The Teen Pregnancy Problem In Southern Colorado

By: Jason Aubry Email
By: Jason Aubry Email

Nothing is more disheartening than having a teenager tell you that, before they had a child, their life had no purpose. Such comments were common as I interviewed several teen parents for this story.

Elysia Gonzalez was 13 years old when her friends would talk about sex. She was one of the last virgins among them, and she felt peer pressure to participate in the conversation but didn’t know how.

By 14 she had met a boy; 15-year-old Brandon Vigil. A short time later, they became sexually active. Two months after that, she was pregnant.

A month after delivering their son, Gonzalez and Vigil sat down and told me their story. They told me about a not-so-positive childhood cut short by a problem that is an ongoing issue in Pueblo, Colorado, and across the nation.

The reasons why Elysia got pregnant are plentiful and there is more than enough blame to spread around. But in the end, Elysia and Brandon have accepted their new roles as parents.

Both of them are now a year older, and while Brandon is working at odd jobs here and there to make ends meet, the trials they will face have not even begun to present themselves.

Meanwhile, hundreds of teenage girls in Pueblo, and other southern Colorado communities, will follow in Elysia’s footsteps this year.

In most cases, teenage pregnancy is a sure-fire way to end up living in poverty. Without the education or financial means to raise a child, let alone take care of themselves, many teen parents barely get by. To make matters worse, studies have shown that children of teenage parents repeat their mistakes.

Southern Colorado is home to one community that is one of the nation’s leading worst, when it comes to teen pregnancy. Each year more than 300 teenage girls give birth in Pueblo alone. "I don't think there is any doubt in anyone's mind that this is significant, and it affects each and every one of us," says Dr. Chris Nevin-Woods, Director of the Pueblo City-County Health Department.

Each child born of a teenage mother in Colorado costs the community an estimated $4,056. That doesn’t seem like very much, but when more than 300 babies are being born every year, it adds up. In 2004 the cost for Pueblo teens alone was $1.3 million. Nationwide it was $9 billion.

Getting pregnant as a teen in Pueblo has become so tolerated, there is little to no stigma. It has become a social norm. "Every hall you walk down in high school, you see a pregnant girl," says Elysia.

Megan Kraemer attends Central High School in Pueblo. She was 16 when she got pregnant. She was the second of her group of friends to do so. "Of my close friends, more than half of them have kids,” explained Kraemer.

According to a D-60 survey, 57 percent of students between grades six and 12 admitted to being sexually active.

Kraemer was also able to confirm something that is even more disturbing. "One of my friends was trying to get pregnant, and then when she got pregnant she didn't know what to do about it," she says.

Just about every teen mom we talked to confessed they were not ready for the changes their bodies underwent after they got pregnant, or for the post-delivery / pregnancy issues that would remain with them for years to come. Ugly stretch marks were the number one regret. Others talked of back pain they attribute to choices they made during the delivery process.

Doctors say young girls just don’t know the dangers they face by getting pregnant as a teen. There are health risks not only for themselves, but for the baby as well. "The younger the mom is, the less formed her boney structures of her pelvis are, the less ready she is for the process of childbirth," explains Dr. Michael Growney, MD, FACOG.

Other dangers include a higher potential for the pregnant teen to develop seizures and high blood pressure related to the pregnancy, as well as premature delivery. Premature births carry their own dangers. In the first year of life the death rate for babies born early is higher than for full term babies.

Growney is not surprised by the percentage of sexually active teens in Pueblo. He says, by the time he sees them in his office many teen girls are already pregnant. "I think it's a shame that our young children and our young women, don't have the education and the information with which to make appropriate decisions," says Dr. Growney.

With such a high amount of sexually active teens, we wanted to know how D-60 was educating them, and what the students were being given to learn.

Randy Evetts, the project director for D-60’s Safe Schools program explained the districts approach to the situation. "We know that [students] make decisions impulsively that can impact the rest of their lives, so we certainly encourage that abstinence, however we do recognize that students do make those decisions and we feel that it's our responsibility to at least offer them education that teaches them how to protect themselves," says Evetts.

