and serves about 110 teens a year. The nonprofit sees a lot of teen girls who have been kicked out of their houses. There also are many cases involving domestic violence, Shartle said.
Still a problem
Even though teen births are dropping, it’s still a problem in the community, said April Brewer, who runs the Teenage Parent Program at Greenleaf Family Center in Akron.
Her agency works with about 180 teen parents over the course of a year.
“We know that the reality of the statistics show that babies born to teen parents are more likely to live in poverty,” Brewer said. “Parents are less likely to finish school. Less likely to go to college. There is more likely to be abuse.
“Yes, it’s still a concern for our community because we want babies growing up in as healthy a situation as possible.”
Determined to succeed
Kennedy, whose daughter Amyia was born in November, is determined to be one of the success stories.
She and the father didn’t use birth control, she admitted. But she never thought she would become pregnant.
She said she watched as other pregnant girls dropped out of school.
“Some people are lazy,” said Kennedy, whose daughter’s name is tattooed on the left side of her chest. “They don’t want it bad enough. I’m there. I went to school and had good grades. You just have to work harder.”
She graduated from Garfield High School just a few weeks ago and now lives on her own in Akron. She said she’s attending Stark State College and working as a cashier at a local restaurant.
Amyia is cared for by a friend’s mom when Kennedy is at school or at work. The father is no longer in the picture and is married to another woman, she said.
“Even if the dad isn’t around, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it,” Kennedy said.
Her eyes light up as she talks about how loud and playful her daughter is. Or when she describes Amyia’s big blue eyes and chubby cheeks. She shakes her head when asked how she’s going to keep up with Amyia when her daughter starts walking.
Nowadays, Kennedy lives on little sleep. It’s school, studying, working, cleaning and being a mom.
“It’s not about you anymore,” she said. “It’s about your baby.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.