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What does it mean to be a teen mom?

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Burdo and Callie take a stroll. Photo: Halle Newman

Two Vermont teen mothers share their stories

By Halle Newman

Every morning, 18 year-old Ashley Lynn Burdo wakes up at 6:30 to start her day. Like most other teenagers, she eats breakfast, does some homework, and feels pretty tired. Unlike most teenagers, however, Burdo also spends her day changing diapers, pushing a stroller, and playing with toy trucks on the floor.

“Just because a teenager had a kid doesn’t mean their life is over. It’s not,” Burdo said, looking lovingly at her blue-eyed, grinning baby. Burdo got pregnant with her daughter, Callie, when she was a freshman at Bellows Free Academy (BFA) in St. Albans, Vermont. Since then, she earned her diploma online and is now studying to become a nursing assistant.

I met Burdo back in middle school, and since we’re Facebook friends, I saw a picture of her and Callie and reached out for an interview. While we spoke, Callie was busy running around with her toy fire truck in the recreational center we met in. Eventually, Burdo picked her up so she would stop running away and we took a walk around a hallway and then strolled outside.

“[Being a mother has] been great. Stressful. Very stressful,” Burdo said, eyeing Callie as she toddled toward the gym. “It’s very hard handling school, work, Callie, everything. It’s amazing just watching her develop and become the little devil she is.”

Burdo is one of many Vermont teen mothers. The Vermont Office of Adolescent health reports that are 10.3 births for every 1000 girls aged 15-19 in Vermont. The national teen birth rate is double this, and in some states it’s over three times as high.

As a student at BHS, I never see pregnant women in the building aside from teachers. Our school does not have an obvious presence of teenage mothers. Maybe it’s because of the local organizations that offer a more supportive learning space for teen moms. I wondered why our school seems absent of teen pregnancy- I know many of my peers are not abstinent. So why don’t we see or talk about pregnancy?

Aside from Burdo, I also connected with a former BHS student, Silvia Greeno. Greeno is a 17-year-old mother with a daughter named Cecilia. Like Burdo, she is studying to become a nurse. I contacted Greeno over Facebook and had a lovely phone conversation with squeals of Cecilia in the backround.

“[Cecilia] was a combination of her father’s name […] and my name,” Greeno explained. She had Cecilia when she was 16.

“She’s eight months old now. She’s with me all the day- I’m a stay at home mom,” Greeno said. “She’s a lot of work. She’s a happy kid. She actually has a birthmark on her face– she’s like one in a thousand kids who have the chance of getting that.”

Greeno plays with Cecilia, Photo: Silvia Greeno

Although Greeno and Burdo are happy to be mothers, seeing the positive sign on the pregnancy test was not easy to handle.

“It was a really stressful time because my boyfriend was staying at this apartment with his friend and it actually burned down,” Greeno said, recounting the time when she found out she was pregnant. “The worst time to find out that you’re pregnant is when you don’t really have a place to live stabley.”

Overcoming the challenge of finding a home when pregnant wasn’t easy, but Greeno has settled into a home with her baby and her dog. Greeno was taking classes at Vermont Adult Learning (VAL) when she found out she was pregnant, and she found plenty of helpful resources there to support her in her pregnancy and beyond.

“Just because a teenager had a kid doesn’t mean their life is over. It’s not.”

-Ashley Burdo

“[VAL] could help people pay for daycare, and right now if I wanted to I could have a class with Cecelia and they could help me pay for it,” Greeno said.

Burdo also utilized the sources at VAL to take classes after she found out she was pregnant. Unlike Greeno, Burdo was still in public school when she realized she was pregnant. She said her teachers offered support when she told them the news, and she felt supported by her peers as well. Still, finding out she was pregnant was a intense news to receive.

“I cried. A lot. For days.” Burdo said. “I contemplated the options for a while, but my mind always was like ‘You’re going to keep the baby. There’s no other option for you, because your heart can’t take it.”

Burdo was living with her grandparents in St. Albans at the time.

“My grandmother was way more supportive than I would think. She just said that she would be there for me no matter what decision I made.” Burdo said. “[My Grandfather] honestly acted like he didn’t care at all. I don’t know what he was actually feeling, but he was like ‘it’s a thing that happened. It’s going to happen.’”

Both Burdo’s grandmother and Callie’s father continue to help take care of Callie.

“[Callie’s father] gets her every other weekend and every Thursday, so it’s not that often but it’s a nice break,” Burdo said. “I’m glad that her dad can be a part of her life and is willing to be a part of her life, because a lot of teen dads just drop out of their kid’s life.”

The Vermont Office of Adolescent Health does not track data on teenage fathers. There are no local or national trends available to support or refute the stigma of teenage fathers hitting the road; in the data available, all the pressure of parenthood seems to be on the mother. Luckily, this was not that case with Greeno or Burdo.