However, the school district is coming up short on the protection side of education, according to students like Elysia. "It's all about, ‘don't do it because this might happen.’ It's not, ‘we don't want you to do it, but if you decide to do it this is how to protect yourself’," says Gonzalez.

Elysia says, had she known about the basic biology of her own fertility cycle, she would have been better prepared to protect herself. It’s information she never would have received in the classroom. "I know the sex education curriculum, the reducing the risk curriculum, doesn't not go into the depth of that," explained Evetts. (To hear Dr. Growney give a basic explanation of the female fertility cycle, click the link above)

The health course students are required to take in order to graduate, as approved by the board of education, is just nine weeks long; three of them are devoted to sex education.

Now, with the community calling for a change, this glaring deficiency in instruction is being addressed by the school district. "[D-60 is] looking at more of a building block, more of a continuum of education, at least from grades four through 12… a more comprehensive, for all health topics, approach and building on each year much as you would a math class," says Evetts.

The earliest this new curriculum would be put into place is next school year; too late for the hundreds of girls who will get pregnant this year. "It's crazy how many kids are doing that, because that's really what we are. We're kids, children," says Gonzalez.

No longer a child, Gonzalez and her boyfriend Brandon are now trying to raise Brandon Jr. with the help of her mother. The going won’t be easy, Elysia’s mother is still trying to raise four children of her own.

Still, Elysia keeps a positive outlook. "I don't regret having him, I mean he's the most important thing in my life,” says Gonzalez. And despite her young age, Elysia’s mother says, she has grown-up fast. “I wish I had been older, so I could give him more," explained Gonzalez. "My goal is to make sure that he has a life... That's what I want. I want him to have a childhood," she says.

She also doesn’t want her son to make the same mistakes his parents made.

Meanwhile, the Pueblo City-County Health Department and several community partners have come together and are looking for other ways to reduce the teen pregnancy rate. Funded by a grant from the county’s Department of Social Services, they’ve hired the JSI Research and Training Institute of Denver to conduct a study that may identify a cause for the high rate of teen pregnancies in Pueblo County.

While the answer may seem as simple as, teens are having sex therefore teens are getting pregnant, Dr. Nevin-Woods thinks there may be something more too it.

While the study is being conducted, the task force will look at another options for curbing the rate of pregnancy in teens by increasing their developmental assets. Armed with a list of 40 assets, 20 internal and 20 external, the group hopes to get the community on board with the potential solution.

According to the Search Institute, the more assets children have, the less likely they are to become a teen pregnancy statistic.

Click the link below to view the 40 developmental assets for kids 12-18, and see how you can take action to make them part of your child’s life.

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  • by Tiffany Alamaa Location: Peyton on Mar 14, 2012 at 10:35 AM
    Really? When my little brother comes home talking about sex it gets me angry. I'm 18 and I know better than to go out and get pregnate. I know it sounds like I'm say all teen pregnacys are horrible but I just don't approve of the 15 and under demografict even thinking about sex.
  • by Kacy Location: Pueblo on Sep 1, 2011 at 12:43 PM
    It really disturbs me when article's such as this one talk about how having a baby in your teenage years is a "mistake". My son is four months old, and he is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I got pregnant when I was 15. I am 16 now and have a job, and am taking college classes at PCC. I will have my associate's degree completely paid for by my high school by the time I would have graduated my senior year. My son motivates me to do better, and having him also made me mature a lot. I will also add on that me, my boyfriend, and my son live on our own and we are NOT going through "poverty". Our family is just fine. Therefore, I think this article is very disrespectful and categorizes all teenage mothers into one subculture which is wrong because SO many teen mothers are doing just fine, graduating high school, and giving their baby the life they deserve.
  • by Megan Location: Pueblo on May 26, 2011 at 06:08 PM
    I was tha other teenage mom in the article. Im 18 now and graduating high school with a gold cord. Having a baby at a young doesn't ruin you life, yes it makes things harder, but when you look at your child she's all the motivation and inspiration you need to push thru the hard times. My parents did do a good job parenting me. Please don't trash talk teen moms.
  • by Tiffany Location: corolado springs on Apr 22, 2011 at 01:29 PM
    My brohter and his girl had a kid at the age of 17 just like my mom did and the story is almost the same but on the other hand they oushed are family away and said they could do it on there own but know my brother is living at home and hs girl is at her parents house and the baby lives with my parents and my brother when his girl works and on other day the baby is with her when he when it cdomes down to it life suck with a kid.. i know how it feels becuase i live with my sister and she has 3 kids of her own and her man is in the army so i have to help out cuz im older then them..
  • by Anonymous Location: Colorado on Mar 25, 2011 at 04:35 PM
    Wow, that's such a shame that such young teens are doing that. You shouldn't feel the urge to do that at such a young age.
  • by Not Surprised on Feb 24, 2011 at 03:05 PM
    I would expect nothing less from a population of toothless hicks who consider education a sin. I hope Pueblo is wiped off the map by some sort of natural disaster to stop this gene-pool from spreading.
  • by Dominick Ledezma Location: Pueblo, for now.... on Nov 4, 2010 at 12:03 AM
    Hmmmm....this is to say the least troubling. This isn't anything new however, and while I'm sure some of this problem could be curtailed by better parenting i.e. knowing where your kids are, what they're learning and most importantly who they're learning it from. I must also point out that there is always a socio-economic element that contributes largely to teen pregnancy as well. Calling these confused children "trailer trash" and so on is totally counter productive and will yield nothing positive. We need to focus more on educating them about their true options in this world and inflate their self esteem so that peer pressure and hopeless feelings don't overrun their psyche's and lead them into bad decisions.
  • by Anonymous on Oct 27, 2010 at 10:01 AM
    @ torn-I am VERY certain my teens are not sexually active. As I said before I am NOT nieve, but I do know this 100%!! I really could care less whether you think that is ridiculous or not. I do believe that there are plenty of teens who do talk about this with their parents, but only if you have paved the way to allow it. My parents did not pave that road for me and I feel as a result, I was a teen mom. I had my first child at the age of 19. I am not suggesting that all teen parents end up doing a poor job raising children. I agree with you that there are plenty of older couples who are less than capable of raising a child. The majority of teenage pregnancies end up disasterous. I was lucky to have had parents who supported me but not allow me to lay the burden of responsibility on them. While I struggled from time to time,I think I did a mighty fine job of raising him. I had a different parenting approach. Keep talking, every chance you get. Practice what you preach and kids will folow
  • by proud friend Location: colorado springs, co on Oct 24, 2010 at 06:18 PM
    So to everyone who is saying teen moms never do anything for them or their children well do I have something to tell you! I am a recent grad along with a teen mom. This young lady had her child at 15 or 16 and is someone who I truly respect! We started school around the same time of each other only difference is she was 16 and I was 28. She was one of the most mature women I ever met. I have three children and I had my first son When I was 19 still considered teen years. As we went to school together I got to know her a little bit. She was 16 with a child going to collage and working for her and her child. We are both collage graduates with our associates degrees. I haven't spoken with her since that but I can guarantee she is doing extremely well. So to everyone saying who is saying all teen moms will raise their children in poverty and be terrible parents look at that example. I'm not saying every teen mom is like her but don't judge a book by its cover!
  • by Torn in between the two Location: Colorado Springs on Oct 24, 2010 at 05:51 PM
    @ lisa- You can say your teens aren't sexually active, but how certain are you? The fact is, it is so easy for kids to say "No mom, I'm not having sex". Think back to when you were a teen, did you tell your parents everything? No, I don't think so. To everyone who is saying " Teen parents are the worst parents and they shouldn't raise their children", WATCH YOUR WORDS! Age dose not define how good of a parent you are. Now, I am not saying, I repeat I am not saying I agree with all these teen pregnancies, but who's to say that a 30 year old couple is will be better parents then a 17 year old couple. There are 30 and 40 year old couples who can't take care of their children. I do agree with the fact that too many teens are having children and aren't taking care of their responsibilities but it isn't just teens. Don't judge parents because of their age, judge them on how good of a parent they are.
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