“The worst time to find out that you’re pregnant is when you don’t really have a place to live stabley.”

-Silvia Greeno

Although Greeno’s boyfriend works far away, he still commits to spending time with Greeno and Cecilia.

“He’s a full-time worker and he goes out of state, but he comes back in the same day, just at night. So, it’s mostly me and my dog that I also take care of,” Greeno said. “But sometimes my grandma comes over to help out and see [Cecilia]. My mother lives in Chicago, so she’ll come by like once every two weeks.”

Transitioning from normal teenage life to taking care of a baby was a difficult transition for both Greeno and Burdo to make, even with the support of their family and their baby’s fathers. Both of them worked with VAL to transition their schoolwork online. However, becoming a mother is no easy feat; it is extremely tiring. For Burdo, trying to find time to sleep was one of the hardest parts of balancing her education with motherhood.

“When [Callie] was a newborn up until five months old, she woke up every two hours at night, so that was horrible,” Burdo said. “I barely got any sleep, so my life depended on coffee and energy drinks.”

Although Burdo became accustomed to a flexible sleep schedule, relying on caffeine and her baby’s calmness to find time for school was tricky.

“I would just basically do [most of] my homework and schoolwork when [Callie] was sleeping…” Burdo said. “I’ve had a lot of late nights where she goes to sleep at like eight and I stay up until two o’clock in the morning doing homework.”

For Greeno, transitioning to motherhood meant becoming more adultlike in her everyday actions. From choosing her baby over social events to taking her education into her own hands, Greeno considers herself to be much more of an adult than an average teenager.

Greeno snuggles with Cecilia. Photo: Silvia Greeno

“I was in my college class, and there were 20 year-olds that were talking about how they’d never been to a grocery store on their own to buy groceries, and that was just so crazy to me because I go to the grocery store like every three days,” Greeno said. “I feel like having a baby sometimes, for a lot of people, is a huge push to being like ‘okay, I’m not doing things for myself anymore.’”

Greeno said that since becoming a mother, her social circle changed significantly to support the life she wants to lead with Cecilia. This meant skipping parties or even cutting off some unhealthy friendships.

“I had to eliminate a lot of people because I was definitely going into the wrong path, so I didn’t want to take the chance of anything bad happening with Cecilia…” Greeno said.  “[I’m] more mature [now]. I don’t put myself into any drama. I don’t even swear or anything. I used to talk kind of different, more like young language like ‘it’s lit’ or something like that. I don’t say anything like that anymore.”

Burdo, too, said her social circle changed. Now, most of her friends are mothers.

“They just know the perspective of what it’s like being a mom and the challenges, and I have a few friends that don’t have kids but they just don’t really understand what it’s like,” Burdo said.  “As soon as you become a mom, you have this instinct where you just want to do as good as you can. You don’t want anything to happen to them, so you don’t want to do anything bad in case it reflects on them.”

Although this selflessness can incite pressure on parents, Burdo says that being responsible for her baby made her see a greater purpose in her life.

“I honestly didn’t care if I graduated high school or not before [Callie]. I actually wanted to drop out as soon as I could,” Burdo said. “For some reason, I just didn’t care where my life was going and I didn’t care if anything would happen to me, and then after her, that whole thought just reversed. I was like, ‘I have to do this. I have to do this. I have to just stay alive as well as I can for her.’”

Burdo will be starting a new job as an overnight Assistant Nurse at the Franklin County Rehab center this coming month.

“It’s going to be hard for me because I haven’t been away from [Callie] that much yet. But, as long as I keep it in my head that I’m doing it for her, and only her, and that she can do a lot more things with me having more money to do things for her,” Burdo said. “I’m planning on getting her into hockey- ice hockey. When she turns three I’m going to be signing her up for dance classes. Hopefully, if I have the financial means for both those things, [she can do] horseback riding. She loves horses, so I have to.”

Greeno’s future is also looking bright for her family. Like Burdo, she is also hoping for a new job that will bring extra fun for Cecilia.

“The most exciting thing I have is vacations,” Greeno said. “I’m trying to get a job at the airport in August because my mom works there and she has free flight benefits…I want to travel as a family and go anywhere.”

“For some reason, I just didn’t care where my life was going and I didn’t care if anything would happen to me, and then after [Callie], that whole thought just reversed.”

-Ashley Burdo

The journey of parenthood is one that is different for everyone, and recognizing that there are teen parents in our community is a step toward hearing a new perspective. I’d like to thank Ashley Burdo and Silvia Greeno (and their daughters) for taking the time to talk to me. The conversations we had truly opened my mind. It was amazing to witness my past peers being such wonderful and caring mothers.

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